Surf Is Real Estate Agent Sarlo's Turf


For Allen Sarlo, a simple credo has been the key to success.

"I surf hard, work hard," he said.

As a result, the Venice resident has triumphed on the surfboard and in his real estate office.

Sarlo, 32, is known as the "King of Malibu," a title he has earned in reputation and in competition. In July, he won the local Excalibur Cup competition, but his stature had long been established among local surfers.

"Before I even started surfing, Sarlo's been known as the king of Malibu," Ricky Schaffer, 23, said.

Sarlo had coveted the crown since he was a youth.

"Growing up, it seemed like the best surfer was the top dog at Malibu," Sarlo said. "It seemed like everybody looked up to the best surfer in Malibu. I think the reason why is Malibu is one of the best (places for) waves in the world. It has that long, clean ride that you can't find in many places. If you were the best surfer at one of the best beaches in the world, you were top dog. That was one of my goals, to be a recognized pro at Malibu."

Another goal of Sarlo, and a dream of surfers everywhere, is to make the cover of Surfing magazine, which he accomplished when he appeared on the front of the June issue this year. The cover occupies a prominent place in his portfolio, but as he flipped through the pictures he paused at a tiny black-and-white photo that seemed out of place amid the colorful shots of him surfing beaches throughout the world.

The picture, taken when Sarlo was 3, shows a smiling toddler paddling on a surfboard close to the shore. In the background is a lifeguard tower, where Sarlo's father worked.

C.J. Sarlo came to Los Angeles on his honeymoon and liked it so much he decided to move

Venice, where he worked as a lifeguard by day and a police officer by night. Allen and his brother Michael spent their days at the beach while their father worked at the lifeguard tower.

Sarlo began surfing at 9, and by the time he was 13 he won his first competition, the boys' division of an amateur event held in El Segundo.

In 1978, he joined the world professional circuit, finishing in a tie for 15th in his first event, a competition in South Africa won by the legendary Shaun Thompson.

After surfing on the world tour for three years, Sarlo limited his surfing to local events so he could finish his education. A graduate of Venice High, he went to Santa Monica College before transferring to Pepperdine, where he earned a degree in business.

Sarlo had to look no further than his family for a job. Years ago, his father began investing in real estate, starting with a small place in Venice bought with money he had saved from his two jobs. Sarlo's mother operated a tax service and the family would often advise her clients to buy real estate as a tax shelter. Eventually they incorporated real estate into the business.

Working at an office where he can set his own schedule is perfect for Sarlo's lifestyle.

"When the surf is good, you try to schedule your appointments around the surf," Sarlo said. "Sometimes I don't get into the office until 11."

Sarlo has found that being a popular surfer can be good for business as well.

"A lot of times when I'm out in the water, people will say, 'Hey Allen, I'm looking for a house,' " Sarlo said. "I'll go back to the office, give them a call and set up an appointment to show real estate."

While surfers might not make the most reliable clients, Sarlo knows where to find those who miss appointments. He said he sometimes has given up on a late client and headed to the beach, only to find his client is surfing as well.

"I'll actually do business in the water," Sarlo said.

Of course, as a professional surfer, one could make a case that Sarlo always conducts business in the water. Sarlo now competes on the national pro surfing tour, which holds its events in California and Hawaii. Sarlo said by surfing locally he can concentrate on his real estate career and spend more time with his wife, Deborah, and their 1-year-old daughter, Sophia Oceana.

Sarlo has already done his share of traveling. While on the world circuit he surfed in Australia, Japan, South Africa and Brazil. At 32--a veteran by surfing standards--Sarlo now tries to put something back into the sport by participating in environmental groups like Heal the Bay and the Surfrider Foundation. His age also allows him to keep the changes the sport has undergone in perspective.

"Surfing has really grown from the 'beachnik,' hippy surfers to really influential people," Sarlo said. "The same kids that surfed 30 ot 40 years ago are still surfing, but now they drive up in their BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes with surfboards on top."

One aspect of the sport, that unparalleled rush of riding a wave, has stayed the same since he caught his first wave.

"It gives you great satisfaction," Sarlo said. "It gives you a feeling only a surfer could know."

He had to watch as an outsider, Pat O'Connell of Laguna Niguel, won the Malibu Surf Classic on Sarlo's home Surfrider Beach last weekend. Sarlo was eliminated in an earlier heat, despite receiving a perfect score from the judges on one ride.

Local surfers like Shaffer, however, still view Sarlo as the reigning king, with no immediate plans to abdicate.

If anything, Sarlo seems to be getting younger. He exchanges youthful banter with his friends and waves his thumb and pinky in the "hang loose" sign when greeting fellow surfers. "He's more of a kid at heart than most people who are 18," Shaffer said.

"(Surfing) does keep you young," Sarlo said. "You're free to express yourself on the waves. It's energizing to be out there in the water with Mother Nature. I see myself when I'm 60 years old surfing and having a great time."

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