Surfing Soapbox: Accept challenge, follow your dreams

Editor's note: James Pribram spoke to Thurston Middle School on March 24 about "Follow Your Dreams." Below are some of his thoughts.


I had but one dream — to one day be a professional surfer, and nothing was going to stand in my way. Nothing.

I knew early on that I would never make it working a so-called regular job. I struggled in the classroom. I wasn't considered the most popular or the best looking. In fact, I was very shy and a little bit lost while in school. However, there was always one place in my life that I could never be touched and that was on the beach and in the waves standing on a surfboard.

Surfing was and has always been the one constant path in my life. In many ways I believe it saved my life. It gave me an identity. A purpose, a reason to get up every morning and give everything I had to something. The more people said I couldn't, the more the fire inside of me raged. I used every negative thing I ever heard about me as fuel to my fire. I was so dedicated to surfing while growing up. When others were out partying and going to school dances, I was going to sleep early to wake up at 5 every Saturday morning for another contest — and I loved it.

It gave me a real sense of belonging to something, and soon I was making a lot of finals. I believe there were two pivotal chapters in my life.

As a freshman in high school I was failing five out of six classes and even today I am embarrassed to admit it, but sadly it's true. Later that year I would be eligible to make the NSSA National Team, one of the highest honors in amateur surfing, comparable to making an Olympic team; however, true to form, I had to learn the hard way. Although I had the results to make the team, I didn't have the grades. To say that I was crushed would be an understatement. I had a choice to make: either except the challenge and improve my grades, or continue to fail, which was not an option because without making the national team, there was no way that my dream of being a professional surfer would happen. The next year, I made it.

It was one of the proudest moment's of my life.

I had accepted the challenge and came through with flying colors. It gave me confidence and an understanding of knowing that if I worked really hard at something that I could make it. After that, my surfing career took off. I won a high school state championship, made the NSSA National Team twice and turned pro in 1990. Along the way, I had a best friend whom I grew up surfing with. Being three years older, he was like an older brother. I chose surfing and he chose drugs; now he's doing life in prison. You could say that he learned the hard way. That's something that still greatly pains me today. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about him.

You better understand real quickly that you only get one life. How do you want to live it? Dream big, and don't ever let anyone hold you back. When people doubt you, let it fuel your fire to work even harder. I know what it is like to grow up in Laguna Beach. To me life will always be about the challenges, obstacles and the doubters. Step up, accept the challenge, follow your dream and never, never give up.

JAMES PRIBRAM is a Laguna Beach native, professional surfer and John Kelly Environmental Award winner. He can be reached at Jamo@Aloha

In It To Win It

El Morro Elementary School's PTA Green Team has teamed up with James Pribram for announce an essay contest on "The best way I can save my ocean is…", according to a news release.

Students should think about what is negatively impacting the ocean and how those things are affecting the animals, plants, sea life and shorelines. They are encouraged to write down what they can do to make a difference.

Pribram will announce the winners April 11 at the El Morro lunch tables. He will speak with the students during lunchtime about the pressing issues our environment is facing. He will award one grand prize essay contest winner with a personal autographed surfboard from his collection. Special awards will also be given to top honorable mention essay at each grade level. Essays must be turned in by Thursday at the El Morro School office.

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