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A Natural Choice

Ventura Teen Dylan Slater Find Peace and Possible Profession

January 21, 1998|ERIC SONDHEIMER

VENTURA — Umbrellas are out, rain jackets are on, the wind is howling and sea gulls are squawking as 16-year-old Dylan Slater paddles out on his orange surfboard eager to savor his moment of tranquillity.

Rain or shine, big or small waves, Slater is always surfing. During his summer vacation, from June 14 to Sept. 6, he surfed every day except two, and one was because of a flight to Tahiti.

Slater has been spotted wearing clothes rather than a wetsuit, but his surf gear is never far away.

"If it's raining hard or even hailing, I'm out there," he said on a blustery day last week at Surfers Point. "I don't think twice about it. Surfing has no weather limitations--unless there's a hurricane."

At 5 feet 6 and 120 pounds, with blond hair and blue eyes, Slater fits the image of a teenage surfing marvel.

Halfway through the 10-event National Scholastic Surfing Assn. competition, Slater is ranked No. 1 in his 13-15 age group that includes surfers from Ventura to San Diego.

A sophomore at Ventura High, Slater long ago gave up baseball and basketball to spend his afternoons searching for perfect waves.

As soon as school lets out at 3 p.m., he heads home, gets something to eat, then goes surfing.

"With surfing, there's no rules," he said. "You can do what you want. There's no one telling you, 'You got to do this, you got to do that.' It's just you and the ocean. In the early morning sessions, when you're by yourself, it's just you and nature."

With a 4.0 grade-point average, Slater contradicts the stereotype of the addlebrained surfer popularized by actor Sean Penn in the 1980s movie, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

"I'm usually happy when the weekend comes around and happy when the summer comes around, but I think school is necessary," he said. "If you're a professional surfer, you need your education to deal with life on the road."

Slater celebrated a momentous day two weeks ago. He turned 16 and passed his driver's test.

"I was a little bit nervous because my buddy failed the test the night before," he said. "I was kind of messing up in the beginning. I couldn't find the emergency brake in the car I was driving and was blowing it."

His parents got him a pickup truck that serves as his "birthday, Christmas, Valentine's Day and Fourth of July" present, according to his mother, Fran. She used to be his chauffeur, dropping him off at various surfing spots.

Fran has complete trust in her son's judgment.

"From when he was 3, he'd go down the driveway on a skateboard," she said. "He's always had a sense of balance and risk taking."

Dylan's brother, Evan, was a top surfer and now works for Surfer magazine. His sister and father surf. The family gets a fax every night with the surf report.

"Most fathers and sons play catch," Dylan said. "He takes me surfing."

Slater has traveled to Costa Rica, Barbados, Tahiti and Hawaii to surf. He has sponsors that supply him with surfboards, clothes, wetsuits and shoes.

His size makes him easy prey for Ventura High football players, but they have come to recognize Slater as an exceptional athlete.

"They joke around with me a lot," he said. "I guess they respect me for what I do, and I respect them. They'll say, 'Oh, you're just playing around in the water,' but then they realize it's just like football. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of training, a lot of self discipline."

Slater is not related to pro surfer Kelly Slater, but he hopes to join him one day.

Riding waves is something Slater intends to do long after he grows old and gray.

"There's a certain feeling after you pull off a good wave," Slater said. "It's indescribable."


Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422.

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