Mel Wygal is always smiling, even mid-buoy turn. Photo: JP Van Swae
Mel Wygal is always smiling, even mid-buoy turn. Photo: JP Van Swae

SUP Women: Meet The Professional Cheerleader Turned Professional Paddler

Mel Wygal radiates joy. No matter if she's surfing or working, this woman always has a smile on her face.

A happy and energetic child, Wygal expelled her energy by dancing around her family's home in Greshman, Oregon. Sensing the budding of a lifelong passion, Wygal's parents enrolled her in ballet at age five. Sure enough, this lead to opportunities in professional productions and ultimately to cheerleading in her teens.

Although she was born on Oahu, it took twenty-six years for Wygal to discover the thrill of dancing on waves. We caught up with the San Clemente local to learn how she first discovered SUP, the art of balancing work and training, her years as a professional cheerleader and what it means to be a good ambassador for the sport.

You are always smiling. Where you find your stoke?

Surf fuels my stoke! Nothing makes me happier than time in the water, especially surfing. My dad says I was literally born smiling and I got a poor Apgar score because I refused to cry for the doctor. I’ve always had a sunny disposition, but it really shines when I get water time!

Water time fuels Wygal’s stoke, as it does our own. PhotoL Anthony Vela

When did you first start standup paddling?

Steve and Barrie Boehne first introduced us to SUP back in 2008. My husband, Jack, and I were living in Oregon at the time and came to California to surf in warm water when Steve said, 'Hey, you gotta try this really fun sport!' Jack and I borrowed their equipment and paddled out at Dog Patch at San Onofre State Beach. It took me three hours to catch three waves in stormy, onshore slop, but I loved it from the start. We moved to California in 2010 and Jack bought that very same board he first tried!

We heard you used to be a professional cheerleader?

Haha! I cheered for the Portland Trailblazers back in 1999 and 2000, when we were in the NBA Western Conference Finals against the Lakers. It was so rad being up close and personal with all those great players; we had so much fun out there! I got on the team sort of by accident. I auditioned for the Blazer Dancers and made it to the final cut when the stunt team coach approached me about joining his team instead. Once I was up in the air again, the choice was clear and I’m so glad I got the chance.

You're the "ambassador of stoke" for Infinity. Tell us about that!

After nearly 20 years in the medical field, I was ready for a change. Healthcare has become more and more profit driven and morally I was having issues with the industry. Justin Van Dyck and Dave Boehne at Infinity are good friends and knew my frustrations, so when they heard I was looking for something new they approached me. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be a part of such a rad company.

The smile never goes away.

How do you balance work and paddling?

The best part about working for Infinity is that I get so much more water time. With my old career I could get in a morning surf, but didn’t have time to train for SUP racing. Now I can still surf in the morning, but also paddle with Anthony Vela’s Performance Paddling training club in the afternoon.

What does it mean to be a good ambassador for the sport?

My favorite athletes in SUP are those who paddle for the joy of the sport but also thrive on competition in a positive way and have a sense of respect and fair play. I really admire Genna Flinkman (aka: the Flinkhammer) and Jennie (the Jet) Sandvig for their dedication to the sport while still balancing careers, family, and just being all around rad people.

In 20 years, where do you see yourself?

I plan to be living in Hawaii by then, and hopefully retired as well, giving me more time in the water. I’m gonna crush the 60+ age group in the Open races!

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