Groms | An Epic Season for 14-Year-Old Canadian Champ, Jeffery Spencer
Victor at the US Open in Huntington Beach. Titles in two races at Pacific Paddle Games. Canadian National Champion. Rookie-year groms aren't typically associated with such accomplishments. But then again, 14-year-old Canadian Jeffrey Spencer isn't a typical grom.
Jeffrey's SUP story began on the slopes. His parents Henry and Tammy have always been skiers and young Spencer cut his teeth on bunny slopes in and around Whistler, British Columbia. He was on skis as soon before he could walk. This rich background in sliding sports served him well when the family moved to Maui. Though the Spencers would make annual trips back to the ski resorts each winter, it was the ocean that now provided an exhilarating playground for Spencer and his younger brother, Finn.
It didn't take the boys long to embrace their new environment. Growing up in Spreckelsville allowed them to not only work on their surfing skills, but also to immerse themselves in Hawaii's waterman culture. It was almost inevitable that the Spencers got hooked on SUP in summer 2014. Henry and Tammy saw their sons progress rapidly, and the family decided they'd start competing in 2015.
The validation was immediate. Though only 14, Spencer often competed in his own age group and the next division up, the increasingly competitive Under-16 brackets. Facing proven talent from Mike Eisert and Jamie Donnelley's The Paddle Academy, standouts from the Performance Paddling program and other groms who've been racing for years, Jeffrey opened the year with a fourth-place finish at the 2015 SUP Fiesta and second at Round the Rock.
Jeffrey gained momentum as the season progressed and scored another podium finish in his first river race at the Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge and secured fifth at the Payette River Games in a deep field that featured many accomplished older paddlers, including Noa Hopper.
Then came three of the biggest events of the year. At the US Open of SUP in Huntington Beach, Spencer showed his endurance by not only winning the U-14 division, but also coming out on top in the U-16s. Then it was on to Doheney State Beach for the Pacific Paddle Games, where he championed both the Technical Grom Pro and the Distance Grom Pro for his age-group to sweep the 13-14 boys title. Younger brother Finn also showed the family genes in the U12 division, finishing second in the Distance race and fifth in the Technical.
For his final event of the year, Spencer headed north for the 2nd annual Tofino Paddle Surf SUP Invitational. Though the waves at Cox Bay were hardly epic, Spencer put his surfing skills on display to take down the open field. He not only won the event, earning himself the national champion title, but also became the youngest qualifier for the 2016 ISA World Paddleboarding Championships.
"I'd never surfed Cox Bay but I was just feeling it," Spencer said. "I'm blessed to have the chance to compete at the ISA Worlds."
For the Spencer brothers to travel for competition, they had to make some changes. The first was their schooling. While their parents want the boys to excel in SUP, their education remains a priority. Realizing that attending the local junior high wasn't going to jive with months of travel, Jeffrey and Finn instead enrolled in online classes that give them the flexibility needed to combine SUP success with academic achievement.
"When the waves aren't pumping I get a few hours of coursework in," Jeffrey explains. "I really enjoy science and doing online course means I can study anywhere."
The Spencers also made a big housing change to help accommodate the 2015 SUP race season. The family rented a house in San Clemente for several months so Jeffrey and Finn weren't living out of suitcases and could develop regular training routines in preparation for all the big California races.
Another key component of Jeffrey and Finn's success this past year has been mentoring. They've had the chance to meet and train with many of the best, including Kai Lenny, Candice Appleby, Anthony Vela, Zane Schweitzer, Casper Steinfath, and Kody Kerbox.
"Jeffrey's a great guy and it's amazing to see how good he and some of the other groms are already at 14 and 15," Steinfath said. "They're already starting to push the limits against the older guys."
Jeffrey is evidently thinking along similar lines as he looks forward to the 2016 race season.
"I can't wait to see what I can do at the next Pacific Paddle Games," he said. "I want to keep competing against Tyler [Bashor), Ryan [Funk] and the other top paddlers in my age group, but also want to test myself in the open division at more events."
For more on Jeffrey Spencer, check out his Instagram feed.