By Becky Lee
It is 7:30 a.m. and the Sunset is covered with a blanket of fog and mist. Sitting on a rooftop patio are Emma Stone and her dad, freshly made coffee in hand, scoping out the waves.
Emma lives across the street from Ocean Beach, where the surf is notoriously heavy. The coastline is exposed and unprotected. Rip currents can sweep people from Judah to Taraval in a matter of minutes. Rarely is anyone seen without a wetsuit.
“It’s really intimidating out there,” Stone said, referring to both the waves and the longtime locals who regulate the lineup. “You kind of have to earn your place.”
Stone has been surfing since before she can remember. When she was little, her dad would put her in a life vest and have her sit on the front of his longboard while he caught waves.
By the time she was in middle school, Stone had joined the Half Moon Bay surf team, one of only three girls on a nearly 20-person team. Practicing with a team gave her a group of fellow surfers to both challenge her and cheer her on.
“We didn’t really care about the competing part. We just wanted to be in the water,” she said.
In high school, things got more competitive. Surfing is technically a team sport, but in a given heat, each surfer competes against two other surfers from the same team. “It never got in the way of our friendships,” Stone said. “We all pushed each other.”
In 2018, Stone won the Women’s Shortboard High School State Championship at Oceanside Harbor in San Diego. The following season, she snagged three more regional championships and seven first-place finishes in individual events.
Stone recently graduated from Summit Shasta High School in Daly City and plans to pursue a professional career in surfing, working her way up the World Qualifying Series (WQS) onto the World Championship Tour (WCT).
“You’re consistently climbing a ladder,” she said. “I’m 18 and I’m getting beaten by 13-year-olds.”
Despite competing against much younger surfers, most of the people she surfs with now are at least a decade older. She often babysits for their kids.
“It’s a small, tight-knit community,” she said. “Everyone knows everyone, and everyone wants to help everyone.”
While there may be a strong surf community in the Sunset, few professional surfers hail from Northern California. The last time a woman from the U.S. mainland was named world champion was in 1997. Luckily, Stone has a role model just around the corner.
Bianca Valenti is a big-wave surfer and Outer Sunset native who helped form the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing (CEWS). CEWS fought for – and won – equal pay in competitive surfing, paving the way for Stone and other female surfers.
“To have someone like that live so close to me was so cool,” Stone said.
These days, Stone is a role model in her own right.
“Emma’s surfing is progressing at the speed of a rocket going to space,” Valenti said.
At the same time, Stone is a normal teenager who likes fixing cars with her friends when she is not in the water.
“When something breaks, fixing it all yourself is such an accomplishment,” she said. “It’s kind of like winning a heat – it’s the same feeling for me.”
She teaches surf lessons to help finance the travel, gear and trainers needed to stay competitive, though most contests are on hold right now.
She offered advice to other girls looking to get into surfing.
“Don’t be discouraged by anything or anyone. If I listened, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am,” she said.
Stone’s biggest supporter and most consistent surf buddy is her dad. He grew up in Oakland and used to ride the bus to Ocean Beach “in his wetsuit with a surfboard.”
“My dad was that person to wake me up. He kept me going through high school and wanting to compete,” she says. “He’ll storm into my room, and go, ‘Emma, it’s pumping! Get up, get up!’”
Sometimes “pumping” turns out to mean a wall of whitecaps, paddling for 45 minutes, and walking back across the Great Highway with wet hair and hands too frozen to open the front door. But as Stone says, “it makes good memories.”
For more information, follow Emma Stone on Instagram: @emmastone.415.
Categories: ocean beach