SURFING LAGUNA: Learning the pecking order and passing the torch

Zach’s surfing odyssey started out like countless other Laguna groms, rolling in the sand and bodysurfing in the shore break down at Thalia Street beach, and slowly venturing farther and farther out to the surfing line-up as his skill and confidence grew slowly over the months and years. Like all young surfers, Zach had to establish his spot within the Laguna surfing hierarchy, or as it is commonly referred to in surfing, “the pecking order."

The rules of etiquette are not especially complicated and are generally well understood. The basic system is as follows: Laguna Legends and uber-rippers get the best waves, solid surfers jockey for slightly lesser quality waves, and finally it’s the groms’ turn. They wage battle among other groms, novices and beginners for the remaining waves. It’s a fortuitous system and teaches respect for our surfing elders and those who work hard to achieve excellence.

It should be pointed out that Laguna’s best surfers regularly “hoot" deserving groms into some of the best waves of any given session, typically as a way of encouraging the next generation to excel. Zach, too, was the recipient of many of these “gifts" from the older surfers over the years.

I remember overhearing Zach and his friends describing their first barrel rides at Thalia reef while standing in line at Wahoo’s, complete with hand motions and sound effects describing the hollowness of the waves and other critical factors. It goes something like this: “Hey, Hunter, Thalia reef was so sick yesterday, I got a 10-second stand up barrel! Talk to Eli Visolay, he saw it."


Zach’s desire to progress in the sport found him traveling up and down the West Coast, surfing in regional surf contests and familiarizing himself with some of California’s more noted surfing venues.

One trip to Santa Cruz’ famous Pleasure Point had him “frothing" with anticipation to sample the perfect 4- to 6-foot right-handers that were breaking across the point for what seemed like a mile. Watching Zach drop in on some of the picture-perfect waves gave me a rush very similar to riding the waves myself.

I could actually feel my weight shifting under my feet as I leaned into the turns Zach was executing, turns I’ve watched Zach make a thousand times before, but not quite like this. I quickly suited up and joined him in what was one of our all-time surf sessions together.

This past week down at Salt Creek, during our first south swell of the season, I took Zach and some of his Laguna Beach High School teammates to surf practice.


The conditions were beautiful as the sun was shining, the wind was offshore and the waves were 4- to 6-foot and reeling. All the kids were “blowing up" as I watched from the beach, with vertical snaps, airs and barrels being the order of the day. However, I must admit there was one kid that I was especially stoked to see surfing well. His turns were crisp, his style perfect and his timing was spot on. Then suddenly it became so clearly obvious: It was time to pass the torch to my son Zach, as he now officially surfs circles around his dad "” and I couldn’t be more proud.

CHRIS WILLIAMS is a surfing coach, a Laguna resident and the father of four surf-crazy sons. He can be reached at or (949) 497-5918.