Surf Watchers

Every morning, just after the sun rises, surfer Janice Aragon drives to the beach to stare at the waves and gauge the force and direction of the wind.

After a prearranged phone call to make her report, she hits the waves and catches a few sets before she has to return home to get her husband off to work and her child off to school. Then she's back on the beach in time for the noon report. Ah, the life of the surf reporter.

From Santa Barbara to the Mexican border, Aragon and 40 other Surf Line Inc. reporters are trying to take the hit-or-miss out of Southern California surfers' never-ending search for the best waves of the day. The 2-year-old Huntington Beach company operates the Surf Line, which last year informed more than 1 million callers to its 976-SURF number (at 95 cents per call) of surf conditions at their favorite local beaches.

Surf Line came into being when three friends, Jerry Arnold, Craig Masuoka and David Wilk, heard about the phone company's 976 program, which enables callers to access various prerecorded messages by keying in numbers on their push-button telephones. The trio saw the program as the perfect way to a launch a surfing report.

Surf Line's reporters now cover 16 beaches in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, 12 in Orange County and 18 in San Diego County. In addition to keying in their beach selection, callers can also specify dawn or noon reports or a surf forecast. And during winter months, Surf Line provides an optional ski report as well. The 1 million calls logged in 1986 translated into about $600,000 for Surf Line, with the rest going to Pacific Bell, which operates the 976 dialing system. Earlier this month, the company launched 976-FISH for local fishing conditions, and there are plans to launch Surf Line in Florida.

Wilk says he and his partners never doubted that a prerecorded surf report would work. They were only apprehensive about their reporting staff.

"There's the surfers' reputation of being flaky because they love to surf," he said. "But they are serious about the sport. Our reporters are serious, and they are reliable. It's incredible. When it's barely light out, they are out there."

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