The surf class at San Pedro High School was started in 1994 by former and longtime swim coach Wayne Rhea to give swimmers extra practice during the off-season. The school did not have a water polo team at the time. The team built momentum over the years, with up to 50 members at one point. The team worked hard but has faced challenges due to LAUSD red tape and COVID. The San Pedro team is one of the only surf teams in all of LAUSD.
With a new coach this year, the team is starting to rebuild itself. The historic take-all team vibe is still an undercurrent — anyone who wants to compete can, and surfing is about having fun, even in competitions. Coach Daniel Canchola, English teacher, has taken over the team, replacing longtime coach Richard Wagoner. Canchola was born and raised in San Pedro and was a former member of the San Pedro High School surf team. He says this is his dream career to be back teaching at his alma mater and coaching the surf team he was on a few years ago.
Students in prior years used to surf during zero and first period at Torrance beach, which is the type of beach, weather, and waves at the competitions. It is advantageous for the team to practice in conditions other schools are familiar with when they compete. This year, San Pedro High School administration changed the surf team schedule to sixth period from first period. The team is hopeful they can meet again during first or zero period in the future. Due to this schedule change, the team is surfing locally, mainly at Royal Palms.
“Surfing at Palms has a hometown feel, and we often see dolphins; it is a different type of beach,” states Canchola. “If you can learn to surf at Palms, you can surf anywhere.”
No surfing experience is needed to join the team besides being able to swim. Safety is the number one priority for the team. At the beginning of the semester, the students learn about rip tides, how to avoid them, how to know you are in one, and how to get out of one. The youth are taught to ditch their boards and save themselves first. Everyone on the team is first aid and CPR certified. Students earn PE credit by being on the team.
“Being on the team has many advantages; the students are using their body and brain,” states Canchola. “They are up early when competing, getting exercise, and moving in a natural environment. On days when the weather is not good for surfing, the students meet and work on homework together in a positive environment.”
Former coach Wagoner, a surfer himself, states, “I have many fond memories of the surf team from my years of coaching. Fine young men and women who grew into responsible community members, some of whom even dabbled in semi-professional competitions in surfing and skating. Some went into careers involving research, medicine, construction and trades, real estate, and even teaching and coaching.
“The surf team is one of the things that makes San Pedro High special among the LAUSD schools, and we are fortunate to have had the support of numerous principals and administrators over the years,” Wagoner continues. “Yes, we had issues at times, but we always bounced back. Now we have a full curriculum guide that has served as a model for several other teams as they developed their own surf classes and teams. Hopefully, the surf team will continue and last many more years.”
A student surfer sums up the team vibe: “There are a million ways to surf, and as long as you’re smiling, you’re doing it right.”
If you are interested in supporting the team by donating new or used wetsuits or boards, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. spt