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VARSITY TIMES

Teen is enjoying the ride of his life

May 07, 2008|Eric Sondheimer

There are 21 surfboards lined up against a wall of Andrew Doheny's bedroom. Like perusing a shelf full of books, he carefully chooses one, then heads to the beach to experience his daily ritual of riding waves.

Doheny is only 15 and lives with his parents in Newport Beach, but he already is on his second passport, having surfed in Indonesia, Fiji, Australia, Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru and Nicaragua.

While friends attend nearby Newport Harbor High, he surfs at dawn, at noon and at dusk, choosing to be home schooled so he has flexibility in his surfing and travel schedules.

"I don't think there's a better life," he said. "I think I'm the luckiest kid in the world."

Volcom, a surf apparel company based in Costa Mesa, pays Doheny a retainer fee, making him a paid athlete before he's old enough to drive. Sponsors take care of his trips, shoes, clothes, surfboards, fins, sunglasses . . . anything and everything associated with surfing. All they want in return is their name and products associated with Doheny.

"He's oblivious to his finances," his mother, Angela, said. "The check comes in the mail and I put it in the bank. He asks for $5 every morning for breakfast."

Doheny is the No. 1 surfer for his age group in the nation based on winning the open juniors championship last July at the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. Nationals in San Clemente. He has won close to 90 NSSA competitions and has earned so many trophies that his parents had to put them in a storage locker because they ran out of room in their house.

This weekend, he'll compete in the Volcom Totally Crustaceous World Championships in Newport Beach. At the end of the month, he'll participate in the Quiksilver ISA World Junior Surfing Championships in Hossegor, France, as a member of the USA surf team for under-16 boys.

"Surfing is his life," said Mike Guarino, Volcom surf team manager who frequently accompanies Doheny on overseas trips. "It's on his mind 24 hours a day, but beyond that, he's a normal 15-year-old. He's a phenomenal surfer. He just has a natural ability."

What Guarino means is that Doheny knows waves and "seems to be in the right place at the right time."

Finding time to surf is the reason Doheny has been home schooled since seventh grade. Three times a week, he meets with a teacher. At the end of the week, he turns in his assignments. He enrolled at Newport Harbor briefly last September, then withdrew after a trip to Fiji proved to him he wouldn't be able to fit in with the structured environment of a typical high school.

The school's surf team lost out on a big-time ringer.

His mother supports the decision for home schooling.

"As long as he meets his course requirements, I'm fine with him managing his time around surfing," she said. "He needs to spread his wings and see where it takes him."

Doheny's day starts at 6:30 a.m., when he calls another home-schooled friend to meet for breakfast. He hops on his skateboard, rides to a coffee shop, eats breakfast, then checks out the waves. If they're good enough, he goes home to put on his wetsuit and then heads out the backyard gate for a two-minute speed walk to the beach at 54th Street.

Doheny doesn't have much interest in sports other than surfing, a passion passed down by his father, Mike, when Andrew was 5.

"I was hooked," he said. "It's like being part of Mother Nature. You ride a wave and you're flying down the line going fast. Sometimes when the waves are good, you get barreled and it's like being inside a wave. It's like time stops. I've never experienced a better feeling. It's the most cool thing ever."

He admires professional surfer Dane Reynolds, and gets his surfboards custom made in Australia. They arrive in batches, and there are so many fiberglass surfboards lying around his house that he could open his own surf shop.

Surfing has changed since the days of Jeff Spicoli and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." The teenage surfers of this era are a dedicated group of boys and girls committed to mastering their craft while enjoying the camaraderie and competitiveness of the sport.

Doheny, a world traveler, finds it hard to pick out one special surf spot, though he returned from a photo shoot last month in Indonesia with an appreciation for water so clear you want "to drink it."

"Indonesia is really cool because you're in the middle of the ocean and there are all these islands around you," he said. "It's beautiful. The ocean is as clear as it can be. It feels you're nowhere near this crazy world."

And that's the greatest joy of surfing for Doheny, who cherishes how riding a wave cleanses his mind of any stress and produces an adrenaline rush that's better than any roller coaster ride.

He's a teenager who knows what he wants to do.

"I just want to surf and make a career out of it," he said.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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