…Lost surfboards team rider Kaleigh Gilchrist has been named the Orange County Register’s 2010 female athlete of the year. Kaleigh won the female athlete of the year for her success not only as an extremely talented surfer, but also as an accomplished water polo player for Newport Harbor high school. Kaleigh is preparing to defend her under 18 girls title at Surfing America’s U.S. championships at Lower Trestles in two weeks, and look for her to blow up at the NSSA national interscholastic and open championships, starting June 29 in Huntington Beach.
The water polo player and surfer is honored as the county’s top athlete.
NEWPORT BEACH – Kaleigh Gilchrist developed a drive to succeed in sports early on.
As an 11-year-old surfer in Newport Beach, she started competing against boys in practice. Then, the talent advantage went to the boys.
“There are not many girl surfers in Newport,” she said. “I was growing up with the boys and they were doing these progressive turns, so I just wanted to be competitive and surf better than them.”
The competition served Gilchrist well. She said the boys made her practice harder. Today, the Newport Harbor senior can not only beat the boys, she is of the best female surfers in her age group in the world.
But Gilchrist’s athletic pursuits didn’t stop at the beach. She also emerged as one of the best high school water polo players in Orange County.
For her success in both sports, Gilchrist is The Register’s female athlete of the year for 2009-2010.
“She’s in a class by herself,” Edison water polo coach Diggy Riley said. “It takes a certain individual to do both (sports).”
Gilchrist has piled up accolades in both sports, and her surf season is just starting to peak.
In about two weeks, the girl nicknamed “Barrel” will attempt to defend her under-18 title at Surfing America’s U.S. championships at Lower Trestles.
Last summer, Gilchrist edged Courtney Conlogue of Santa Ana for the prestigious title.
After the U.S. event, Gilchrist will represent Newport Harbor and herself at the NSSA national interscholastic and open championships, starting June 29 in Huntington Beach.
Gilchrist finished second in the NSSA’s 10-contest Southwest season for open women.
Newport Harbor’s girls surf team already has claimed a state title.
In April, Gilchrist helped the Sailors capture the ISF state title in Oceanside in the Coastal shortboard division.
Gilchrist accomplished another surfing feat in the middle of the water polo season. In January, she briefly left her teammates to compete with the U.S. team to the ISA Junior World Championships in New Zealand. Gilchrist finished ninth.
“She’s gnarly,” said former pro surfer Ryan Simmons, who helped coach Gilchrist at Newport Harbor. “She’s good at big, power moves.”
Gilchrist returned to the water polo team and helped Newport Harbor put a scare into undefeated Dos Pueblos of Goleta in a thrilling CIF Division 1 final. The Sailors lost, 8-7.
For the season, Gilchrist led Newport Harbor in goals (94), assists (46) and steals (45). The 2-meter player was the Register’s player of the year and the Sunset League co-player of the year.
“No one thought she could do both (sports) and she did,” Newport Harbor surf coach Scott Morlan said. “She’s that good of an athlete.”
One of Gilchrist’s strengths in water polo was shooting. Her arm strength traces to her days as a flag-football quarterback at Newport Elementary. “(In) the sixth grade, I was the starting quarterback or whatever,” she said humbly.
Gilchrist will follow her father’s footsteps by attending USC. Her father, Sandy, swam for the Trojans and was a two-time Olympian for Canada.
Gilchrist, who holds a 3.7 grade-point average, signed with the Trojans’ water polo team. She plans to keep balancing water polo and surfing in college.
But when she’s done with school, Gilchrist said she will make a run at being a professional surfer – or at least explore if the tour suits her.
“She’s self-motivated,” longtime friend Kristopher Craib said. “That’s why I think she’s so successful.”