OMK Teen Surfs Toward Olympics

March 6, 2017

By Judy McSpadden

Out of the 56,000 activity grants that Our Military Kids awarded over the last 12 years, a handful stand out because of the unusual nature of the activities themselves. Running your finger down OMK’s list of kids in martial arts, ballet, or piano lessons, you might stop suddenly and shake your head… “Beekeeping? Really?”

Other OMK grant activities prove that kids with military parents don’t necessarily share the same interests. OMK has given grants for falconry, glass blowing, and even competitive jump roping. (You should have seen Zuzanna, the jump roper, perform at the OMK benefit last April. She was amazing!)

In between the extremely unusual and the extremely popular are activities like surfing, a combination recreational activity and competitive sport for which OMK has awarded barely over a dozen grants in its dozen years. Out of the few surfing grant recipients, one military kid in particular stands out, or should we say “pops up” above the rest.

Samantha Sibley, age 14, was 9 when her dad deployed to Iraq for over a year. She decided to use her OMK grant to try something new. “I chose to learn how to surf because my dad really liked it, and I was interested in learning how,” she said. “I wanted to surprise him when he got back, and I ended up loving it and sticking with it.”

Samantha Sibley

Not only has she stuck with it, Sammy is on the USA surf team training to compete in the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

Sammy’s dad, who learned how to surf as a kid, enjoyed hitting the waves when the family was stationed at Wheeler Army Post, Hawaii, where he flew Army helicopters. When the family moved to California, and her dad joined the Army National Guard, Sammy took her first surf lesson at a surfing camp at Camp Pendleton.

Always active as a child, Sammy played outdoor games, built treehouses with her little brother, and played in sports, but surfing was different in an exciting way. “It’s not like other sports; the waves control you. It all depends on what the ocean does,” she said. “And it’s addictive. Once you get a good wave, you want to go out for more.”

The International Surfing Association reports there are 20-25 million surfers worldwide. Athletes participate for the sport of it, but for other reasons too. “You’re one with nature out there,” Sammy said, describing the beauty of the water. “I might see a dolphin go by, and I think how lucky I am. I want to yell to the dolphin, ‘Thanks for sharing the ocean with me!’”

After her introduction to surfing at Camp Pendleton, Sammy took lessons. She practiced every day and began competing in local contests within different associations. She surfed under the World Surf League, the National Scholastic Surf Association and Surfing America. She even worked a photo shoot for Waterways Travel Resorts in Indonesia last April.

How does this traveling surfer manage time for school?

As a freshman in high school, she attends virtual home school. That has allowed her to travel to Barbados, Hawaii, and Central America. This month, she’ll compete in a Junior Pro contest in Florida against the best surfers in the country. Next summer, she’ll travel to Australia.

Living in San Clemente, Calif., Sammy walks a half-mile to the beach every day. “I go out even if it’s cold,” she said.

Usually accompanied by her mom — who videos her progress during practice — or her surfing friends, Sammy has become a respected member of the surfing community, a subculture with its own lingo and lifestyle.

Her goal is to be a pro surfer and perhaps enter the field of sports marketing. For now, this junior pro, who has won state and national titles, is focused on participating in the 2020 Olympics and competing as an adult contender in 2024.

Was her dad proud of her when he returned from his deployment?

“My dad is super proud of me,” she said. “My parents support me so much, and I know they are thankful I was able to get that grant when I was 9.”

OMK is proud of her too — wishing Sammy a smooth ride to the Olympics…with plenty of epic surf.