Stoke Gained: Inside the unexpected overlap of passions between golfers and surfers

Paul Loegering poses for a photo.

Paul Loegering leans on “The Board Room,” his shed of surf and sand(trap) playthings just behind his office/home in Carlsbad.

Stephen Denton

On a hazy morning just north of San Diego, hours before his regularly scheduled tee time, Paul Loegering is reading breaks. He’s looking at three-footers, and there’s not much in them — modest waves frothing a couple hundred yards offshore.

“It’s pretty choppy out there,” Loegering says. “Better conditions for golf than surfing.”

Not that he’s deterred. As he does most days when he isn’t traveling with the PGA Tour, Loegering plans to partake in both. He’ll hit the waves, then he’ll hit the links.

Per usual, he won’t be alone.

At 55, a brown-haired, slight-framed former collegiate surfer who earns his keep in the golf equipment industry, Loegering (pronounced leggo-ring) is the ringleader of a crew that swaps wet suits in the morning for collared shirts in the afternoon. As he puts it, “Our motto is ‘Surf AM, golf PM.'”

I don’t think it’s an accident that those first years I really got into golf, in ’96 and ’97, were probably my best years in surfing. Kelly Slater

Given those twin passions, they’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to live. This morning’s subpar surf is a consequence of unfavorable onshore winds. But a big swell is coming, according to the forecasts, along with offshore breezes that help hold waves in a sweet, feathery shape. That’s more like it for San Diego, where nearly year-round surf and sunshine provide an ideal backdrop for Loegering’s amphibious lifestyle.

“I’m not sure what more you could want,” he says.

Looking at this happy union of golf and surfing, it’s easy to forget that the two sports used to get on poorly. Barely more than a generation back, golfers and surfers occupied opposing camps, eyeing one another from a wary distance through the lens of caricature. Where surfers scoffed at the stiff-lipped snobs on land, golfers shunned the bleach-brained slackers in the water. Little did they realize how many traits they shared: Golfers, like surfers, were drawn to a sense of harmony with nature; surfers, like golfers, spoke of their pursuit as a spiritual quest. In mindset and motivation, to say nothing of motor skills, the commonalities were plain. You just had to look.

As this recognition grew, it led to something more than peaceful coexistence. It encouraged intermingling. Famous golfers started surfing and the other way around. Fashions shifted. Dress codes loosened. Influences washed back and forth. Surfers embraced “etiquette.” Golfers began speaking of courses with good “vibes.”

In recent years, the crosscurrents have been felt in many places. But nowhere on the U.S. mainland are they stronger than in San Diego, where the U.S. Open was held just a couple of weeks ago.

Adam Scott grew up riding the waves in Australia. Robert Beck/SI via Getty Images

Start at the host course, Torrey Pines, its fairways running atop oceanside bluffs. Below it is Black’s Beach, famous as a nudists’ hangout but also as the site of one of the West Coast’s finest beach breaks. Follow the shoreline in either direction and you come upon a string of other pearly surf spots — La Jolla Shores, Swami’s, Terra Mar and more. Just inland, the commercial landscape also reflects the region’s hybrid interests. In Encinitas, a few clicks up the coast from Torrey, the design studio of noted putter-maker Scotty Cameron stands almost cheek-to-jowl with Hansen’s, a landmark local surf shop. In nearby Carlsbad, FireWire, the largest surfboard-maker in the world, sits in the same industrial district as the likes of Callaway and TaylorMade.

One of FireWire’s cofounders is Chuy Reyna, an ex-pro surfer and a fixture in Loegering’s AM/PM group. Now 52, Reyna came to golf in adulthood and can’t get enough. He plays a couple times a week and counts himself a “member” at Goat Hill Park, in Oceanside, though membership seems almost too formal a term for a kickback, low-cost public course that has a surfboard hanging from the rafters of its pro shop.

“I love the mental and physical challenge,” Reyna says of golf. “You know there’s always an opportunity for improvement but also that you’ll never master it. It’s like surfing in that way.”

“I was competing against guys like Ballesteros and Faldo,” Norman says. “If I’d brought up surfing, the conversations would have been very short.” Lindsey Potter Photography

If there’s a Kevin Bacon of these overlapping worlds, it’s Loegering, who lives in Carlsbad and works as Tour manager for True Temper Sports, the leading golf-shaft-maker in the industry. Name an athlete in either sport — odds are Loegering has them on speed dial. He plays golf with surf god Kelly Slater. He surfs with Adam Scott and Rafa Cabrera-Bello, among other big-name golfers who have caught the bug. Last winter, in advance of the Farmers Insurance Open, the Tour pro Tyler McCumber rang up Loegering, whom most everyone knows by his nickname: Lego. He wasn’t looking for a caddie.

“I love the waves in San Diego,” McCumber says. “And Lego is about as good a local guide as you can get.”

The waves in San Diego were not the first ones Loegering learned to ride. He grew up in Manhattan Beach, close to L.A., in a middle-class neighborhood blocks from the water, and started surfing when he was seven. Though he knew some golfers, he viewed them as most grommets did. “I thought they were all squares,” he says.

