About Leilani McGonagle
Leilani McGonagle’s British-born father and American mother pushed their daughter into her first wave before she could walk. Her dad had grown up surfing in San Clemente, but had moved to Central America after high school, founded a small hotel at Pavones, met a traveling surfer, and decided to build his life there.
The village of Pavones was then a tiny fishing outpost in the Costa Rican jungle with one supermarket and dirt roads. It did however have one of Latin America’s best left-handers, and Leilani, following in her parents and eldest brother’s footsteps, surfed the famous Pavones point break every time it broke.
Her talent was obvious and she enjoyed a successful junior career, eventually being crowned the North American Junior champion. In 2015 she embarked on a QS campaign intending to crack the CT. In the next three years, she won three events and came relatively close to achieving her goal, finishing ranked No. 18 in 2018.
While the CT remains a realistic goal for a surfer with a smooth, powerful style and incredible focus, her career highlight came in El Salvador at the 2021 ISA World Surfing Games, when she secured Olympic selection. That achievement came with a huge emotional quotient as she dedicated her performance to her best friend Katy Diaz, the El Salvadorian surfer who tragically passed away whilst surfing early in 2021.
“Ever since I got the news that she passed away, I realized that this was for her,” McGonagle said. “It was bigger than me, bigger than for my country, for my pride, for my ego. All this was for her.”
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|Year||Rank||Points||Events||Heats||Max heat score||Best result|
First season2013 Women's JUN