Words by Jake Howard.
The road of life isn’t without its twists and turns, even for a teenage surf star from the hottest surf town in the US. In 2018, a 16-year-old Kirra Pinkerton earned the WSL World Junior title and immediately ascended to the position of America’s next top grom.
“I did my first contest when I was six and surfed in my first WSL event when I was 11,” Pinkerton told MSW over an afternoon WhatsApp call from Portugal, still buzzing from her monumental win at the ISA World Surfing Games four days prior. “I love the challenge of competing.”
It’s been nearly four years since that first WSL win, and in that time, the 19-year-old has had to do a bit of growing up. “It still hasn’t really sunk in yet,” she said. “I was on a plane to Portugal at 6am the next morning. It’s been a crazy week.”
When the pandemic hit and the global contest scene was thrown into flux, for a hot minute there, the dedicated competitive surfer wasn’t sure what to do. Then she went to Indo, and stayed there for eight months. “I surfed all day, every day,” she explained. “I felt like I was a good competitive surfer, but maybe not that great a surfer, so the time in Indo let me work on technique and all these different parts of my surfing. I wasn’t sure how I’d do when I put a jersey back on, or even if I wanted to, but I’m a competitive person and that time away gave me a fresh approach and mindset.”
Preparing for the upcoming EDP Vissla Pro Ericeira, Pinkerton now sits at 12th on the rankings, seven spots below the cutline for the 2023 Championship Tour, with three more WSL Challenger Series events to go. “My goal is to qualify for the CT,” she continued, “whether that comes this year or next year or whatever, that’s where I want to be.”
Growing up in San Clemente, CA, Pinkerton has seen firsthand what it takes to be a world-class surfer. Heck, after she won ISA gold last week, she was chaired up the beach in Huntington by Kolohe Andino and Griffin Colapinto, two stalwarts of CT life. “That seemed like a moment in and of itself,” Pinkerton reflected. “It was the San Clemente crew on the world’s stage.”
And while surfers like Andino, Colapinto, the Gudauskas brothers, the Long brothers and too many more to keep listing here have all brought shine to bucolic San Clemente, an upper echelon female presence has largely been absent at Lowers. Pinkerton seeks to change that.
“When I was little it was pretty much just me and Samantha Sibley, but now there’s Sawyer [Lindblad], who’s only a couple years younger and right there on the Challenger Series,” Pinkerton said. “Then there’s this whole next generation of young girls coming up. It’s amazing.”
The day before the recent Rip Curl WSL Finals at Lowers, the WSL hosted a Rising Tides event for local girls to meet and surf with their heroes. World Champs Stephanie Gilmore and Carissa Moore were on hand. “I was down there, and these girls were coming up to me and asking me to take pictures with them and telling me that I was their favorite surfer,” Pinkerton said. “It’s so weird because I still feel like a kid inside, and Steph’s right there.”
“I’ve grown up watching the guys from town support each other at events,” she added. “There’s this friendly rivalry that they feed off. I’d love to see the girls from town have something like that, where we’re all there together, pushing each other in the water and cheering for each other on the beach. I think you get better when you have these friendly rivalries and are able to push each other.”
Thanks to a recent rule change, with her win at the ISA World Surfing Games Pinkerton has earned the U.S. National Surf Team one additional spot for a woman on their 2024 Olympic roster — meaning the squad will be comprised of two men and three women. The official team is a long way from being announced, and whether she makes the cut or not, when the girls paddle out at Teahupoo and make history in 2024, Pinkerton will have played a big part in that.
More immediately, there are three events to go on the Challenger Series and a ton of points still on the table.
Pinkerton has a very real shot at qualifying for the big dance in 2023 and turning her dreams into reality. Now a WSL World Junior Champion and an ISA World Champion before she’s even turned 20, Pinkerton’s future is wide open.
Cover image by Pablo Franco.