International Surfing Day: My Surf Story
Catching a wave at my local break in Malibu. Photos in this story courtesy of Sam Abeger.
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles I wasn’t far from the beach, but I wasn’t exactly on it, either. I remember watching The Endless Summer on VHS when I was 9 to feel closer to the sand and dreaming of when I could surf Malibu First Point.
My first opportunity to learn how to surf came when I was 10 years old, during a trip to the south of France visiting my dad’s family in Hossegor. It only took me one day; I can still feel the stoke I had from the very first wave I stood up on. After that, I surfed every day of the trip.
Me as a grom with my instructor in Hossegor, France.
I have to admit, there’s a certain (shameful) stigma attached to a surfer who grew up where I did. Surfers from the valley were made fun of and called “kooks.” Around other surfers, I always tried to hide where I was from, responding vaguely to the inquiry with, “just over the hill in the canyon.”
Miki “Da Cat” Dora, one of the most iconic surfers from Malibu, lived near Hollywood when he was king of the Bu. I totally understand what he meant when he said living away from the beach gave him a better appreciation for it.
Growing up in the valley made surfing something really special to me, something I worked hard to go do. I used to beg my parents to drive me the 20 minutes over the canyon so I could hit the water, until I got my license and could go on my own. Sometimes I wish I grew up at the beach – somewhere like Malibu or San Clemente or another beach city – but then I’m not sure my appreciation for it would be the same as it is now.
When I was 15, I still had to beg my parents for a ride to the beach, and couldn't wait to get my driver's license.
My relationship with the waves, quite honestly, had been off to a rough start. When I was younger I was terrified of the water, having almost drowned when I let go of the wall during a swim lesson at the age of four. But my desire to surf was stronger than my fear of drowning, and eventually surfing made me comfortable enough in the water to start playing water polo at age twelve. From then on, I was in the water all the time and devoted myself to aquatic activities rather than land-based sports.
By the time I applied to college, I knew that surfing was always going to play a deciding factor in my life. I wound up playing water polo on the UC San Diego men’s varsity team, which gave me a few good buddies to surf Blacks Beach and Scripps Pier with. I chose a study abroad program in the Basque country of Spain for its surf. After an injury forced me to stop water polo, I transferred to UC Santa Barbara - another town where surf culture is everywhere. Even my undergraduate academic career culminated in a film project on eco-friendly surfboards (to watch it, click here!).
I feel surfing deserves some credit for where I am now. Working on the production team and editing digital videos for MacGillivray Freeman Films’ One World One Ocean Campaign has led me to some amazing experiences, such as visiting the Aquarius Reef Base, filming humpback whales in the kingdom of Tonga, and spending six weeks on location filming in Raja Ampat, Indonesia.
Getting ready to hit the water with a friend at Topanga Beach.
Surfing, unquestionably, has shaped me into the man I am today. Being part of the surfing world makes you part of a unique tribe of people who all understand each other’s drive to keep hitting those waves, despite the fact that most of us will never catch a break like the pros you see in magazines and videos online. We do it for the connection with nature, the release from day-to-day stress. We do it because we love it.
We all have ways in which the ocean is made special to us. The ocean is a beautiful place in desperate need of protection so that future generations can feel that stoke and build that connection.
I hope to follow in the footsteps of our company’s founder, Greg MacGillivray, who got his start making surf movies in the 60’s and 70’s. To this day, he credits those early efforts for his success now. He continues to express the love for nature that he found surfing the waves in Corona del Mar as a kid in all of his films.
Greg MacGillivray, poducer and director of MacGillivray Freeman Films and founder of the One World One Ocean Campaign, shooting "5 Summer Stories." Photo courtesy of MacGillivray Freeman Films.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite surfing quotes from Gary Sirota. If you haven’t heard of him that’s alright - he’s not a famous surfer, he’s a lawyer who has dedicated his life to representing surf and ocean related non-profits. He helped established SurfAid and served as President and Chairman of Surfrider.
"There are no more committed people on the planet than surfers. We fall down a lot. We turn around, paddle back out, and do it over and over again. Unlike anything else in life, the stoke of surfing is so high that the failures quickly fade from memory."
This commitment to finding that stoke on each and every wave, despite our failures, connects us all. Surfer or not, we all strive for passion and commitment in our lives. That’s how we need to approach all challenges in life, including threats to our environment and our future.
Happy International Surfing Day! Enjoy the waves!
At San O'nofre, always looking forward to my next session.