Surf Team Balances Waves and Work

    With the combination of the world-renown Black’s Beach situated right next door, the desperation for any reason to escape class and the acknowledgement that this may be the only time in your life that you could actually afford to live in La Jolla, seemingly every student at UCSD goes into college with the idea of learning how to surf. But for some, surfing is likened to breathing, and they are dedicated to sacrificing their bodies and many hours from their week for the pure joy of a sweet ride and the keys to the treasured Black’s shores.

    Jason Campa/Guardian
    The 2003 national champions finished eighth of 29 schools in their first competition of the season hosted at home at Black’s Beach on Oct. 21-22.

    The UCSD surf team has turned their passion for surfing into an impressive reputation within the surf community. In 2003, the team was the state and national champion, and in 2006, it earned a third-place title in the National Scholastic Surfing Association National Championships, which is the highest-profile amateur competitive surfing association in the United States.

    Having Black’s Beach as their home turf for practice, it’s no wonder that these 22 talented men and women command the attention and even of other schools at competitions.

    “”Black’s is world-class,”” said sophomore Kevin Mayberry, who first started surfing at age nine with his father at Pacific Beach. “”It is why I, and probably most of the other team members, chose this school. It definitely makes it hard to study.””

    For freshman newcomer Chris David, time management is never easy. A typical morning practice means waking up at 5:30 a.m., grabbing a bite to eat and making the trek from the Sixth College Black’s gate, where he gets a ride to the shore. After surfing the first heat, he runs back up the hill and all the way home for his 8 a.m. class.

    “”Lately I have been trying to focus on fitting in my homework, frat stuff and surf into my life,”” David said. “”I go two to three times a week, but I have to figure out how to go more.””

    Head coach Tyler Callaway uses practice time to build experience in competitive settings. To achieve this, the surfers are split up into heats and a few are left on the beach to judge.

    “”This teaches us how to think about what the judges are looking for and how to maximize our wave scores,”” said freshman Gretchen Wegrich, who is one of seven women on the team.

    Unlike many other sports teams, surfers are not only competing against the other teams, but their own teammates as well. Yet the chemistry on the Triton team allows the competition to stay at a healthy level.

    “”Most practices end with everyone out in the water freesurfing, which is fun and a nice way to start the day,”” Wegrich said. “”People are really supportive of each other and stoked when someone does well. It’s definitely a positive atmosphere, not too intense or overly competitive.””

    Junior captain Jared Lang admitted that despite these pressures, a lot of the performance expectations come from his personal standards.

    “”I think my biggest competition is myself, trying to find a level in which I feel I am surfing my best,”” Lang said. “”Surfing is a learning process. Every wave is different and requires a different strategy.””

    Lang finished seventh nationally last year and has been on the UCSD team for two years. He began surfing at age 13 and turned professional five years later, competing in the World Qualifying Series. He traveled for contests and photo shoots in Australia, Mexico, Indonesia and Costa Rica full-time for three years before starting school at UCSD.

    While this sounds like a dream for many people, it came at a physical price. During his career, Lang – who is currently injured – has overcome broken bones, stitches and a few surgeries, but none of these maladies could stop him from pursuing his passion.

    “”Though I have gotten hurt a few times, I would have to say that the rush of surfing is well worth it,”” Lang said. “”To sit in a tube of water and get that sensation that you shouldn’t be able to breathe in there, yet you are dry – well relatively – is such an indescribable feeling.””

    Mayberry also made an attempt to describe the glory of the barrel. “”It’s a feeling of being in the perfect place at the perfect time,”” he said. “”It’s like a heaven on earth.””

    The Tritons hosted the first of six competitions in the NSSA season on Oct. 21-22 at Black’s Beach, finishing eighth out of a record 29 college teams that competed, with 78 points. The top team of the event was San Diego State with 148 points, followed by UC Santa Barbara with 132 and the University of San Diego with 119.

    With all the pressures on them, the surfers have various strategies to calm their nerves. “”It helps to talk to someone and distract yourself, and other times to talk strategy and focus on what you’re going to do when you get out in there,”” Wegrich said. “”But it all goes away as soon as I hit the water because your like, “”‘Oh, that’s right, I’m just surfing!'””

    A highlight of the competition was when junior Lauren Sweeney took the first-place spot out of six surfers in her heat of the women’s division.

    While each surfer has their own story, records, and motivation for surfing on the UCSD team, they are all united by a deep respect for the power of ocean’s waves which fuel their unique abilities and ambitions.

    “”I know that I can never be in complete control out there no matter how hard I try,”” David said. “”The ocean is always in charge, and I know that I can’t change that.””

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