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Sean Johnson surfs wave of momentum

Canyon graduate has chance to fulfill dream of becoming a professional surfer

Posted: April 19, 2009 9:40 p.m.
Updated: April 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Sean Johnson has been surfing since he was 10 years old. Now 20, he needs a few more sponsorships and to maintain his ranking in the Western Surfing Association in order to join the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour.

 
Canyon Country native Sean Johnson has been surfing competitively for almost two years, and he has a decision to make.

"I told my parents, when I turn 21 I'll get a real job," says the 20-year-old Johnson. "I'm seeing how far sponsors can take me."

If recent events are any indication, surfing will be his job for quite some time.

Johnson finished second in the men's 18-to-29-year-old open division and men's open shortboard division at the sixth event of the Western Surfing Association/Hobie Championship Tour on March 28 and 29 in Huntington Beach.

Johnson's success on the WSA Tour has attracted sponsorships from various surfing companies and Dillon Optics, a sun glass company based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

But with the WSA West Coast Championships coming up in mid-may in San Diego, Johnson knows the pressure is mounting. If he can get enough sponsors and maintain his ranking, he has a good chance of becoming a professional on the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour.

"It's coming down to the last two contests," he says. "It's still a lot of pressure because you want to do good and want to take it to the next level."

At any given event, Johnson arrives at the site at around 7 a.m., pays for his own parking, and surfs 15-minute heats on an empty stomach until he makes the finals or is eliminated.

Events usually end around 4 p.m., and the WSA holds 10 events each year, which Johnson surfs along with any pro-am contests he can squeeze in.

It's an exhaustive process, but the rewards are out there.

"There's definitely a lot more sponsors out there," says Roy Johnson, Sean's father and an avid surfer himself. "There's a lot more people getting into it."

A native of the San Fernando Valley, Roy took up surfing in junior high and passed his love to his son, who started accompanying him to the beach when he was 10 years old.

"One day, he was boogie-boarding and he stood up on the boogie board," Roy says. "He just wanted to see if he could surf. He could, and he can still do it to this day."

Johnson went on to attend Canyon High School and continued to surf with his father almost every weekend, primarily at Leo Carillo State Beach in Malibu.

After Johnson won his first competitive event at Topanga Beach in 2006, he quickly realized that diversifying his practice locations would help him sustain success on the WSA Tour.

"I got amped because it was my local spot, and I never surfed outside those spots," he says. "I dropped out of several finals because I didn't surf the areas. I started watching a lot more surf videos and studying it a lot."

Nowadays, Johnson attends class at College of the Canyons on Mondays and Wednesdays, and spends most of his time at the beach.

He also coaches amateur surfers on Tuesdays and Fridays to maintain a steady income.

"Normally, we go out for about 15 minutes just to free surf," says Jordan de la Vega, a 15-year-old Canyon student who's been under Johnson's tutelage for more than a year. "After that we come in and talk about what I need to work on, working on my top turns and bottom turns, and we would go out and do that for maybe 20 minutes. It's just like a repeated process."

De la Vega can also see qualities in Johnson's surfing that she would like to emulate.

"He has a lot of aggression, and I would like to put that more into my surfing, and just really being loose and just going for it," she says.

Some of that attitude may stem from Johnson's childhood, when he traveled more than an hour just to get to the beach and spent entire mornings and afternoons on the water.

"A lot of my friends live on the beach," he says. "They're out there for an hour and they're over it. I was out there for hours and loved it since I couldn't make it out there as often."

Even if competitive surfing isn't in the cards for Johnson much longer, he probably won't be far from the water.

Johnson is taking oceanography and psychology classes at College of the Canyons, and his other career ideas provide plenty of free time for surfing.

"I definitely want to be a lifeguard or a firefighter," he says. "Either way, it gives me a couple days off a week to get to the beach."

Johnson will find out soon enough if he can continue surfing competitively for the foreseeable future.

The sport has already given him and his family so much.

"It's nice because I'm able to give him so much more than I was able to have myself," Roy says. "I only had one surfboard. I can help him financially to do whatever he wants."


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