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Riding the wave

COC's Johnson riding top-three finishes toward pro goals

Posted: July 17, 2008 10:41 p.m.
Updated: September 18, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Sean Johnson holds one of his surfboards in the back yard of his parents' home in Canyon Country. On Saturday in Malibu, Johnson finished third in the Call to the Wall, a surfing event.

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One of the up-and-coming young surfers in Southern California does not reside in San Diego, Malibu, or even within a 30-minute drive from any beach.

He lives here in the eastern part of Santa Clarita Valley, in Canyon Country to be exact. He will also be a sophomore at the College of the Canyons.

Sean Johnson is an 18-year-old young man with the usual California look - long sandy-blonde hair, tanned skin and surfing skills.

Last Saturday in Malibu, Johnson rode a longboard, finishing third in the 16th Annual Call to the Wall competition.

There were 24 competitors in Johnson's 15-19-year-old age division, with 180 surfers overall. There were six surfers in each heat.

"It was awesome," Johnson said. "I didn't know what to expect because I hadn't longboarded in a while. I hadn't touched it in two months."

Johnson and his parents live nearly an hour away.

"I had to leave at 4 a.m.," Johnson said. "It started at 6 a.m. All the money raised went to Ronald McDonald House charities. We raised at least $2,500."

Dedication is not a problem for Johnson, who lives, breathes and practically eats surfing.

"I surround myself with the best of the best surfers," he said. "I watch footage of other surfers. I watch tapes of old surfers. I work at Val Surf in Valencia. I do a lot of running, I jump rope, I eat right."

In addition, Johnson was recently added to the Val Surf team. He has worked at the store for more than a year, including a stint in Woodland Hills.

He knows it's now or never as far as getting sponsors and taking that next step - or ride - into professional surfing.

He is even planning trips to Hawaii, Costa Rica and El Salvador to get better waves, pictures and possibly bigger-name sponsors that may provide him with more than free wet suits and other gear.

"I'm at the crucial age where it could make or break me," Johnson said. "I hope to be getting paid soon. I definitely think I can go pro. (The trips) are pretty common, but not common for a kid from the desert.

"Once I start proving myself in bigger competitions, I know I'll be fine," he added.

On May 11 at Church's Beach at San Onofre, Johnson finished second in the Open Men's Shortboard at the Western Surfing Association (WSA) West Coast Championship, a two-day event that wrapped up surfing season between August and May.

He was sandwiched between winner Gibran Garcia and his brother, Jose Velasquez Garcia.

"Jose was the season champ, so I was happy to beat him," Johnson said. "Gibran is this big professional surfer. For me to be in there was nice."

He also finished third in the longboard competition among 18-to-29-year-olds.

The results were posted in the August edition of Transworld Surf magazine.

"That was the biggest one I've competed in," Johnson said. "I was completely stoked."

The next competition for Johnson is another WSA event at San Onofre.

In December, Johnson took on the biggest wave he's ever been on, a 12-footer on a beach near the Ventura County line.

His favorite spot is the Leo Carrillo State Beach, on the Malibu coast just before crossing the Ventura County line.

Johnson has surfed there and several other places since he was 11.

A tradition with his father, Roy, continues.

"Ever since I was 12, we've surfed every Sunday," Johnson said. "Even if I was grounded, we'd go out and surf. He never forced me into it. Once he saw I had potential, he pushed me out there.

"That's why I think I became successful," he contined. "Some pro surfers make their kids do it, and sometimes they kind of fade out. Plus, with it being so far away, I never took it for granted."

Johnson, who excelled in AYSO soccer for six years, dove into competitive surfing in his freshman year, while attending Canyon High School.

Fellow student Kyle Morrel was a catalyst to Johnson's love of the sport.

"I was really bummed," Johnson said. "Every day, I'd give my money to him and we'd go to the beach. That summer definitely helped my surfing. We'd go surfing until sundown."

"My mom told me in order to go surfing, I had to do well in school," he added. "I'd keep my grades up. As soon as I got my driver's license, I'd go surfing all the time. My life literally revolved around it."

Sean's mother, Pam, and her husband have been to several of her son's competitions.

"He's always stood out," Pam Johnson said. "He has a style that's sort of like a bird. He's all about balance. I don't doubt that it (becoming a pro) will happen, because he's driven."

Johnson said he wants to become either a lifeguard or possibly an EMT. His girlfriend of over 18 months, Brogyn Gage, is a varsity cheerleader who is going to be a senior this year at Canyon High.

"I'd like to be both a city and state lifeguard," Johnson said. "You get to surf every day, you get paid to hang out at the beach. What more can you ask for?"

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