Eric Kobrine wakes to the surf every morning. His house in Newport Beach is one of those beach homes north of the pier with beautiful views and sand in the carpets.
Last Saturday he got up early, put on shorts and a T-shirt, stood in the sand beyond his patio near a blue vinyl tarp and waited. He was getting ready for a big day.
As president of UC Irvine's surf team and surf club, he and the other members would choose the six-person squad that would compete in this weekend's National Scholastic Surfing Assn. (NSSA) meet in Torrey Pines.
Response by the surfers at UCI had been enthusiastic. Kobrine was expecting 15 to 20 people, all of whom would be rushing through the surf, competing against each other for one of the six spots.
It was scheduled to start at 8. Mother Nature was helping out with waves, "kind of small, but good," Kobrine said.
His arms folded, Kobrine surveyed the quiet beach with a serious stare. A junior with a major in math and economics, he calculated the scene. "Things will get going soon," he said.
Already in the water were two team members, Chris Cullen and Arek Avedian, getting in some practice. Dogs on their morning walks barked and jostled with each other as their owners shielded their eyes from the sun and glanced over at the guys in black wet suits who wrestled with their boards and the waves.
It was getting late, 8:40.
"Well, must have been some outrageous parties last night," joked Kobrine, explaining the absence of surfers who had promised to compete.
Finally, a couple of guys, Dave Park and George Bonne, dove into the ocean, looking to make the team. Then a club member who photographs the guys in action dropped by to watch.
That was it.
So much for the heated competition, the pressured battles to be the best.
The trials, as originally planned, were canceled, and the event became just another surfing session in Kobrine's front yard.
Park, a junior with a major in electrical engineering, and Bonne, a freshman, both made it; Park as a team member and Bonne as an alternate.
No one who showed up was disappointed.
Cullen, the Anteaters star surfer, came back to the sand for a breather. As Kobrine slipped into the house to change into his wet suit and pull out his short, polyurethane board (he's the team's expert body surfer), Cullen looked around the empty beach and shrugged. "We probably should've called some of these guys last night, but we didn't."
Although they didn't get the turnout they expected, the UCI five were confident they could fill out their team. "Some of the guys are in fraternities, and I guess there were some big parties," said Cullen as he zipped his suit back up for another go at the waves, his car key conveniently tied to the zipper ring. This week, all the final plans had to be made.
Ideally, they will take six surfers, including one female surfer (they'll get more points during the competition if they have one) and two alternates down to Torrey Pines.
The NSSA attracts schools up and down the coast, and UCI, with its handful of surfers, hasn't had much of a chance against some of the bigger surf schools, such as San Diego State, Cal State Long Beach, UCLA and Cal State Fullerton.
"You usually can't tell the surfers from the non-surfers at school," Cullen said. "Surf clothing is really popular and everyone wears it. Then there are guys like Arek. He showed up at one of our meetings in glasses and a UCI sweat shirt and didn't look at all like he could surf, but he's pretty good."
The team's small size makes it more the way people say college athletics should be. The team members of major sports get flown or bused to their competitions, but the Anteater surfing team will be "driving in two or three cars," Kobrine said.
"You know, it's not like a football team," Cullen said. "Maybe one guy doesn't want to ride down with another because he doesn't want to listen to his tapes. Surfers just like to do their own thing."
Should the team make it to the finals on Sunday, the members will need a place for the night. While UCI's basketball squad would have a hotel ready for it, arranged by one of its managers, the surfing team's captain has some brochures from the NSSA that list a few motels willing to cut a deal. Cullen and Avedian could stay with some friends.
Other sports get cheerleaders sent down with them to get the school spirit flowing. Not having them attend is OK with this team. "We get beach bunnies though," Cullen joked. "They make up for it."
The word going around the small group was that despite their efforts of plastering the school with posters, the low turnout was due to money. While the team received a $500 grant from the UCI athletic department, it still has come up short for the contest.