Five years ago, a ragtag group of high school surfers from The Grauer School donned competition jerseys for the first time, piled their boards in a heap on the sand next to the other schools’ brightly colored tents and tightly-constructed surfboard racks, and unceremoniously entered the world of competitive scholastic surfing. It took the fledgling team two full seasons to capture their first team win. In their fifth season, the Grauer surf team finished off the 2016-17 season with an undefeated record of 5-0, placing it atop Division 4 of the Scholastic Surf Series (SSS).
Located in close proximity to such famed North County surf spots as Cardiff Reef, the San Elijo Campgrounds, and Swami’s, The Grauer School’s decision to start a surf team was a no-brainer except for one thing: the school’s small size. The local independent school’s student body consists of 150 students in grades 7-12 with about 100 students in high school. The SSS typically requires teams in Division 4 to field between 8 and 14 individuals in order to compete, so Grauer surfers quickly learned to surf shorthanded in the first three years of competition. Coached by Sean Preci, English department chair (and former managing editor of Longboard Magazine), along with Chris Ahrens, assistant coach (and acclaimed surf writer), Grauer’s surf program persevered through loss after loss during their first years of competition. Preci remarks, “Fortunately, we got the kids to buy into the fact that we were trying to build a competitive surfing program, and naturally that would take time, so their triumphs and defeats wouldn’t only affect them but also students wanting to surf for Grauer years down the road.”
The Grauer School was formed in 1991 by Dr. Stuart Grauer, the headmaster and an avid surfer who can be found most mornings surfing Cardiff Reef before work. The independent school has been at the forefront of the rapidly growing small schools movement, and since opening its doors, it has also boasted a rich surfing heritage. Dr. Grauer reflects on being an Encinitas educator for over two decades, “Seeing that Encinitas was named the best surf town in the continental U.S. by Surfer Magazine, the Grauer School is proud to be a reflection of the best of all our community has to offer. On that level, building a better surfer is what we call ‘serious joy.’ The Grauer surfer-scholar is not only an athlete, but a steward of the ocean, littoral, and coastal ecosystems.”
Grauer senior Matteo Cometti competed in the shortboard division this year. He surfs every day before or after school, which helps keep him more focused at school. He explains, “Surfing is an endless competition with myself. I’m always trying to improve and learn new maneuvers, because I can always do it bigger and better.”
The advice from Coaches Preci and Ahrens has been instrumental in Cometti’s improvement from a novice to a strong competitor over the last four years in Grauer’s Surf Physical Education class and on the school’s Surf Team. Cometti plans to attend California Lutheran University next year, and one of the reasons he chose the school is so he can continue surfing competitively at the collegiate level.
For freshman Kai Stern, this was his first year on the team. He had a stellar season with two 1st-place finishes in the bodyboarding division, resulting in a 2nd place overall ranking. Stern remarks, “I had a great experience being on the Grauer team this year because we’re all really good friends and everyone is so enthusiastic about competing. Sean is a great coach because he’s a surfer himself so he understands what we need to do to improve our maneuvers.”
So, what lies ahead for the little surf team from Encinitas that pulled off the nearly impossible achievement of an undefeated season? Many of the team members will be going on a “Surf and Service” Grauer Expedition trip to Panama in March, headed by none other than Dr. Grauer himself. Twice a year, Grauer students travel on week-long expeditions throughout the United States and abroad. Dr. Grauer explains, “Grauer’s Expeditionary learning program is a life-changing experience for our students, in accordance with the school’s motto, Learn by Discovery.” On the Panama Expedition, Grauer students will be participating in community service activities and providing surf outreach mentorship at local schools, working with the nonprofit organization Give & Surf.