By Peter A. Balaskas | Photos by Robert Zaleski
Surfing at Laguna Beach is more than just an exercise in strength and endurance; it’s a dynamic lifestyle where a participant’s frame of mind is at one with nature, and all the senses come alive. First, there’s the anticipation as surfers line up for their first takeoff on the next rising groundswell. The adrenaline builds as they take a bottom turn, and then perform an aerial toward the peak, feeling the fan spray in their faces. Next, they get ready for a layback as they ride one of the hugest barrels they’ve ever seen. The roar inside the water tunnel is almost deafening, but the rush of the moment carries them through the other end in euphoria.
Over the years, Laguna has been a hot spot for surfers who travel from all over Southern California to ride the biggest of bombs and barrels. One of the best examples of Laguna’s love for surfing is the Brooks Street Surfing Classic, which began in 1955 and is still considered the oldest surfing competition in the world. Not only are seasoned veterans drawn to the Laguna coast but also groms, who are cutting their teeth on Boogie boards and longboards. Here are a few of Laguna’s long-lasting surf legends and up-and-coming newbies who aspire to be like their elder masters.
the renaissance man
Walter Viszolay is a man of many talents. In the local art world, he is renowned for his oil-based Laguna landscapes, golden beaches and sunsets, and shining sapphire waves. But Walter’s passion for painting is only matched by his devotion for surfing, which he began at 11 years old.“I used to love going down to the beach with my parents; we had just come to America from Hungary,” Walter says. “I would see people bodysurfing and board surfing, and I knew that I wanted to learn to do that.” Walter’s path to surfing legend started with bodysurfing in the shore break. Then, his brother, Alfonz, purchased and repaired a broken Velzy surfboard that he would take to the Santa Ana River Jetties, where he explored his love for surfing.
Now 65 years old, Walter has perfected his signature techniques, including his bottom turns, cutbacks, sideslipping the board down the face of the wave and pulling it back into the curl to stay in the right part of the wave, and even doing a headstand in its curl. It’s no surprise that he’s won countless surfing accolades, including an honor from one of America’s popular surfboard companies. “One of my favorite achievements was surfing for Hobie [Alter],” Walter says. “He would have his shapers make me boards. My favorite was a Phil Edwards model.” In between painting, Walter can still be seen riding the waves at Oak Street, Heisler Park and Sleepy Hollow Street beaches, savoring the smell of the ocean and the hot sands of Laguna Beach.
the brooks street star
Laguna Beach is known for its plentiful surfing sites: Oak Street, Hakama (between Thalia and Anita streets), Agate Street and Garbage Hole (a break in front of Laguna Village and The Cliff Restaurant). But the one locale that 45-year-old surf champ Jeff Booth loves to visit is Brooks Street—he shares that if you can ride Brooks, you can adapt and ride any kind of waves in Laguna.
“It has a nice ledge drop on the takeoff, plus lots of changes in the aspect of the wave, along with some backwash to make it interesting,” Jeff says. “When Brooks gets really big, you can ride it in from Second Reef (an outside break at Brooks Street), which is a total blast.”
If there is a downside to visiting popular surfing sites such as Brooks Street, Jeff says it’s the crowds, especially those who don’t wait for their proper turn in the lineup. Oftentimes, lack of surfing etiquette can ruin the overall rush of breaking the waves. Jeff’s approach of hitting big turns with power and speed, as well as adding a little style and smoothness to his techniques, has earned this veteran many surfing awards, including winning in every age bracket at the Brooks Street event, from the 12-and-under division in 1980 to the professional division as an adult. In fact, Jeff finished fourth in the 1995 Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Championship Tour.
But it all comes down to the frame of mind: to connect with the ocean waves. “Surfing is a journey; there are many aspects to it,” Jeff says. “Learning, dominating, mastering and just plain old enjoying it. No matter where you are on the mountain, as a surfer, you are in an elite club that most people on the planet will never get to experience.”
the class act
Twenty-one-year-old Taylor Pitz loves to practice different kinds of surfing techniques. But if there is one maneuver that almost serves as a guilty pleasure for her, it’s the cannonball, which she has discovered is quite a crowd pleaser and a perfect way to make new friends in the lineup.
“I especially love doing the cannonball on left-breaking waves, which is my backside,” Taylor says. “I allow the wave to break a little outside of where I take off. I then allow the whitewash to hit me, leap off my board, tuck in all my limbs, and free fall through the air to the bottom of the wave.”
