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Avery McDonald, a 15-year-old Latter-day Saint, grew up surfing the waves near her home in San Clemente, California. Avery is on the USA Surfing Junior National Team and loves seminary and serving in the temple. (Photos courtesy of Avery McDonald)

Elite surfer Avery McDonald loves tackling big waves, serving in the temple and sharing her ‘light’ with others

California teen balances competing at the top levels of her sport with school, seminary and family history work

By Jason Swensen

1 Mar 2023

Competitive surfing is a lonesome sport.  It’s just you, a fiberglass board and a massive body of saltwater.


But Latter-day Saint Avery McDonald — a member of the USA Surfing Junior National Team and a familiar face at the Newport Beach California Temple —  never feels alone on the water.


“When I’m competing, it can be stressful because you don’t know what the ocean is going to do — you need a good score, but you don’t know if the waves are going to come,” the 15-year-old told Church Ball Magazine. “So it’s nice to be able to  pray when I’m in the water. It means I always have someone to talk to.”


Avery’s life has always been defined by her faith, her family and the surf breaks just a short jaunt away from her San Clemente, California, home. At an age when most youngsters are learning to catch and throw a ball, Avery was already a “grom.” (That’s a bit of surfer slang for a skilled young participant.)

She started as a 2-year-old by riding piggyback on her father, Scott McDonald, while he was surfing. Soon, she was shredding on her own board. “And I’ve been surfing competitively since I was about 10.”


Surfing is difficult. It demands balance, courage and persistence, persistence and persistence. Avery said she was fortunate to start at a young age and enjoy easy access to some of the best waves in the United States.

“Then at a certain point, things just started to click for me and I got better and better,” she said.


A focused competitor, Avery is intent on winning surfing competitions, making national teams and seeing her name counted among the elite in her sport. “But mostly,” she’s quick to add, “I just love surfing — just being in the ocean, which is so healing and free.”


Surfing has offered Latter-day Saint teen Avery McDonald unforgettable opportunities to travel to some of the world’s top surfing locales. (Photo courtesy of Avery McDonald)

Avery’s place among the top young American surfers was solidified last year when she was named to the USA Surfing Junior National Team in the girls U16 division. Historically, junior team rosters have been groomed for the echelons of international surfing — including the World Surf League Championship Tour and the Olympic Games.


“Being named to the USA Junior National team is one of the nation’s highest achievements,” said USA Surfing head coach Ryan Simmons.


Long-term, Avery hopes to make the pro tour “and travel the world and win a couple of world titles.” She also wants to eventually earn a spot on the uber-competitive U.S. Olympic squad.


Surfing has offered Avery a watery ticket to much of the world. She and her board have tackled the waves off the shores of the U.S. Pacific coast, Hawaii, Mexico, El Salvador and Costa Rica.


Avery’s favorite surf spot? “The waves right in my backyard,” she said. “It’s the best type of performance wave in the world — and it’s my comfort zone.”


As an elite surfer, it’s little surprise Avery is skilled at balancing the demands of her sport, school, social activities and her Church activity. Each day is a busy day.

“But I love waking up every morning and going to seminary. It puts me in a good mood, gives each day a fresh start — and seminary is always a good reminder of the things that are most important.”

Avery and a group of friends also try to make time each week to serve in the Newport Beach California Temple. “Whenever I am in the temple, I just feel so good. And then, even after I leave, those good feelings stay with me.”


When she’s not surfing or attending school or the temple, Avery enjoys doing what most Southern California girls do: “I love hanging out with my friends, going to the beach and just watching the sunsets.”

She also has fun with her parents, Scott and Shellie, and her little brothers, Liam and Brock.

The McDonalds have a favorite scripture that they try to recite together each night: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (Doctrine and Covenants, 50:24).


The surfing community is diverse. It includes people of all backgrounds, beliefs and ages. “So I do what I can to spread my light to all these people and make a difference,” said Avery, “even by just talking with them.”

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