Surfing Laguna: Thurston has some team magic

Laguna's competitive surfing future is looking bright these days, especially among the junior high age group. Much thanks is due to a group of parent volunteers who've contributed to what looks like a bumper crop of young talent.

This week I caught up with Thurston Middle School Surf Team volunteer coaches Eric Zuziak and Scot Grierson, who shed some light on what's happening here in the Laguna lineup.

What inspired you guys to get involved with the TMS Surf Team?

SG: I saw an opportunity to continue a great tradition of surfing in Laguna by supporting middle-school-aged competitive surfing. Since then, we draw motivation from seeing the kids learn. It's hard to explain the satisfaction when a kid makes it out of a heat for the first time and runs to tell their parents — really good stuff!

EZ: I became involved as a parent when my son Cameron joined the Thurston Surf Team as a sixth-grader in 2008. The coaches then were Rich Garrett and Steve Cassil, and they did a great job. Before the end of the season, Scot Grierson and I decided that it would be a lot of fun to take over the coaching roles as Rich and Steve's sons were going on to LBHS [Laguna Beach High School] the following year.

It's a group effort, of course, and several other parents, volunteers and sponsors have devoted time to the team — who has come along side you to help make it happen?

EZ: Laguna Surf and Sport has always been a great supporter of the team. Jason "Watto" Watson has always been very involved with their sponsorship of the team with new team gear each year. We really appreciate their support. XS Energy drink has also been a long-time sponsor of the team. As always, the team could not survive without the great support of all the parents as well. Many of the parents are involved with donating to funds, and cooking full hot breakfasts and lunches at all the competition events. This makes for a great team spirit among all the kids and the parents. Our food is usually the envy of all the other teams on the beach!

Who has been leading the charge with the delicious food?

SG: First year was Dorte Pakpour with luscious grinds. This year is Darren "Dags" Madrigal, the new assistant coach, and Yudi Vinograd, chef extraordinary.

Share a bit of background and history regarding the team.

EZ: The team has been around for quite some time. I know that the current LBHS Surf Coach Scott Finn was originally the coach of the TST when my daughter was on the team way back in 2002. Rich Garrett and Steve Cassil coached the team from 2007-08. They really set up the current direction of the team with the great parent involvement. Scot and I just built it from there.

What are some of the strategies and advice you pass on to the students to prepare them for surf competition?

SG: Have fun! Also, get in the water as much as possible. Heat strategy is a big focus at this age since the heats are short (only 15 minutes) and there are only so many waves for the six surfers in each heat.

How is preparing for surf competitions different than traditional sports?

SG: Surf competition requires continuous monitoring of conditions that change by the minute. You can't catch waves if you're in the wrong spot.

Which individuals are stepping up not only with results but with character and leadership within the team?

SG: Willy Hogan is currently top of the rankings among the boys and newcomers Bella Pringle and Madeline Kristensen both made the girls' final in their first contests. The whole team should be commended for helping each other and creating a unique "ohana" style culture. Bodyboarders Tommy Ressler and Dominic Droulez are really stepping it up as well.

The TMS Surf Team seems to share a special bond, what do you attribute this cohesion, too?

SG: The team consists of experienced competitive surfers and beginner level. Pearl Shoemaker, a seventh-grader in her second year, and eighth-grader Dylan Augenstein have improved tremendously. It's the way that Laguna families come together to support the surfers is what sets us apart. Growing up in Laguna is an amazing gift.

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