A come-to-the-mountain moment occurred in high school, when a buddy took him to Riviera to watch the L.A. Open. Loegering was stunned by the beauty of the setting. Back home, he picked up clubs and — spoiler alert! — got hooked. In college at Long Beach State, Loegering surfed competitively, but golf became his north star. After graduation, he moved to San Diego, bent on getting certified as a PGA professional. A life in the golf shop didn’t seem so bad.

In those days, Loegering would get up before sunrise to squeeze in surf sessions at Black’s, then scramble up the bluffs to make an early morning Torrey tee time. Too bad he also needed to pay rent. While filling out forms for his PGA training program, Loegering saw a listing for an entry-level job at Callaway. It was 1994. He never looked back. From newbie clubfitter, he rose to become the company’s Tour rep, and then went on to do the same for TaylorMade, helping customize equipment for some of the game’s best players. None of them surfed, not as far as Loegering knew. Nor did he raise the subject.

Derik Hobbs Illustration

“I was worried that if I told them I was a surfer, they wouldn’t trust me with the fitting,” he says.

Greg Norman would have had faith. Before he was the Shark, Norman was a surfer, riding waves along the Great Barrier Reef, a part of his past that he never discussed with his peers.

“I was competing against guys like Ballesteros and Faldo,” Norman says. “If I’d brought up surfing, the conversations would have been very short.”

When Norman talks surfing today, he stresses its reliance on “balance, flexibility and proprioception.”

“You’ve got to plant your feet, you want your upper body relaxed, you’ve got to be attuned to the speed of the waves and everything around you, just as you’re attuned to the wind and other elements on the course,” he says. “Very different sports but a lot of similarities.”

This was the same discovery Kelly Slater made when he took up golf in earnest in the mid-1990s. Though he’d had prior brushes with the game, this deeper dive showed him how much golf helped with body awareness.

The pro shop at Goat Hill, where Cali golfers are reminded of more tubular coastal pleasures. Stephen Denton

“I don’t think it’s an accident that those first years I really got into golf, in ’96 and ’97, were probably my best years in surfing,” Slater says. Coming from a surfer who has won 11 world titles, that’s saying a lot. In 2015, Slater launched the eco-conscious clothing line Outerknown, which includes polos and other golf wear. In that crossover, he was not a pioneer. In recent decades, the golf fashion industry has burst with brands that touch upon the surf-meets-turf connection, among them Johnnie-O and Linksoul, whose cofounder, John Ashworth, was one of the OGs in the space.

A Southern California native, Ashworth surfed and played golf as a kid but kept his golf side closeted when he was in the waves. He recognized the game had an image problem. In time, he sought to change that image through apparel.

“I knew how soulful golf was,” Ashworth says. “But for people outside to see that, you had to get rid of the silly rules.”

Another expression of that ethos is Goat Hill Park. Six years ago, Ashworth led a group that assumed its lease, rescuing the city-owned course from oblivion. Among the first things he did was scrap the dress code. You have to wear a shirt, but that’s about it. Though it’s not hard on the water, Goat Hill has ocean views, and its “vibe” is so beachy you can almost taste the salt spray. Ashworth says he didn’t set out to create that atmosphere. It happened organically, an outgrowth of the natural ties between golf and surfing.

“I think of them as practices, more than anything,” Ashworth says. “There’s something spiritual in both.”

Josh Ashworth, the scene’s hirsute style guru. Stephen Denton

If that sounds to you like New Age claptrap, then you’ve never flushed an iron shot at twilight or risen with the sun to get barreled by a wave.

Paul Loegering is conversant in the lingo. Golf and surfing are “part of my soul,” he says. His job with True Temper, which he’s held since 2015, keeps him on the road 35 weeks a year, but he stays centered by stashing surfboards at friends’ houses for use in Florida, Hawaii and other coastal stops. Once his hidden passion, surfing has become a source of bonding. He and Adam Scott have chased waves in Mexico, Australia, Indonesia, Nicaragua. Three years ago, Cabrera-Bello joined them at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in the Central Valley, an artificial wave pool that is something like the surf world’s Augusta National Golf Club.

In Carlsbad, Loegering shares a seaside duplex with his fiancée, Julie Chandler. (He has three grown children from a previous marriage.) His upstairs office, adorned with photos from his surf adventures, overlooks the ocean. The ground floor backs up to a converted shed that Loegering calls the Board Room, and not because it’s where he makes executive decisions.

It’s a half-block to the water, but on this windy morning, Loegering has a couple boards and a bunch of gear to carry, so he borrows a neighbor’s buggy — a souped-up golf cart with a surf rack on top — and buzzes to the water. Reyna is there, along with two other AM/PM buddies: Chris Nagle, an Aussie transplant who works in finance but lives for the outdoors, and Ted Robinson, a childhood friend and one of the finest longboarders of his generation. Robinson already has his wet suit on. Loegering dons his and marches toward the waves.

It will take some skill to find lively rides in these slothful conditions, but some surf is always better than no surf.

“This is one of those days where you clear your head in the ocean and go make some birdies,” Loegering says.

He stands there for a moment, one foot on the sand, the other in the shallows. Then he plunges in.

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