There must be something in the water in Montecito. Growing up fewer than two miles apart in the same sleepy, surf-primed part of ‘Cito, three towheaded and tanned teens are making some serious waves in the wide world of surfing. Besides being head-turning standouts every time they paddle out at Rincon, brothers Conner and Parker Coffin, along with nearby neighbor Lakey Peterson, are at the head of the class for the next generation of world-class surfers. In an unsurpassed feat-not to mention a strong indication of the current health of Santa Babylon’s storied surf culture-the trio of youngsters recently were named to PacSun’s U.S.A. Surf Team, an honor that has them poised to represent America at surfing’s World Junior Surf Championships in New Zealand early next year. Not too bad for a few groms from a town that doesn’t get waves most of the year, but really that accomplishment is only half the story.
In mid September, an early-season west swell woke up the South Coast’s point breaks from their annual slumber. At Rincon, the waves were sunny, warm, and wrapping around the point with literally a hundred frothing surfers on hand to greet them. Sixteen-year-old Conner Coffin-home from an anything-but-typical teenage summer vacation (he was on a Red Bull-sponsored boat trip in Indonesia before jetting off to similar surf hunting escapades in Australia and Bali)-was among the masses at the wave he has been surfing since his dad took him out for dawn patrols before kindergarten.
A solid one swings wide of the Indicator and sets up just above the Rivermouth. With a couple quick paddles, the regular foot is up and riding, his poise, precision, and power better than most surfers twice his age. After high-lining a section, the kid who tested out of high school at the ripe old age of 15 blasts a vertical snap, his fins slashing free above the wave. Even as the roiling spray sent from his first turn is still settling, he blasts free from the wave again-launching into a smooth, perfectly functional frontside air-landing and disappearing down the line toward the Cove in a blur, nearly every neck in the vicinity craning to watch. Just old enough to drive a car, Conner’s approach to riding a wave has a maturity level far beyond his years.
This year’s national-team nod actually is Conner’s third-he earned seventh place overall in the boys’ 16-and-younger division at the World Games in Ecuador last year. His competitive resume continues with heaps of good results since he started contest-surfing full-bore six years ago, including a fourth-place finish in the Open Men’s Division (18 and younger) and a second-place finish in the Open Juniors’ Division (16 and younger) at this past summer’s National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) championships, the penultimate amateur contest in North America. He also won a top prize in the Open Boys’ Division (14 and younger) at the same contest in 2006. Even more telling, when Red Bull decided to create a dream boat trip this past summer to the heaving reef break passes of Indonesia with the top talent from its international stable of professional and amateur surfers, Conner was invited along, holding his own during the 12-day trip with heavyweights like former world champion Mick Fanning and current World Championship Tour standout Jordy Smith.
Currently, Conner is enjoying life back at home, working for his dad’s building company, training for the upcoming NSSA season and the World Games, and taking two classes at Santa Barbara City College in hopes of one day transferring to a UC (he says he is “the youngest kid who isn’t a genius” in his English and math class). Perhaps, above all else, though, he’s looking forward to waves that a supposed El Ni±o winter has planned for the shores of Santa Barbara. As for his future, with all signs pointing to an eventual place on the Association of Surfing Professionals’ World Tour should he want it, the man-child surfer sounds about as calm and collected in his approach to life as he is to a wave. “I think you have to get as good and as happy as you can with your surfing before you even think about trying to qualify,” he said. “And for me, that is still pretty far away. I am in no hurry.”
The Lady of the Bunch
A little more than a year ago, after a star-studded session at a semi-secret spot in Montecito-which included both past and present world champions in the lineup as well as a healthy pack of youngsters who grew up in the neighborhood-Shaun Tomson, a former world-beater himself, casually called Lakey Peterson “the future champ of women’s surfing.” It was a pretty heavy claim from a pretty heavy dude about a then 13-year-old girl.
Turning 15 this week, Lakey is well on her way to proving Tomson right, though she doesn’t agree. In addition to her third consecutive appointment to the national team, Lakey set the world of amateur girls surfing ablaze this summer with her performance at the NSSA Championships. After placing second overall in the Explorer Girls bracket, Lakey took down arguably the biggest award in U.S. amateur women’s surfing by winning the coveted 18-and-younger Open Division. Better yet, she did the latter by busting the first-ever aerial by a female competitor in the annual contest. Not only did the impressive frontside boost in the opening minutes of the final set the beach abuzz, but it touched off a mini-hurricane of surf-media adoration in the weeks following the event. Downplaying the historic flight, Lakey said of it recently, “Yeah, it was pretty crazy. It was definitely the biggest air I have ever done, and is really why I was able to win Nationals.”
