Taylor Pitz has had her driver’s license for less than a month.
It’s a practical thing for Pitz, 16, more than most teenagers. She may enjoy cruising the town, but now she can drive to various beaches around Southern California.
“It’s nice being able to drive yourself, especially to the beach and stuff,” she said. “It’s definitely different, though. I feel a lot older.”
In terms of surfing, she’s been quite grown for some time now. Yes, Pitz should get better at driving, but when she hits the water it’s her chance to really show off.
The Laguna Beach High junior-to-be and standout surfer is in the midst of a competition a weekend. Pack up the car with the longboards and head out, which is the life of a PacSun USA Surf Team member.
Last weekend, it was a Supergirl Pro Junior event in Carlsbad, where Pitz made it to the semifinals.
This weekend, back to Carlsbad for the first Surfing America Prime event of the season.
Then, there’s the SIMA Surfing America USA Championships, which begin Wednesday at the Huntington Beach Pier.
Oh yeah, and earlier this summer, she went on a Bali surf trip through her sponsor, Billabong, and ripped in the U.S. Open.
Big-time events for the girl who might have carried on a tradition on the pitch, not in the waves.
“My dad [Mark] grew up in Laguna but he didn’t surf growing up,” she said. “My dad’s side of the family, their big thing was soccer. They were all into soccer, so they were all hoping when I was little that I was going to play soccer. But I was never really into it. When I was little, I was actually super ‘girlie’ and I just wanted to dance and play with Barbies.”
Then, when she was in fourth grade, Pitz found out about a church surf camp, through Laguna Presbyterian. She said a bunch of her friends were signed up and she decided to give it a go.
“I did that for a couple of summers and really liked it, and then in seventh grade I just decided that I really liked surfing,” Pitz said. “I kind of just made that my focus.”
Scott Finn is glad she did. The Breakers’ head surf coach has followed her career and continues to be impressed by her growth. The South Coast League is a monster for high school surfing with the likes of bigger schools like Newport Harbor and San Clemente in the mix. But last year, when Pitz won the South Coast League girls’ shortboard title at Upper Trestles, Finn said it was the first time an Laguna Beach surfer had ever won an individual title in the league.
“That was a great achievement,” Finn said. “She just leads by her actions. She shows up on time, and she works really hard. She lets her surfing do the talking, which is pretty impressive. It’s really rewarding to watch somebody work that hard. She’s tough, she’s resilient, she’s really disciplined.”
The boys’ team features standouts like senior Porter Hogan, but Pitz will be the cornerstone of the Laguna girls’ surf team again this season. Her self-described “little surf sister” Leah Pakpour is going into the eighth grade at Thurston Middle School.
“I’m excited for her to be a freshman when I’m a senior,” Pitz said. “That’ll be a lot of fun.”
It should be a good time for Alisa Cairns, the girls’ surf coach at Laguna Beach High, as well. Surfing against your student, which happened at the Brooks Street Surfing Classic last month? Not as much fun and a bit awkward.
Cairns, the former pro, made the women’s final along with Pitz and Pakpour. In the end, Pitz called the experience “weird” but she still took the title.
“That was pretty hard,” Cairns agreed. “I really debated doing it, but I’m stoked for Taylor. I’ve won it many, many times and that was my first contest when I was 12 or 13 years old. It was still fun to go out and surf, and cheer on the girls.
“I’m excited to see where women’s surfing is going. I’m excited for all the girls out there who are getting a chance. It’s nice to see some girls from Laguna with that potential and I’m really excited with how she’s been doing. She’s representing the U.S., and then to have her at the high school we’re really lucky.”
Pitz spent much of her early surfing time at Thalia Street, but now surfs mainly at Salt Creek in Dana Point as she said the waves are more consistent. She said she’s ended up making plenty of friends in competition, a list that includes one Courtney Conlogue of Santa Ana.
Conlogue, this year’s U.S. Open women’s champion, went on the Billabong trip to Bali. Both surfers also traveled to Ecuador last spring, for the ISA World Juniors. Conlogue is a couple of months older, but many times she and Pitz end up in the same age bracket at competitions. Many times, Conlogue is also the one who ends up in first. It happened again last weekend in Carlsbad and, while Pitz said she has a lot of respect for her, it does get frustrating at times.
“It’s actually something I deal with every day,” said Pitz, who did finish a strong second to Conlogue in the 18U girls’ division at last year’s USA Championships. “She’s pretty much in every contest I’ve ever done. Every once in a while you’ll beat her, but she’s pretty much consistently winning most everything around here. It gets frustrating.
“You’re like, ‘Oh, why can’t I just beat her more often?’ But then she goes and does something like wins the U.S. Open and beats world champions, and it’s like, ‘Well, all right, I’m not the only one losing to her. Everyone else has problems with her, too.’ She’s just a really great surfer and a really smart competitor.”
But so is Pitz. She’s the one with the surfing genes in the family. Younger sister Makenna plays soccer, and younger brother Mason plays soccer and baseball. Yet, this summer, he’s taken up surfing, which makes sense to Taylor.
Mason is also one of her biggest fans.
“I get along really well with my siblings, and they’re really supportive,” Taylor Pitz said. “It’s funny, because I won’t even realize they keep up so much. I’ll come home from a contest, and my brother will whip out some little fact, like, ‘So, did you pass Catherine in the rankings? I know you were behind her by like 200 points or something.’ I’m like, ‘Mason, I didn’t know you knew what contest I was in!’ They’re cute.”
Entering her junior year at Laguna Beach High, Pitz said she knows there are new challenges that extend beyond surfing. She is thinking about colleges and SATs, with just a couple years left as a “junior” surfer.
“Right now is actually a pretty interesting point,” she said. “I’m not quite sure where I’ll go with [surfing]. I just want to have a lot of fun and meet a lot of cool people. I’m not sure if it’ll end up being my career. I’d love to make a career out of it, but if not, I just want to enjoy it while I can.”
Pitz paused for a moment before cracking a smile.
“I want to have some pretty cool memories of going places to surf, for the grandchildren one day.”