Down on Main Street

He's traveled far and wide to the some of the most desired surf spots in the world, but no matter the exotic destination, Main Street, Huntington Beach, will always remain a magical place for Andy Verdone.

It's where the Huntington Beach High surf coach first discovered the local surf culture, and it's where he will be immortalized in its history.

On Friday, Verdone will go into local lore when he joins Rabbit Kekai and Dane Reynolds in the 2012 induction class to the Surfers' Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony starts at 10 a.m. in front of Huntington Surf & Sport at the corner of Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway.

"Andy, Rabbit and Dane have separately and together influenced generations of surfers, contributed greatly to advance our sport of surfing through their talent, innovation and at the same time, contributing immensely to our surfing culture," said Aaron Pai, owner of Huntington Surf & Sport. "We are honored and excited to be able to induct these three surfing legends into the Surfers' Hall of Fame."

For the past 25 years, Verdone has mentored and coached athletes at Huntington Beach High. A former football and baseball coach at the school, he has guided the Oilers' surf program for 25 years, inheriting the position from Chuck Allen, who co-founded the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. and died last year.

Under Verdone's guidance, Huntington teams have won 10 NSSA national championships and one National Surf League championship (2010). His program also has churned out several athletes who went on to the pro tour.

Jeff Deffenbaugh surfed for Verdone at Huntington Beach High.

"Andy's influence on me as a teenager was priceless," said Deffenbaugh who was a freshman in 1989. He went on to surf on tour during the 1990s and remains close friends with Verdone.

"He was very dedicated and passionate about his coaching for the kids on the surf team and I'm sure it's still the same over the years," he continued. "His coaching set the tone for me not just as a competitive surfer, but also to become a strong mind/body athlete. I feel extremely grateful for having him as a coach, mentor and a true friend all these years."

Brett Simpson, who won his opening heat Tuesday at the U.S. Open of Surfing, also benefited from Verdone as a coach. Simpson transferred to Huntington Beach High as a junior.

"Coach took me under his wing and introduced me to a lot of great people as well as help groom me into the person I am today," said Simpson who captured the U.S. Open Men's title in both 2009 and 2010. "He's a very inspirational person and always finds a way to get you pumped up, to push you to be a better person and surfer, as well.

"Andy has helped breed the best surfers to come out of Huntington for over the last decade. I am very proud of him and [the Hall of Fame] is a very deserved achievement."

Main Street has played a huge role for the 52-year-old Verdone. He said he discovered his love of surfing in his youth during numerous family trips to the beach. After his older brother, Ted, bought his first surfboard, Verdone, then 12, followed suit.

"My first surfboard was used, and I bought it at the old Robert August surf shop on Main Street for $60," Verdone said, recalling the life-changing moment. "I'm proud because I loved 'The Endless Summer,' and found the film to be a great inspiration for my own life."

Verdone said that among his early influences in the sport were August and the "magazine stars:" Gerry Lopez, Jeff Hakman and Peter "PT" Townend. He said that he and Townend, a World Champion, later were roommates and would become "old surf buddies."

"Peter was my mentor, and still is," Verdone said. "There is nothing he does not know about the sport. He's my 'coach.'

"My ex-student mentor is Barry Deffenbaugh (brother of Jeff). He shapes [surfboards] and tells me the truth. Bill Sharp is an ex-pro who has always helped me with my program over the years and always has a kind word."

Townend said he took Verdone, who he called one of his "best mates," on his first trip to Hawaii's famed North Shore. Townend's sons, Jye and Tosh, and daughter, Rana, successfully competed in the Huntington Beach High surf program.

"Every year the influence that Coach Verdone has had on hundreds of high school kids in his surf class, that positive effect he has on our Huntington Beach community, cannot be measured," Townend said. "He's a huge part of why 'Surf City' is Surf City."

"He has been a major, positive force, in taking our sport of surfing to the next level while telling the kids to stay in school, get good grades, stay away from drugs, go to college," Pai said. "He truly has been a great example to us all. Andy has impacted kids' lives in many ways, including his legendary surf trips around the world."

Verdone has taken his Huntington Beach teams five times on surf trips to Jeffreys Bay in South Africa. He calls "J-Bay" the "most perfect wave in the world ... stuff dreams are made of." His teams have surfed Ireland and Nantucket, and 10 times his Oilers have traveled to Australia, the most recent trip coming last month. He called Australia a "surfer's paradise."

For Verdone, Friday's induction ceremony will be a full-circle moment. When he puts his hand and footprints in cement for posterity at the corner of Main Street and PCH, it will be just a short distance from that Robert August surf shop where he purchased his first surfboard all those years ago.

"My family and I are honored," said Verdone, who is married and the father of two. "Many people have moved into Huntington Beach for the waves. I know I'm one. We came for the waves, but we stayed for the people."

The Surfers' Hall of Fame is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.

"This place becomes more special with every induction, with every month and every year that goes by," Pai said. "After we are all gone, our kids, and their kids, will be able to come here and experience a little slice of our surfing culture from years past. The Surfers' Hall of Fame is a fun way to honor and preserve some of surfing's finest."

Twitter: @MikeSciacca

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