At 5:30 in the morning, “the boys” are jolted awake by the ring of their alarm clocks. They pack their wetsuits, load up their boards and head to Morro Rock before the sun has even peaked over the watery horizon.
Upon arriving, the eager surfers jump out of their car to look at the ocean and size up the swells one by one. They note the wind blowing the water offshore, creating hollow, barrel-like waves.
Stoked by what they see, they suit up, wax their boards and hit the waves for a quick surf “sesh” before their 10 a.m classes.
Members of the Cal Poly Surf Team don’t just hang ten with friends. They have a goal: to take home gold at the state and national competitions, and they have come close a few times before.
The team competes five times a year, opening in La Jolla, San Diego then traveling to other popular California surf destinations such as Cardiff, Santa Cruz, Huntington Beach and Ventura.
Fifty-one members are officially on the team but only 27 actually compete. They are split up into three teams (A, B and C) composed each of six men, two women and one longboarder.
Each athlete competes in a heat where their top two waves are scored by a panel of judges. Surfers can receive high scores from certain maneuvers such as aerials.
“It’s not a sport where a ball just goes into a hoop, there is some subjectivity,” construction management senior and Cal Poly Surf Team President Brendan Donovan said.
Their toughest competitors are Point Loma Nazarene and, of course, Blue-Green Rival UC Santa Barbara. According to Donovan, it’s a friendly rivalry.
“When you’re out in the water it’s all serious but like when you’re on the beach everyone’s all happy to see each other,” Donovan said.
The Cal Poly Surf Team is more than just a competitive sport, it’s a lifestyle and passion for many of its members.
Some picked up the sport as a pastime after coming to San Luis Obispo, while others, like Donovan, have been shredding the gnar since they were just 8 years old.
“Surfing has been my place where I can escape from anything,” Donovan said. “It’s super therapeutic.”
Surf team practices offer a bit of a different experience. They only practice a few times a week individually or with a few other teammates so as not to intrude on local surfer’s waves.
“They’re pretty relaxed, mainly it’s just to like get to know the kids and have fun surfing because that’s why we all surf in the first place,” environmental management and protection senior Kala Buthman said.
Buthman, a Hawaiian native, quickly felt at home with the team when he was a freshman and has been surfing alongside his fellow Mustangs ever since.
One of Buthman’s friends, art and design junior and team photographer Eric Hatch, doesn’t compete but raved about the club’s inclusivity of every skill level.
“All the kids on the team are super rad,” Hatch said. “If it wasn’t for these guys, I definitely wouldn’t have woken up this early to go out surfing.”
For an extra bonus, parts of the team traveled and surfed in Indonesia this past summer.
The season ahead
The Mustangs placed second behind Point Loma, who has taken first at both the state and national championships the past two years. But Donovan is aiming to build the team’s competitive and social side during his second term as team president.
“It’s been really rewarding especially to see all the new kids joining the team and making a bunch of friends because we have such an awesome club and awesome team,” Donovan said. “I kinda feel like their dad or something.”