OCEANSIDE — In a few ways, MiraCosta College is a young surfer’s dream: it’s located minutes away from the beach, and it has its own surfing team.
Not only does it have its own surf team, its surfers are getting in the water to compete with other college students attending big schools like UCSD, UCLA, USC and more.
“It’s interesting because it’s the only sport that gets to compete against all levels of colleges,” said Neal Keith, the surf team’s coach who took over about two months ago.
According to Keith, this provides a great opportunity for his MiraCosta Spartan surfers to connect with the coaches at the big schools where they are potentially looking to transfer after finishing community college.
“They’re right there on the beach for the students to talk to them,” Keith said. “A lot of these students desire to transfer to these schools and surf on their teams, and a good way to do it is to get to know the coach.”
The team itself holds its own against the big schools and performs well in the water. In late October, the team came out as number one overall during a competition at Blacks Beach.
It even has some star players — or rather, surfers — who have traveled around the world to compete against professionals in the big leagues.
Jacob Szekely, a MiraCosta student in his fifth semester studying business, is one of those surfers. He recently returned from a two-week trip to France where he got to enjoy big swells and surf with legends like Kelly Slater, highly regarded as one of the top professional surfers out there.
Szekely competes professionally in the World Surf League. Last summer, he won overall in the men’s short board division in the National Scholastic Surfing Association’s national collegiate championship through the MiraCosta team.
He also recently came out on top at a collegiate contest at Seaside Reef in Cardiff for the men’s short board division. There were 181 entries and 31 teams total there.
Zach McCormick, another Spartan surfer, took fifth place in that same competition.
According to Keith, Szekely and Makaiah Spiess are the team’s top competing surfers.
“The team looks up to them for their surfing abilities, and also their ability and willingness to put themselves out there for the team,” Keith said.
Thirty surfers are part of the MiraCosta surf team, Keith said, but only nine can compete due to recent college budget cuts to club sports.
For Szekely, it doesn’t feel like he is the team’s “top dog” or leader, but he does offer his fellow teammates advice on strategies leading up to heats or where to surf leading up to events.
For example, he likes to surf a location where a contest will take place before that event. This strategy helped him at Seaside Reef, which is a place where he frequently surfs.
Though Keith is still relatively new for the team, the coach said his surfers have been receptive to him and respond well while also showing up to all the practices.
Szekely also confirmed that Keith is “pretty rad.”
“He’s definitely in with the surfing community and seems really stoked on surfing,” Szekely said. “It’s cool to have someone committed 110% and always frothing to go surfing. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season with him.”
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son