Heart of a Champion

With aspirations to surf for Team USA one day soon, Gavin Bren equally focuses on riding the joys of the sport

Written by Kristen Hampshire

Next-level surfing demands mental stamina, grit and resilience—because competing in your teens with a smaller pond of serious surfers is a whole different contest than earlier years when so many are just testing the waters.

Ocean City native Gavin Bren recalls his first home state competition when he paddled into a wave on his own. “That is where it all started,” he told Coastal Style two years ago. He started competing at age 7 at the K-Coast Beginners Bash and continued a streak of consistent first place wins in the Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) and the Maryland State Surfing Championships.

Finetuning his performance mindset to gain life perspective and balance is important to Gavin, who is focused on USA Surfing, while pursuing his goal to progress in the technical aspects of his surfing.

Photo by Asher Nolan

Gavin first found success on the national stage when he placed second at the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) Nationals at age 11. With that success, he was invited to compete in the USA Surfing Prime Series, and after his first season, was selected as a member of the USA Surfing Junior National Team. Now, as his career has advanced, Gavin is more intentional and focused on USA Surfing.

Gavin’s “surf, skate, stoke” everyday life involves daily water time in Ocean City, strength and mobility training with Drew Burke or riding waves in Costa Rica, working with Jorge (Flaco) Gonzales.

“The biggest part [of training] is surfing every day in all different conditions because you never know what kind of waves you’ll compete in, so I prepare for the unknown,” he says.

Photo by Don August

Gavin took home another NSSA Regional Open Title in 2023 and finished the USA Surfing Prime East Series as the No. 1 ranked U14 Boy. This secured his spot on the USA Surfing Junior National team. Again, he qualified for the Rip Curl GromSearch National Finals for placing second in the qualifying event in Huntington Beach. He also had an opportunity to surf the iconic Surf Ranch in Lemoore, CA.

With competition comes setbacks, especially as you climb the ranks.

Gavin broke his elbow while skateboarding and had to sit out the GromSearch final this winter. Recovering from injuries is a hurdle any athlete encounters. It builds resiliency.

Gavin’s mother, Laura Bren, says, “Competition is really a series of moments. You’re either winning or learning and often both.”

Surfer Sam Reidy, who has been on the World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series circuit and trains with Gavin, adds, “I’ve seen Gavin mature as a human and a competitor.”

Gavin’s enthusiasm also keeps Sam on his toes when they’re in the water together. “We will run competition heats

together, which is super fun because he is a grom trying to beat me and it pushes me,” he says.

Speaking of growth, Laura says Gavin grew more than 5 inches this year, which meant three rounds of surfboards for one season and the challenge of adapting to his changing body position—what every pro surfer experiences when progressing through the years.

Despite Gavin’s track record and performance since he was still very young, the most valued aspect of surfing is the relationships—amazing connections and memories—and family time in the water with his brother, Austin, and dad, Dan Bren. Laura says 90% of Gavin’s surf life is stoked by the fun of it and 10% is contests.

That 10% requires 100% focus.

Finetuning the performance mindset to gain life perspective and balance is important, Laura says, explaining why Gavin is focused on USA Surfing while pursuing his goal to progress in the technical aspects of his surfing.

Training and strategy aside, Gavin speaks to the gut-instinct aspect of riding waves. “When I surf from my heart, I surf better,” he says.

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