By Jeffrey Donovan
Nicknamed “The Flying Squirrel," 6-year-old Quincy Symonds is making waves not only for her incredible surfing skills, but also for her courage while coping with a genetic condition called congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
With a growing social-media following both on Instagram and YouTube, the Australian phenom might just be the best 6-year-old surfer in the world.
“I have never seen a surfer male or female this good at such an early age — and I’ve taught thousands of kids to surf,” her coach, Anthony Pope, told TODAY.com.
In March 2013, when Quincy was 4, she became fascinated by her father's love of surfing, and insisted on doing some of her own. Her mother, Kim Symonds, told TODAY.com it didn't take long for Quincy to find her balance on a surfboard.
“It was just the second or third wave she stood up on, which is apparently quite phenomenal,” she added. “Within a week, she was going across the waves and looking to make turns.”
From a coaching perspective, Pope admitted he had his doubts at the start of their first session, when they swam to 3-foot waves at the surf break known as Currumbin Alley.
"There were a lot of surfers looking at me like, 'You shouldn’t be out here with that tiny kid,'" he said. "However, after pushing her into a perfect 3-foot wave, she took off down the line, tearing the wave up. I was shocked, speechless and super excited. I knew immediately she was something very special."
Pope credits Quincy's success to her fearless nature, exceptional balance and a drive to catch the best wave.
Quincy started making international headlines this month, when Australian media outlet ABC Open featured her serious skills in a Vimeo video that's racked up almost 1 million views. In that video, her father, Jake Symonds, says he still can't believe what he's seeing. "I'm amazed by it," he said. "I'm really proud of it. But, to be honest, I can't comprehend how she does it, and how she's done it so quickly."
It's especially impressive given Quincy's medical condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, congenital adrenal hyperplasia limits adrenal glands' ability to make certain vital hormones.
When Quincy was born, she spent many stints in the intensive-care unit of various hospitals. "On and off, we spent more time in a hospital than we spent at home," Kim Symonds told ABC Open.
The young surfer's health is more stable these days, but because her body doesn’t produce cortisone, she depends on three daily doses of steroids.
Because her illness means she'd require immediate medical care in the event of injury, “We keep emergency medication on hand always,” her mother told TODAY.com.
Despite her condition, Quincy seems fearless when she surfs or skateboards in her family’s hometown on Australia’s Gold Coast, north of Sydney.
That fearlessness led to her nickname, too.
According to ABC Open, when she was younger, she spotted a squirrel in a tree near her house and hopped off her father's SUV to mimic it. "The Flying Squirrel" was born.
As someone who's worked with pro surfers Owen Wright, Dion Agius and Stephanie Gilmore, Pope told TODAY.com he feels "privileged" to work with his young protégée.
"I feel like a better person just knowing Quincy," he said.