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PLACENTIA : Scouts Aid Landlocked Surf Team

Surfers in the sleepy, inland city of Placentia can almost hear the waves--long before the sun comes up--when they rise to head for the beach.

Almost--the nearest beach is 24 miles away. But that has not daunted a small group of dedicated surfers at El Dorado High School who are struggling to establish the Pleasantville Inland Surfers Club.

Distance and rejection by their school have not discouraged this group of young men from fulfilling a dream they have had for years.

“As seniors, this is our last year,” said Mark Ritchie, student body president at El Dorado and an avid surfer. “I promised myself that if I got elected . . . I would do something about it.”

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But initial attempts to start a club failed, Ritchie said, because school officials “said we couldn’t associate the team with El Dorado in any way.”

All clubs at El Dorado must be related to the curricula, Paul Preston, activities director for the school, explained. He added: “Surfing is a high-risk activity. We can in no way sponsor such a group.”

Some inland high schools, such as Sunny Hills in Fullerton and Canyon High in Anaheim, have surfing teams supported by the school district. At some South County schools, surfing is a physical education class, Jeff Bakken, president of the Pleasantville Inland Surfers Club, said.

“It could be done here,” Bakken said, “but the school (officials do not) want to stick their neck out.”

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Then the 15 or so El Dorado surfers approached the Boy Scouts of America, which agreed to sponsor and insure them.

As an Explorer division of the Boy Scouts, they are covered by liability insurance, said Randy Wenz, a Scout executive. They can enter contests in the Inland Surf League, which was formed two years ago to give inland county teams a chance to surf competitively.

The league, which has grown from three to more than 18 teams in the high school division, was started “to give kids an opportunity to compete,” Wenz said.

Inland teen-agers who tried to compete on their own in surfing contests “quickly became discouraged because they always came in last,” he said. “They just couldn’t compete against guys who live at the beach and practice every day.”

Team members said they need a lot practice before they will feel that they can compete well.

“We are definitely behind everyone else,” Ritchie said, “but the guys are just happy we’re doing it.

James Vartanian, the team’s coach, said: “It’s going to be tough, but I believe in them. Even if they don’t win, just having them get up and do it is worth my time.”

Vartanian, owner of Vartanian Surfboards, met most of the boys when they came to him to buy boards. At 25 years old, he meets the Boy Scout requirement that someone over 21 be present at every event.

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“The kids talked about it for a long time,” Vartanian said. “I let them know if they wanted it, they’d have to show some initiative.”

Vartanian said high school students should be able to participate in sports other than football, baseball and basketball. He began surfing 13 years ago because a disease affecting his knees prevented him from playing contact sports.

“I was lucky there was a surf team at my school,” he said.

Vartanian estimated that the team will need to practice at least twice during the week and “as much as possible” on weekends.

But, Bakken said: “It feels great now that it’s going somewhere.”


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