At first blush, Lakey seems like a natural. She has progressed rapidly in both her competition and free surfing since getting on a surfboard for the first time in Australia in 2000. (She also has some pretty solid aqua-oriented genes as her mother, Sue, is a former Olympic swimmer and a once-upon-a-time world-record holder in the 50-meter.) But what has propelled her, perhaps even more so than many of her competitors, is that Lakey works hard. Home schooling after an aborted attempt at attending Santa Barbara High School this fall, the endlessly energetic Montecito Union School alum is up before the sun most days, working out with her trainer and, waves permitting, getting in some surf before hitting the books. After that, she usually heads out to the water again, followed up by a skateboard session at her house on the half pipe in the backyard with fellow surf-stoked, home-schooled shredders Frankie and Pat Curren (the children of former world champion Tom Curren). Then, just before dark, if it’s good, it’s back to the beach one last time via a trail in the woods near her house for an evening session. Exhausting for most (the aforementioned daily schedule doesn’t even mention the 20-plus contests a year that Lakey competes in), it is a life she loves, and she has a hard time picturing things any other way. “It is up to other people to say if I surf good or not; I really don’t know what else I would be doing if I wasn’t doing it. I just love it,” she said. Then, after a quick moment of contemplation, she added, “I know I’m lucky. I mean, I get to do something with all my friends that’s ridiculously fun.”
The Goofy Foot
At 14, Parker Coffin is the youngest of the trio, though he, at least in proportion to his age, has been surfing the longest. Learning to ride waves for the first time on the same day that his older brother, Conner, was introduced to the surf (and there’s video to prove it!), Parker has been stoked on the sport of kings since he was two, and it shows, whether he’s surfing in a contest heat or just catching a few rollers with his brother at Rincon.
This past NSSA season, the outgoing goofy foot pulled triple duty at the West Coast Championships by making it to the finals in the Open Men’s, Explorer Juniors, and Explorer Boys divisions, often competing against surfers several years older than him along the way. And, in late August, at the PacSun Surfing America Championships-when all three earned their spots on the national team-Parker won the 14-and-younger division and came in an impressive fourth in the 16-and-younger group. The results mean that not only does he have a spot on the national team for the second year in a row but, for the first time, he is looking at being able to make the final cut for the elite team-within-the-team that goes on to the World Games in January. “It is going to be so fun,” chirped Parker late last week on his way to a contest in Oceanside. “I hope I can make it.”
Regardless of whether or not he makes the New Zealand trip, the youngest Coffin already has an impressive international surf resume, including wave hunts to Central America and Australia and more than a few South Pacific island runs. In fact, as you read this, Parker is in Fiji for his fourth time, thanks to his sponsors at Volcom, mining frontside tubes in the private surf heaven known as Tavarua Island. “It is such a learning experience,” opined the young teenager, sounding wise beyond his years. “When you go somewhere like a third-world country and see how people live, it really makes you appreciate where you come from.”
The Secret of Their Success
Given the wave-starved realities of Santa Barbara, one has to wonder how these three teenagers, and a few of their friends, have been able to keep up with the best youngsters from more surf-stuffed places like Orange County, Hawai’i, and Australia. In recent interviews, all three of them talked about things like our quality-not quantity-of waves, the unending support of their families, the competitive breeding ground of Chris Keet’s Surf Happens contests, and the legacy of area pros like Tom Curren, Bobby Martinez, and Ventura’s Dane Reynolds.
“Being from Santa Barbara teaches you to be patient and not to waste any waves,” joked Lakey, while Parker explained how all the different types of waves, including the crappy ones, make for a more well-rounded surfer. But it was the elder statesman of the lot, Conner, who seemed to hit on a truth that perhaps separates this current crop of S.B. shredders from their “down South” peers. “Up here, I think the kids-we just surf because we love to do it. We aren’t forced into it by an industry or our parents. And we have each other, and that is such a motivator.” Then, after explaining how his little bro used to beat him in contests a few years ago and how that worked to make him improve, Conner added with a smirk, “Plus, we have Rincon; there aren’t too many places like that.”