Starting at 10 years old, while attending the Laguna Presbyterian Church’s Club H2O Surf Camp, Taylor’s passion for surfing and her experience grew. She sharpened her skills and maintained her discipline during competitions, ultimately winning the National Scholastic Surfing Association’s high school women’s national category during her senior year in 2011. She also worked with the USA Surf Team in 2009-2010 and competed in the International Surfing Association’s World Junior Surfing Championships in New Zealand in 2010.
Besides riding the wave face, Taylor is also pursuing her bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in environmental systems and society at the University of California, Los Angeles. And she offers some sound advice regarding how to balance the best of both worlds. “It’s easy to get caught up in the surf world, but … going to college has allowed me to keep surfing [as] a part of my life, while at the same time, exploring so many other options the world has to offer.”
CAMERON DE PFYFFER
the adrenaline junkie
Like many beginners, Cameron de Pfyffer learned to surf at Doheny State Beach, just south of Laguna. After starting at age 8, his surfing skills began to blossom when he went to San Onofre for bigger and longer rides. Now 18 years old, Cameron surfs at more challenging sites, such as the Laguna-based North Reef off of St. Anne’s Street and Rockpile Beach, always expanding his learning curve. “I enjoy pulling off difficult maneuvers and the adrenaline from surfing big waves,” Cameron says. “I like that every wave is different and the conditions are always changing. You have to learn to predict the waves’ conditions by checking the weather and tides.”
His ever-evolving maneuvers and instincts have led Cameron to become Laguna Beach High School’s Most Valuable Surfer in 2013 and 2014. One of his inspirations is the late surfing champion Andy Irons, who won his world title three times, even when he was challenged by another surf great, Kelly Slater. Cameron admires Andy’s tenacity and discipline at the Pipe Masters Final and ASP World Championship Tour. Cameron’s admiration for surf greats like Andy is matched only by his intensity and focused drive. With regard to his technique, he shares that it’s a combination of making quick decisions before your next move. And, of course, it is essential to always practice. “Recommendation to beginner surfer[s]: arm strength and tenacity,” he says. “The more you surf, the better you will get. So, just keep surfing.”
the barrel-riding pro
There are many reasons why 12-year-old Trey Lockhart loves the ocean and loves to surf. “[It’s] the sense of freedom it gives me,” Trey explains. “I love surfing with my friends, and we all really push each other to be the best we can be and try new tricks. But I have to say what I love the absolute most is the feeling of the barrel coming over me.”
Trey has grabbed his passion for surfing by the metaphorical throat since he was 3 years old, and he’s not showing any signs of letting go. When it comes to learning new techniques at his favorite spots, such as Thalia Street reef area and Sleepy Hollow—a place where he can ride his favorite barrels—he’s always trying to perfect the more difficult moves, including air reverses and the blow tail.
Trey’s greatest mental challenge, however, occurs when he enters competitions, where he strives to maintain confidence in his abilities. “When I am competing, I always second-guess myself, stress, and then become impatient,” he says. “In competition surfing, there is so much pressure to perform, and you want to win and do your best. I overthink my every move.”
But what pleases Trey the most is that his younger brother, Tyson, is following in his footsteps. Tyson is on a quest to be the best surfer he can be, just like Trey—and who knows where this sport will take the Lockhart brothers, riding the barrels together in Laguna Beach.
the fast fish
Up-and-comer Ryder Fish, 8, has two surfing heroes: superstars Kelly Slater and Laird Hamilton, each with different styles and philosophies. Their diverse qualities only enhance Ryder’s love even more.
“[Kelly] has been a great example to kids because he inspires them to keep working hard and to have a good attitude,” Ryder explains of his surfing idol. “He seems really mellow and humble, and he doesn’t brag about his surfing. [Laird will] go for like anything; he doesn’t care. And he hasn’t done one contest, so he inspires kids to just surf because they love it and not to try and get first place.”
Since he was 4 years old, Ryder has been making his presence known in the surfing world; most recently, Quiksilver accepted Ryder to be in their Flo-gram, a special program for young surfers that they hope to shepherd into full sponsorship and membership on their official team. The grom has already enjoyed the perks from the renowned sports equipment company, including receiving quarterly shopping passes of product/surf gear per year. Now, what grom wouldn’t want that?
“This is an incredible opportunity and stepping stone to one day maybe being on the actual Quiksilver team where they are paying for awesome trips and stuff,” Ryder says. “I know that there is a lot of hard work for me to do, and I just have to keep working hard.”
In the meantime, young Ryder will continue to improve his favorite techniques, such as performing hard cutbacks. He practices difficult techniques at Agate and Thalia Street beaches, where as time goes on, Ryder will no doubt evolve into another Laguna surfing legend.