Danny Nichols knows when he should stop surfing.
"It's exactly a mile from the beach to school. And if I leave right now, I can make it to class on time."
As the big clock on Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street in Huntington Beach ticks off the minutes before 8:30 a.m., Nichols starts running across the sand to his car, his surfboard tucked under his arm.
Nichols is a senior at Huntington Beach High, and no, he's not doing some free surfing before his first-period class. Instead, he's working out with his surf team as it prepares for the national high school championships next month.
Though surfing is not recognized by the California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body of the state's high school sports, it thrives nonetheless at the county's coastal schools.
Huntington Beach is part of the Sunset League, which includes Edison, Fountain Valley, Marina and Ocean View. The South Coast League is made up of San Clemente, Aliso Niguel, Dana Hills and Capistrano Valley.
Surfing has been part of the California lifestyle since it was introduced to the state from Hawaii in the late '20s, but it wasn't until the '60s that competitive teams emerged on high school campuses.
Bill Garland, who teaches world history at Huntington Beach, started the school's first surf club in 1967. At the time, competition was restricted to San Clemente High . . . or Orange Coast College.
"I was a new teacher then, and I wanted to start a surf club at the school," Garland said. "It seemed like a natural when you considered that Robert August and Corky Carroll both graduated from this school. I put an ad in the local paper, announcing the start of this club, and amazingly I had 70 people come to the first meeting."
Despite the student interest, Garland said the school and district fought him at every turn. And when his club started to attract some of the school's star football players, Garland was read the riot act.
"I was new and in hot water," he said. "Besides the fact that the football players were interested in surfing instead of playing ball, probably the reason for the school and district's hostility was because of the insurance issue. They had these visions of kids being hurt or drowning. And since it was a club, there was no insurance for the kids."
Garland coached the Oilers until 1970. That decade, the sport had a resurgence and schools began adding surfing to their physical education curriculum. Today, about 13 county schools offer surfing as a P.E. elective.
Bill Hartman, surfing coach at San Clemente High, said his school has always tried to feature the exploits of the surfing team as prominently as those of its other sports.
"We're a beach town," Hartman said. "Surfing is very big here, so we do whatever we can to recognize the sport."
San Clemente hands out varsity letters to surf team members and displays surfing banners and trophies in the school gym.
One of San Clemente's more illustrious alumni is Shane Beschen, who was runner-up to Kelly Slater last year for the world surfing title. For Beschen, who lives in Hawaii, high school surfing offered an outlet traditional sports couldn't.
"I'm a surfer. That's all I wanted to do, especially when I was in high school," Beschen said. "So I had the opportunity to do what I like and get credits for it. And it was important to surf against Huntington Beach in the championships. There was a lot of honor at stake."
Brenden White, a junior at San Clemente, will not surf for his high school next year because he's turning professional. He said his three years with the Tritons was important to his development on the longboard.
"Surfing for the San Clemente surf team is equivalent to playing for the football team," White said. "There's a long tradition that goes with surfing with this team. I mean, the people who have done it . . . You have the Beschens, the McPhillips, Josh Baxter, Dino Andino, Chris Ward, Jeff Kramer and, of course, the McNultys. To surf on this team is a great honor."
White said like any "big game," the national high school championships are always the pinnacle of the season.
The National Scholastic Surfing Assn. championships begin June 23 at the Oceanside Pier, and the finals will be June 28 at Lower Trestles in San Clemente.
Janice Aragon, NSSA executive director, said about 11 schools are expected to compete in the team competition and about 200 surfers from across the nation in the individual competition.
And one can't talk about the NSSA championships without mentioning Huntington Beach High. Andy Verdone has been the Oiler coach the past 10 years, guiding Huntington Beach to nine national titles, including the past six. In all, Huntington Beach has won 15 national titles since the competition started in 1978.
Verdone isn't worried that surfing isn't sanctioned by the CIF or Southern Section.