Joe Surf: Making waves in the classroom

To Bali, or not to Bali.

That was the question facing Taylor Pitz, an up-and-coming surfer but also an up-and-coming student.

Pitz, a 2011 graduate of Laguna Beach High School, has qualified for the Assn. of Surfing Professionals Junior World Championship competition, a three-event series starting with the contest in Bali, Indonesia, on Oct. 3.

One problem — Pitz starts school at UCLA on Thursday.

"I had to make the choice of whether or not to take time off school to compete," Pitz, 18, said this week by phone from her UCLA dorm room, "and I made the choice to stay at UCLA. It was a hard choice. It's hard to say, 'No, I don't want to go to Bali.' But it'll be a good decision in the long run. I worked really hard in high school to get good grades. It's awesome to be able to have these choices."

It has been an incredible year for Pitz, both in the water and out. In June, she won a high school national title at the NSSA National Interscholastic Championships at Salt Creek. Later in the summer, she placed fourth in the nation in the women's open division at the NSSA National Championships held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier.

Back home in Laguna, she was named the town's female Athlete of the Year at the All Sport banquet.

"It was amazing," Pitz said. "I was so surprised. There's one girl who's a water polo player and is going to Princeton, and there was a basketball player who set all kinds of records. It was good to see surfing get recognized like that.

"Winning (the national high school crown) at Salt Creek was so much fun because it is one of my home breaks and my whole family was there. It was a nice way to end high school."

And there was last winter, when Pitz got a taste of Hollywood. Well, more like "Huntingtonwood."

A friend who works as a surfing stunt double recommended Pitz and fellow surfer Courtney Conlogue when "90210" was looking for female surfing stunt doubles for an episode that was shot on the south side of the Huntington Pier.

"It was so cool," Pitz said. "It was really fun being able to work on a TV set. It was a unique experience."

Pitz said she doesn't have a DVR or TiVo and hasn't seen the show, but "all my friends said, 'Oh my gosh! We saw you!'"

Conlogue, who just turned 19, already has ascended to the ASP World Tour with the big girls. She finished in seventh place in the 2011 women's world title race. But for Pitz, the pro surfing circuit was a pursuit that she ultimately decided against.

"She's doing so well, it's awesome," Pitz said of Conlogue. "But if you're going to be a pro, you have to give all your heart and energy to surfing, and I didn't want to do that. There are other things I'm interested in.

"I love learning, and I love school. I'm going to be on the UCLA surf team, and I'm pumped up. I'll continue competing doing the Juniors. I love to surf, it's such a big part of me. I love to compete. It's not that I'm tired of competing. I just want to do other things as well."

In the meantime, Pitz is getting used to "so many people" in Westwood and L.A. as compared to the small-town feel in Laguna. She hasn't declared a major, but she's certainly not undecided.

She said she's looking at environmental science and business.

"I want to work to protect the environment, but I'm also business-minded," Pitz said. "I envision bringing those two areas to work together. The extreme environmentalists don't work with businesses actively. But ultimately, the more efficient you can be, the more profit you can make. I believe it's possible to help the environment and make a profit.

"That's my inspiration. I just want to make a little bit of a difference."

But first, Pitz has class Thursday morning. "American Novels, I think," she said.

JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at

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