The year of the committed surfer
El Nino arrives, Mike Balzer presides, Costa glides, Dane Zaun flies, Steve Buchan revives, John Balk survives, and Morgan Sliff rides, rides, rides
by Ed Solt
We remember days of epic surf. Doldrums tend to be forgotten. Who can really recall going out at the Hermosa Beach pier on a blown-out, one-foot day?
We’re stoked to recall that offshore day, when the sandbar was just rifling, vividly reminiscing on what we were riding, maybe even what we ate for breakfast, and of course the rides we scored. To be available for these days, it takes a level of commitment…and maybe a flexible occupation. 2015 was the year of the committed surfer.
A counterpart to the committed surfer, however, are the photographs that document his or her work, and one of the hallmarks of the local surf scene has been ongoing commitment of one of the area’s hardest working photographers, Civic Couch’s Brad Jacobson, who was the subject of a Drop Zone LA profile last January.
“If there’s a pumping barrel breaking in the South Bay, most likely Brad is shooting it,” said surfer Chris Wells, a frequent subject of Jacobson.
The South Bay Boardrider’s Club, after three postponed contests (the most in the club’s history) due to polar opposite waves, finally had its first contest in February. Club president Mike Balzer had to make the difficult decision to throw the contest in big yet contestable waves.
“It became an endurance contest,” said third place legend division finisher Mike Purpus, “The riptide was like inside Pipeline when you are scratching to get to the inside while stuck in the impact zone. The current was like paddling against the Colorado River and the sets were like surfing a stormy day at 2nd Reef Pipeline.”
In the South Bay Scholastic Surfing Association season, Palos Verdes High School came close to beating the undefeated Mira Costa Surf Team in March.
“It was tight,” said surf judge and local surf star Codee Stamis. “It went back and forth between each surfer.”
Guided by up and coming surf star Cody Purcell and his mind-blowing surf abilities, Costa ran up the score in the second half to win the contest and the league.
The SBBC wrapped up the “King of the South Bay presented by Spyder” contest held at Manhattan Beach in May.
“With what swell we had on tap, we got blessed with waves we could run the entire contest on,” said Wright Adaza, the head beach marshall who along with Balzer and a slew of volunteers and judges was key to the smoothly running operation.
Dane Zaun won the crown in the shortboard men’s open. The big upset was in the longboard division, in which past winners Dave Schaefer and Mike Siordia lost. San Pedro’s Steve Buchan, who had been MIA in the surf scene for nearly ten years due to youthful indiscretions and is recently two years sober, won the division.
“This is one of the happiest days of my life,” said Buchan at the conclusion of the event, which was attended by his dad, Rob, making his victory even sweeter.
On July 21, local surfer Morgan Sliff decided to reconnect with her passion for the ocean that had been likewise MIA.
“I was taking life way too seriously, and I hadn’t surfed in a while,” Sliff said. “Immediately after getting in the water, I thought, ‘This is what I have been missing out on.’”
After a month of surfing daily, Sliff was engulfed with the stoke and decided to set a goal: to surf every single day for a year straight. The local surf community rallied around her. Brother’s Burritos kept a daily log on its front window (she’s now over 160) while Jose Barahona of Barahona Surfboards shaped her a new quiver. And Sliff began chronicling her adventures daily for EasyReaderNews.com.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” Sliff said. “I feel so supported.”
In October, traditional longboarding, aka “hotdogging,’” was reintroduced at the Hermosa Beach Hotdogger Championships Presented by Subaru Pacific. The contest catered to those who prefer ‘60s style surfboards; heavy, single finned, and unattached to any cord. More than 150 entrants relished the chance.
“The rules are very specific and lean toward more classic style of surfing, with the equipment being dictated by traditional designs,” said contest head judge Shawn O’Brien. “The rules, as well as the cash purse provided by Aloha HR, attracted a stellar crew of surfers committed to the style. The only other type of contest like this is the Joel Tudor Duct Tape, which is an invitational. I am putting it on the record — this was the highest caliber longboarding ever seen at the pier.”
Also in October, lifetime local surfer John Balk kept feeling his right arm lock up at the elbow. He just assumed it was a result of a lifetime of surfing. His arm couldn’t bend for thirty seconds. Was it just over-surfed and overworked? After an episode at a family friends’ home who happen to be doctors, Balk was diagnosed with cancer — he had a brain tumor. He underwent surgery a week later. In November, local surfer Jamie Meistrell organized a fundraiser to help Balk on his journey back to health with positive vibes and medical expenses.
“John has been an inspiration for all of us,” Meistrell said. “It was second nature to organize a fundraiser.”
The local surf community gathered at Dive N’ Surf and donated items for a silent auction and raffle. Local musicians Kevin Sousa, Jeff Nisen, Kira Lingman, and Moe from Tomorrow’s Bad Seed’s kicked out the jams while King Harbor Brewing Company went through three kegs.
“$22,000 was raised for the Balk family in just five days and is a testament to how strong our surf community is,” said Meistrell. “The highlight of the event was when John Balk walked to the stage with his family to give thanks.”
Record high water temperatures prevailed over much of the fall, giving us a glimpse of what is to come for 2016’s “El Nino” surf. After two years which didn’t produce waves of consequence for the South Bay Big Wave Challenge, this year looks promising.
“We have had some big swells to end 2015 and I am gearing up with my new Davenport Surfboards stick in the works,” said O’Brien. “It’s predicted to be season of a lot of swell.”