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Having a Swell Time

Gudauskases Are so Dedicated, You Can Set Your Watch by Them

November 04, 2001|Eric Sondheimer

At 6:30 a.m., an almost harmonic sound emanates from the bedroom of the Gudauskas brothers in San Clemente.

The alarms from three watches worn by each brother go off simultaneously. It's a system devised by the brothers to make sure they wake up.

After eating a bowl of cereal or bagel, all pretense of normality ends.

Most teenagers would be off to school to study in their first period class. Not the Gudauskases.

Fraternal twins Patrick and Dane, sophomores at San Clemente High, and eighth-grader Tanner head off in their wetsuits for surf class at the San Clemente Pier.

"When the waves are good, you'll see kids here at the crack of dawn," Dane said.

By 8:30 a.m., Patrick and Dane have arrived on campus.

Their hair is wet, they're full of energy and jealous football players passing by in the hallways are wondering, "How are the waves?"

Welcome to life as a member of the San Clemente surf team. There are no cheerleaders or marching bands, but you get a varsity letter, course credits and don't have to wear shoes or socks to class.

The surfing coach, Bill Hartman, doesn't worry too much about kids showing up late to practice, either.

"Tell me somebody who shows up to algebra a half-hour early," he said.

There are 160 students enrolled in surfing class at San Clemente. About 30 students represent San Clemente on a team that competes in the 20-team California Interscholastic Surfing Federation.

Unlike football, where profanity comes out in rapid fashion during competition, surfer lingo focuses on three words: stoked, sweet and cool.

There are intense rivalries just like any school competition.

The beach schools competing from San Diego to the South Bay want to prove they are surfing meccas.

"The image of surfing is laid back, go catch a couple of waves and have a good time," Hartman said. "It's not the way it is. Surfing has become very competitive because there's a professional component, with major sponsors giving big bucks.

"Many of the young kids at our school want to pursue that just like some of our kids want to play for the Yankees or Mariners."

The Gudauskases started surfing the same time they started playing T-ball--at age 5.

Patrick won the national championship last spring for 15-and-under in the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. Dane was a quarterfinalist.

Tanner won the middle school championship and travels with his brothers each morning for surf practice because his middle school has a club team.

Their father, Tom, has discovered something about surfing that Gov. Gray Davis, school superintendents and education experts might want to examine.

"I'll give you this little secret--surfing is one of the greatest learning skills presented to humankind," he said. "If you have a passion for surfing, it's going to allow you to explore all the inner disciplines of learning."

The brothers are honor students, with surfing helping to stir interests in chemistry, physics, art, science and the environment.

Patrick and Dane compare their love for surfing to their appreciation for painting and sketching.

"It's very expressionistic," Patrick said. "It's like you have your own style and put your personality into something others see."

There's something refreshing, if not invigorating, to go surfing in the early morning hours before school begins.

"It's a time to relax and be stressless," Patrick said. "It's a nice state of mind."

And, if the waves are cooperating, the adrenaline rush is hard to duplicate.

"You're inside the wave surrounded by water," Dane said. "You're in with nature."

When San Clemente is facing Dana Hills, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Redondo Beach or any of the schools in the surf league, the competitors are focused on trying to impress judges, who award points based on style, the size of waves and the difficulty of maneuvers.

"You need the wow factor," Patrick said. "You try to do the most radical maneuvers."

Surfers are ambitious athletes, always seeking new adventures and new challenges.

"They want to go all over the world and find the islands nobody has surfed and find the perfect wave," Hartman said.

For the Gudauskas brothers, brushing their teeth isn't the last item before going to bed. It's making sure their tide watches with the alarms set are fastened to their wrists.

Being late to school is unacceptable, but not waking up for surf practice is a calamity.


Eric Sondheimer can be reached at

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