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San Clemente Journal

Emmy Merrill, SUP World Champ

Aug 22, 2018 06:23PM ● By Rebecca Parsons

Emmy Merrill. 2x world SUP champion. Case and point. Photo by Jack McDaniel

by Rebecca Parsons

Emmy Merrill is a Jill of many trades. She’s a surfer. A standup paddler. A mountain biker. And a nurse. Although her life may seem a busy one, she juggles her packed schedule happily and gracefully.

Merrill grew up in San Clemente, embracing the beach culture and everything that goes along with it. She competed in shortboard surfing and outrigger canoe before discovering SUP on a family trip to Maui in 2004. Her uncle constructed makeshift paddles out of old, broken paddles and sailing masts and she’d cruise around on an oversized surfboard. Merrill enjoyed paddling her jimmy-rigged SUP but it wasn’t until she was fourteen that she began taking the sport more seriously.

In her teens, Merrill competed on the San Clemente High School surf team and had her sights set on becoming a professional shortboarder. When her dreams didn't pan out, Merrill decided to attend Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and study nursing.
“I wanted to go to college and have that experience,” says Merrill. “I’ve thought about what my life would be like if I chose not to go to college but I’m glad I did because I got to do both and have a pretty good balance.”

Merrill worked hard in college but by no means did she put her athletic career on the back-burner. In 2012, she qualified to compete in the ISA world championships in Peru where she took home the gold in SUP surfing. Two years later she qualified for the team again, this time competing in Australia where she again, returned home wearing gold.

“My school was super supportive of me competing and I had a lot of time to surf,” says Merrill. “I don't think I had time to train as much as I would have liked to because school was my focus, but I wasn't training for a race so I wasn't relying on my fitness as much as my surfing.”
Now, at age 24 Merrill works full time in the Emergency Department (ER) at Hoag Hospital in Irvine. The job fits her fast-paced lifestyle like a glove.

“I decided to go into nursing because I wanted to have a job that is intellectually challenging, works with people, and has a flexible schedule,” says Merrill. “I like that the ER is fast paced and that every day is different.”

Perhaps one of her favorite aspects of the job is the schedule. Merrill works three,12-hour shifts a week, allowing her ample time to travel without taking time off work. On her days off, Merrill typically surfs one of the local breaks or explores the surrounding hills via mountain bike. Once a month, she tries to sneak in a quick trip with friends.

Although Merrill is one of the most talented surfers in SUP, she’s never been a regular on the competitive scene. She competes occasionally, but only if it works out with her schedule. While she likely could make a go at a career as a professional athlete, Merrill prefers a balanced life filled with friends, family, a job, and of course, surfing.

“I'm still interested in competing but I'm not going to stress about arranging my schedule to accommodate that,” says Merrill. “If big events come into town then I'll try and do them but it's a little tougher to try and arrange my schedule with the national stuff.”

This past year, Merrill qualified for the US National team and set off to Denmark to compete in her third ISA World SUP Surf Championship. Despite being a little out of practice, the southern California native managed to secure a bronze. The event was interlaced with wind and rain but Merrill enjoyed every minute of the culture and cheering on her teammates.

“It was amazing to see how much SUP surfing has progressed since my last ISA contest in 2014,” says Merrill. “It was much more challenging to make it through every round because there was so much talent in each heat. Even though I didn't get the gold medal, I am very proud of my performance because the level of competition was so much higher.”

While Merrill is hoping to qualify for the US National team again this year, she won’t be disappointed if she misses the mark. She enjoys her job and her friends and plans on doing some travel this year, whether it be for a competition or her own SUP adventures. 

When she’s at home she enjoys standup surfing at Dog Patch at San Onofre. For shortboarding, she prefers Riviera or Middles. After some quality water time, Merrill likes to refuel with a good sandwich from Board & Brew or Tina & Vince’s. 

“Surfing is a huge part of the culture,” Merrill says of her beloved home town. “You have breaks like San O that are perfect for learning and the (Dana Point) Harbor is really close by.”
Merrill’s life is a busy one. She appreciates what she has and doesn’t stress over the things she doesn’t. After all, “If you’re lucky enough to live by the beach you’re lucky enough.”