It may sound unprecedented that two teenage boys from Nantucket who have yet to celebrate their 14th birthdays already have their eyes set on the international surfing stage. But it isn’t so unrealistic for Kydon and Wynter Larrabee. In fact, they have already begun to receive opportunities to showcase their abilities at that level.
The Larrabee brothers fell in love with surfing at a very young age. That passion grew so strong that their lives have been shaped around their training. Both of these young surfers have been homeschooled by their parents Shawna and Rich for four years. While the teens are Nantucket natives and their home base remains on Nantucket, they travel in an RV up and down the east coast in the offseason to continue honing their craft.
Shawna said she can’t think of a day over the course of the past three years that her two boys, who are 12 and 13 respectively, missed a sunrise or sunset surfing session.
“They surf all day, every day,” she said. “There is no doubt they eat, sleep, and live surfing. They aren’t land animals. They are like sea creatures.”
Kydon and Wynter received a prestigious honor last week that recognizes the work they have both put in. The brothers received invites to compete in the USA Surfing Prime East U14 Competition. The event is regarded as the highest level of competition for junior surfers in the United States and an important step for surfers who have an eye on one day being able to compete in the World Surf League competition and the Olympics, both of which are among the brothers' goals.
“Depending on how we do in the USA Surfing Prime, the next step is USL Surfer Challenger series,” Kydon said. “Then if you get to top five of that you are in the world championship tour where you get to surf the biggest waves in the world. That is what is broadcast on TV. That is the main goal, the holy grail. If you get that title, you are considered the best surfer in the entire world.”
“I am really looking forward to this because it is such a big step in our careers as surfers,” Wynter said. “I hope it works out for the best.”
The Larrabee brothers barely had any time to digest this news before another equally impressive invitation was extended to them on Monday. They have also been invited to compete in the World Surf League’s final rising tides event at the Cuervo Classic Malibu Longboard Championships in California on October 4.
This competition provides a space for some of the world’s brightest and skilled youth surfers to meet and learn from world champions who have excelled on an international level.
Jake Johnson, an avid surfer who is a sophomore at Nantucket High School, has surfed with both Kydon and Wynter many times. He said he is impressed every time he sees them shredding up close.
“Wynter and Kydon’s love for surfing is definitely shown when they surf for hours more than anybody else,” Johnson said. “Both of them are amazing surfers. They aren’t scared of the size or conditions to go out in.”
The brothers said they were very surprised to receive the invite to the Surfing Prime in particular given that many junior surfers who have been competing for years are still waiting for that invitation.
Although the family has been traveling for four years, the Larrabee brothers just began to participate in competitions in January. After some strong showings at regional competitions, they qualified and surfed in the Nationals at Huntington Beach, California in July, which is where their parents believe they both were noticed.
Kydon said Gary Kohner (head of the Nantucket Surf School), Robbie Goodwin (current surf coach based in Florida), and Maikol Alvares (seasonal Nantucket surfer who also runs a surf school in Costa Rica) are three mentors who have helped him and Wynter get to where they are.
“Those two surfers are having the most fun which makes them the best surfers in the world,” Goodwin said. “They are way ahead of the game at surfing for their age.”
The first event in the Surfing Prime will begin on October 8 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It will be a two-day event. The family’s plans afterwards will consist of a possible trip to Puerto Rico (on the condition the island isn’t too roughed from Hurricane Fiona), or they will head to the Dominican Republic followed by some time in Florida and a trip to Hawaii.
Athletics run in the family. Rich was born and raised on Nantucket before going on to play Div. I football at the University of Arizona, where he met Shawna, who was an athlete herself. Rich runs a seasonal business on-island, which allows the family to travel during the offseason.
“I am definitely guilty of being the dad who was super excited when they started walking and saying here is a baseball glove, here is a bike, and surfing was one of those things too,” Rich said. “I couldn’t wait to put them on surf boards. Then they just loved it and asked for more.”
The natural, raw ability of Kydon and Wynter was evident to Kohner very early on. Both surfers took lessons from Kohner when they were four and six years old respectively
“There is lots of natural ability there and they fell in love with it early,” Kohner said. “They are out in the water all day. The past couple of years they have been surfing year-round and spending winters in Florida. Their levels have gone up. They are pretty much at a higher level than kids around here. Now we aren’t the epicenter of the surfing world so when they do spend time in Florida or California, there are kids on their level or even higher I’m sure, but to be invited to these events you need to surf at a very, very high level. It is impressive.”
Shawna said that her sons are incredibly close. It began before these past four years of intense training, but they continue to grow their bond more and more by the day as they strive for the same goal. Kohner acknowledged the bond, and said it leads to some good competition.
"They definitely push each other and they are competing against each other, but it is in a good way," Kohner said.
Kohner said their abilities are on display in different ways. He said Wynter was always taller and big for his age while Kydon was smaller. Generally, the best surfers aren’t big in size, so Kohner said Wynter’s focus had to be elite and is on full display each time he catches a wave while Kydon’s ability to ride on boards so quickly with his smaller stature is obvious when you watch him surf.
“Both are going to be pretty big adults eventually, but both have the innate ability you need,” Kohner said. “Kydon being smaller was definitely advantageous. It can always be an advantage with a lower center of gravity. But both are great at surfing for different reasons.”
Wynter’s ability to focus likely comes from his approach to surfing and how he views the sport. He said he finds surfing to be very meditative. It clears his mind, and it is always presenting him with new challenges.
“Surfing is super calming. If you are stressed out, you can go surfing and if you are having a great day, you can go surfing and that day will be even better,” Wynter said. “It is a different experience every time you go out there and that is the fun in it. You try to get better as the waves get rougher. You try to surf up to the waves. (On Friday) the waves were huge, and you try to get up there. It presents a challenge. Some days they are small and the next day they are 20-plus feet.”
Kydon said they have been able to keep surfing as an enjoyable, meditative activity by staying out of competitions until now. He believes they have been able to grow into their careers despite surfing daily and traveling the country with their family for four years.
“We are almost lucky that we started competing a little later,” Kydon said. “Lots of kids started competing when I started surfing. If you have to start winning and competing right away it isn’t as fun anymore because if you are getting pushed to do something, it isn’t even really because you want to do it and you can lose the fire to do it. That happens to a lot of people where they love surfing and are really good, but there are a lot of things you need to do to get accepted and sponsored. It is just a lot of pressure. Once you put that name on that board, you’re at their mercy in a way.”
Their parents say that they will continue to homeschool their kids and do whatever is necessary to help them follow their dreams. If those dreams one day change, they will adapt accordingly.
“We are going to meet them wherever they are,” Shawna said. “If they woke up tomorrow and said, ‘eh I don’t want to do this anymore,’ that would be okay. We want to meet them wherever their passion is. That is our goal as parents.”