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La Jolla fifth-grader finds ‘Moore Aloha’ at girls’ surf event with pros

Pro surfer Lakey Peterson, La Jolla fifth-grader Catalina McDonnell and pro surfer Carissa Moore
Pro surfer Lakey Peterson, La Jolla fifth-grader Catalina McDonnell and pro surfer Carissa Moore (from left) meet up at the Nissan Super Girl Surf Pro Moore Aloha event.
(Jen McDonnell)

Surfing waves of positivity, a La Jolla fifth-grader is taking lessons garnered from a recent girls’ surfing event and spreading them to others.

Catalina McDonnell, 10, a Bird Rock Elementary School student, was one of 24 girls selected to participate in the Nissan Super Girl Surf Pro Moore Aloha event Sept. 17-19 at the Oceanside Pier with professional surfer Carissa Moore, an Olympic gold medalist and four-time World Surf League Women’s World Tour champion.

The three-day event consisted of a surf contest, beach and swim races, a beach cleanup, a yoga session, lei making and lunch with Moore and other pro surfers.

Catalina said her favorite part was the beach cleanup. “It made me happy picking up the beach. … It definitely made the beach better.”

As someone who has been surfing since her parents put her and her brothers, Alex and Blake — they’re all triplets — on longboards in their baby seats at 4 months old, Catalina said she loved surfing during the Super Girl event and making friends in the waves.

The participants received mentoring from the pros throughout the weekend. Catalina was happy to meet Moore, who she said was “really supportive.”

“The waves were really rough; it was really hard for me to surf them,” Catalina said.

Nervous about trying rough waves, Catalina McDonnell, 10, of La Jolla gets advice from pro surfer Carissa Moore.
(Jen McDonnell)

Nervous about trying such rough waters, Catalina said she asked Moore, “What do you do when you get scared in the water?”

“She said she usually takes three deep breaths, and she will count down from three,” Catalina said.

She said Moore surfed with her to help her through her anxiety, and she was able to enjoy herself.

Moore and event staff did not respond to requests for comment.

To participate in the event, girls had to meet the 10-16 age requirement, be able to surf at an intermediate level or better and send in a recent school report card.

Additionally, girls needed to send an essay or a video in answer to two topics: “What does being a Super Girl mean to you?” and “Describe a time you have spread ‘Moore Aloha’ in order to impact someone else’s life.”

The Super Girl website stated that Moore would review the applications.

Catalina said she answered via video.

“Being a Super Girl to me means helping out each other,” she said, “and not giving up in the middle of something.”

While in the water, Catalina thought about Bethany Hamilton, a pro surfer who lost her left arm in a 2003 shark attack and eventually returned to surfing.

Catalina said Hamilton’s story inspires her. “She got her arm bitten off and it didn’t stop her. And then she became one of the … greatest surfers in the world.”

She added that she applies what she’s learned from Hamilton about persistence to tasks like homework.

Catalina said she spreads “Moore Aloha” — a play on “more aloha,” or spreading positive energy — by helping an “aggressive” first-grader at Bird Rock Elementary become “sweet and kind” through gentle role modeling.

She said she also helped a close friend cope with her parents’ breakup.

Catalina McDonnell says she plans to spread the "aloha spirit" at Bird Rock Elementary School.
(Jen McDonnell)

Catalina said she will continue to spread the “aloha spirit” by continuing her participation in Bird Rock Elementary’s Bird Squad, a group of fifth-graders who mentor incoming kindergartners.

She also wants to start a surf club at school. ◆