If you’re looking for Laguna Beach boys’ basketball Coach Bret Fleming between classes and games, don’t forget to head down to the beach and check the local surf. This self-described “gym rat” turned surfer is one of many Laguna residents who have added surfing to their list of favorite sports a little later in life.
As many folks in town know, Fleming is an excellent basketball coach and high school teacher. In fact, he has his team off to another great season, shooting for a third straight Orange Coast League title, but it’s his front side carves that have been turning heads down at the local beach breaks.
Strolling down memory lane a few years back, I can recall seeing the genesis of Fleming’s surfing odysseys, which included a partner in crime, his son, Ty. Like all beginners, these two were as green as grass, didn’t have much of a clue. One thing they did have however was determination. Day after day, these two could be found logging some serious water time, perfecting the basics of paddling, popping up and riding in the white wash of the breaking waves.
Then, in what seemed like overnight, Ty developed a smooth style and an appetite for big waves.
One memorable swell in April of 2005, I recall marveling at the skill and confidence at which Ty had built up with his surfing. The waves were massive at typically well-mannered Oak Street beach, some breaking double overhead.
Ty was out in the line-up beaming with joy as he flew down the face of some epic peaks, drawing clean lines and ending up halfway down to Brooks Street. Of course his father Bret was out there, too, cheering him on at the top of his lungs as only a proud parent can.
Bret can handle the big stuff, too, but his calling card is consistency and flow. Whether the surf is big, small, clean or blown out, you will typically find him with a big grin on his face surfing his favorite Laguna spot, Gene’s reef. This surf spot is appropriately named after the old Gene’s Market that the break lies parallel to up on Coast Highway — it is currently home to the Art of Fitness.
Like many spots along Laguna’s coastline, Gene’s has its great days, but more commonly it’s a quirky little wave that requires some patience to really enjoy.
Bret has developed not only patience, but also a knack for grabbing the rare waves that offer a little canvas for expression. Bret’s style is smooth.
He sets solid lines and is regularly pulling off a variety of classic moves, including cutbacks, floaters and airs. OK, so he’s not really doing airs as of yet, but he’s only in his 40s, there’s still time.
So if you see Coach Fleming around town, don’t hesitate to ask him his thoughts on what direction the high school basketball team is headed, if the Lakers can make it back to the finals, or any number of basketball questions. But if you sense that his mind is wandering just a bit, it’s probably safe to say he’s thinking about his next surf session.
CHRIS WILLIAMS is the father of four surf-crazy sons, a surfing coach and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at email@example.com or (949) 497-5918.