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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

Gray Has the Smarts On and Off a Surfboard

June 06, 2003|Eric Sondheimer

If Jay Leno or David Letterman ever need a youthful sidekick, 16-year-old Alex Gray is ready to apply for the job.

Girls adore him. Guys want to be like him.

Gray is training to be a professional surfer, but give him a microphone and he turns into the next Adam Sandler.

"I like to bring my personality into the game," he said. "I'm a personal relations man. I love people. I like to make them laugh. Everyone has a story, and I like to find out what that is."

Gray is a 5-foot-7, 125-pound junior at Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula. Surfer magazine rated him No. 51 among the 100 hottest young surfers worldwide. He has been on the list for the last three years.

He surfs every day, usually morning and afternoon. Twice a week, he paddles a boat 10 miles. Twice a week, he rides a bike 10 miles. He's building up stamina and agility to help him become a better surfer.

"I like to show up and have confidence that I'm at my maximum strength and ability," he said. "I don't just come to play around."

With blond hair and blue eyes, Gray fits the physical stereotype of a Southern California surfer, except he's no Jeff Spicoli from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." He's part of the new breed of teenage surfers who try to excel in school and take the sport seriously.

He has a 4.0 grade-point average, quotes Socrates and has never met a sportswriter he didn't like.

"I bring a new side to the surf industry," he said. "I'm going to go to college, major in communications and incorporate an articulate side."

Shyness has never existed in Gray's world. He'll volunteer to do play by play on the public address system at surfing competitions or step forward at a banquet and offer words of wisdom.

"I just got a whole bunch of wishbones, pull one off each day and see if it comes true," he said.

Last year, he was featured in "Surfing Girl" magazine under a headline entitled, "Babewatch." Among the frequent words in his vocabulary are "totally" and "gnarly." On his cell phone, he encouraged a friend to come to the beach and "get some radical, in your face" waves.

Gray's father, Dudley, is a Los Angeles Superior Court judge. His mother, Laurie, is a speech therapist. They've let Alex travel to Indonesia, Costa Rica, Australia, Mexico, Hawaii and Bali for surfing.

"My only regret is they don't say, 'Mom has to go,' " Laurie said. "Surfing has been the most fabulous thing in our life."

Gray started standing on a boogie board at 7 and took up surfing at 9.

"I loved coming home with a nice new sunburn," he said. "All my friends were doing it and all the girls were down at the beach."

He has become one of the top surfers in the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. He won the Southwest Conference Explorer Juniors Division this year and will compete in the national championships this month in San Clemente.

He wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to surf before school. When the bell rings at 2:45 p.m., he heads out for more surfing.

"Every day that there's at least an ankle-size wave, I'm out there," he said. "It's a relaxing and enjoyable thing because there's nothing around like it. You're going against nature. It's the best relationship a man can have, and I can't get enough of it."

Gray has tested himself against huge waves and understands the thrill and danger.

"The key to riding a big wave is hold on," he said. "Be calm, be patient and don't get worked up. If you didn't get scared, you're not right in the head."

Gray grew up playing lots of sports, but when he was hitting a baseball or catching a football, his mind always went back to surfing.

"It's a passion I can't get rid of," he said. "The ocean is almost like a healing power for me."

With brains, wit, charisma and athletic talent, Gray figures to be heard from whether he's riding waves or not. He's that rare high school student who knows what he wants and has a plan.

"I eat, breathe, sleep surfing," he said. "It's very soulful, relaxing, intense. Any adjective you can think of, that's surfing."

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at

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