Early Monday through Thursday mornings, nearly 100 members of Huntington Beach High School's surf class, club and team zip up their wet suits, wax down their surfboards and brave the chilly waters at the Huntington Beach Pier, not just to engage in their favorite pastime, but also to earn grades and to maintain the skills that have earned them national championships.
For the last eight years, the Oiler surf team has been undefeated in Sunset League competition. In the 10-year history of the National Scholastic Surfing Assn., Huntington Beach has won the eight state and seven national championships held.
The Oilers defeated Florida's Cocoa Beach High last August at Huntington Beach for their latest national title, and won their latest state title last weekend at Bolsa Chica State Beach.
The NSSA includes high school teams from nearly every state with a beach touching either the Pacific or Atlantic oceans or the Gulf of Mexico.
Chuck Allen, who served as Huntington Beach's coach for the past seven years, helped found the surfing association.
He used to watch his team from the shore every morning--clad in a three-piece suit and Ugg boots--before beginning his work day as a vice president at a Huntington Beach bank.
But Allen, 51, retired in December after 18 1/2 years at the bank, moving to Green Valley Lake, near Big Bear, and leaving the Oilers in search of a coach. Athletic Director Dave Van Hoorebeke served as the interim coach through January, when Andy Verdone was hired.
Verdone, 28, who was chosen over seven applicants, does surf, but he has never coached a surf team before, concentrating on baseball and football in his five years as a teacher and coach at Huntington Beach.
"The kids are what make the team," said Verdone, who is assisted by Tim Sperry and Dave Porter. "They're the main thrust behind the winning. I'm not kidding myself (about helping them win contests)."
Eight years ago, Allen went to the high school's administrators with a detailed plan for a surf team, which he said he would coach as a community service, a surf PE class and a surf club.
Allen, who was a rodeo rider in his youth in Oklahoma, became interested in surfing when his children took up the sport. He learned to surf at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa and said he wanted to help clean up the sport's image by associating it with academic achievement.
Allen said he has seen great improvement over the years in the public's attitude toward surfers and in the attitude of surfers about themselves.
In the past, teen-age surfers were associated with ditching school on the day of a "big swell." Allen remembered when he had to police the beach on his lunch breaks, to get his surfers back into the classrooms.
Today, that is not a problem. The ocean is the classroom, at least for zero and first periods. Students don't have to be back at the campus, which is about a mile from the beach, until the start of second period at 9 a.m.
Now that the surf team members are the school's only consistent champions, they are not as ostracized as they were in the '60s and '70s, when surfers were often associated with territorialism, rudeness, drugs and long hair. In fact, they were recently honored at a school banquet.
"Everyone really respects the team because we've done so well and because surfing is such a major part of Huntington Beach," junior Duane Cox said. "People's views have changed because so many surfers are getting good grades. The team's overall GPA (grade-point average) is 3.2."
A student interested in trying out for the surf team must first join the surf club. The surf class is made up of students interested in surfing.
Of the eight girls in the club, three--sophomore Nea Post and seniors Terry Lynn and Penelope Porter--are on the team.
Post, 15, has a 4.0 grade-point average and is gaining worldwide recognition for her surfing.
She won the title of outstanding amateur in the Ocean Pacific Pro meet last August in Huntington Beach, and she won the girls' 13-17 division of the U.S. Championships in Texas in November. That victory qualified her to participate in the contest (also in Texas, the next day) to determine the U.S. team that competes in the World Contest.
Tying for second place there, she participated in a surf-off in Hawaii in December to determine the second girl's position for the U.S. World Team. While she did not win, she is the alternate on a team made up of the best six men and two women amateur surfers in the United States. She will accompany the team to Puerto Rico for the World Contest next week.
"I started surfing when I was 12," Post said. "I surf every day. It (the Huntington Beach surf team) helps me get through the day. I don't know what I'd do without it."
Chris Cunningham, a junior, is also on the U.S. World Team as a national champion body-boarder.
In last weekend's 4-A Division state championships, Post finished first and Porter third in the girls' surfing final; senior captain Greg Ryan finished third in the boys' surfing final; Cunningham was first in body-boarding, and sophomore Tim Brandon finished first in knee-boarding. The Huntington Beach team scored 157.2 points, well ahead of Edison and San Dieguito, which finished tied for second at 133, and Corona del Mar (76) and Ocean View (42).
Some excellent surfers have come out of the Huntington Beach program, most recently Brad Gerlach, who is ranked in the Top 10 in the world, and Lloyd Tice, who attends Cal State Long Beach on an NSSA scholarship he won last year.