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By Daniel Ritz

His nerves getting the best of him, Gerardo Zavaia of San Juan Capistrano, stood frozen—his feet firmly planted in the sand.

No fewer than 10 minutes later, a half-dozen men and women surrounded Zavaia in the shallow water, cheering as they pushed him into his first wave. World Surf League Championship Tour competitor Caio Ibelli anchored the board, ensuring its stability as the smiling Zavaia rushed toward the shore for the first ride of his young life.

On Sept. 19, Zavaia and many others rode their first waves thanks to the first annual California
Surfing Day event in Dana Point featuring a unique surf session for boys and girls from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley. On Sept. 19, close to 50 boys and girls, ages 10-18 were picked up after school by the re-activated Dana Point trolley from the Boys & Girls Clubs location in San Juan Capistrano and taken to Doheny State Beach to experience an afternoon of riding the waves with volunteer surf instructors from the Dana Point Surf Club and Girl in the Curl.

“There is no better way to celebrate the sport of surfing and its rich history in Dana Point than to share its enjoyment with young people. This is a true community celebration,” said Dana Point City Manager Mark Denny in a press release from the City. Denny himself could be seen in the water playing the role of “catcher,” stopping the novice surfers careening toward the rapidly approaching shoreline.

“This will be a very special day for our club members to understand and get more acquainted with the ocean environment that’s right in their backyard,” said James Littlejohn, executive director, Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley. “What better way to do that than spending a few hours learning to surf with some volunteer surfers! I really want to thank the Dana Point Surf Club, City of Dana Point, and Girl in the Curl, Boneyard Café and all the volunteers for making this possible for our members.”

“When the City approached us about doing something to recognize California Surfing Day, we knew it had to be special. When we started our club, the goal wasn’t just to compete but to do good things in our community,” said Eric Diamond, executive committee chairman, Dana Point Surf Club in an announcement of the event. “This event really brings to life why we celebrate surfing, especially here in Dana Point. It’s going to benefit everyone. I know the kids will be stoked to get in the water, but more than that, our surf club members will see how much of an impact they can have by sharing their love of surfing.” Diamond hopes to make this an even bigger annual event in Dana Point.

Standing on the beach, taking in the slow perfect rolling waves of Doheny, full of shrieking, smiling “groms,” Pat O’Connell— Dana Point Surf Club vice president, Hurley executive and former competitive surfer—took it all in.

“I mean, that’s it really,” O’Connell said after watching Zavaia’s ride. Notorious for his outspoken positivity and expressive personality, O’Connell’s tone sounded earnest, heartfelt.

“That’s what it’s all about. I’m so proud of my people, my club, of Dana Point.”

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