Reading the Waters

Thomas Salzillo ’10 turns on his wave at Manhattan Beach.

It’s not all happening at the beach for members of the Surf Club.

One thing Chris Collato ’10 has learned, after 10 years of surfing, is the ocean isn’t necessarily as it appears: “Standing on the beach and looking out, conditions may look windy and rough, but you can get out there and have three hours of good waves, and it’s super good. Or it looks great, but the tide changes or the wind picks up, and you get skunked.” Collato, president of the LMU Surf Club for the past two years, knows all about things not being as they seem. That’s the story of the Surf Club.

Myth No. 1: Surfing is for underachievers, dude.

Surfing at LMU is a competitive sport with a team of 18 members, male and female, organized into two groups competing mostly in the fall in longboard and shortboard events. LMU goes up against familiar rivals, including UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine, as well as traditional foes Pepperdine University and the University of San Diego. Contests, sponsored by the National Scholastic Surfing Association (, Southwest College Division, are held in Huntington Beach, Ventura and San Diego. Collato started surfing in northern San Diego County at the age of 12, but his favorite part of surfing at LMU is the chance to compete against others while doing something he loves.

Myth No. 2: 
Surfers are, like, self-centered.

LMU’s surfers get together for more than waves and bonfires at the beach. They have a presence on campus and in the broader L.A. community. In addition to fielding a competitive team, they are an official student club with about 50 members, and community service is an official part of the group’s mission.

For the past two years, they’ve focused on reaching beyond the campus borders to help people in need. In 2010, they raised $1,600 for Life Rolls On, which supports people with spinal cord injuries. Their work was noticed: In 2009, the Surf Club was named LMU Outstanding Club Sport of the Year and its fundraiser that same year garnered the Outstanding Philanthropic Event Award. “Club sports are not required to do service, but we wanted to do it,” Collato explains.

“Under Chris’ leadership,” says John Dorsey, faculty adviser to the group, “they’ve blossomed into a full-blown service-oriented organization, and they’ve made their mark on the university.”

Myth No. 3: Surfers can’t cut it in class.

Dorsey, chair of the Department of Natural Science, specializes in marine biology and pollution ecology. He particularly studies bacteria in ocean waters off the Southern California coast.

Dorsey grew up in Long Beach, Calif., and he has surfed the local waters for 50 years. He also teaches a course called “Surf ’n’ Science” that attracts many members of the Surf Club. The course is anything but an easy A.

“It’s a marine science course,” Dorsey says. “I teach them about basic oceanography, meteorology, wave production, marine biology and pollution, as well as about organisms they may come across.”

Collato found Dorsey’s class challenging, but his experiences on the water also made it exciting. “Learning how swells are created by storm systems was really cool,” he says. “The surfers in the class could really visualize how swells work.”

Storm and calm, relaxation and competition, education and fun, danger and serenity — the waters of the Pacific offer them all to the members of the LMU Surf Club.