Surf’s up and she’s up! Freshman Katie Slevin shreds at dawn

March 26, 2022

At 7:12 a.m. on a Monday, freshman Katie Slevin heads toward the surf wearing slippers and a wetsuit. Beyond their pillowy foam, the waves of Fort Cronkhite could not be more different from the soft sheets where many students lie asleep. Most weekday mornings, Katie opts for the beach instead of extra time in her bed so she can chase her dream of becoming a professional surfer. 

“I’ve always been a really competitive person; I’ve done sports all my life. My dream was to compete in surfing, and [competing in] high school has helped with that. Every time I’m out in the water competing, I have this rush of adrenaline,” Katie said.

Inspired by watching surfing videos online, Katie signed up for her first surf camp in Pacifica, just south of San Francisco, when she was seven years old. Now, she surfs with the Marin Surf Team and regularly attends competitions in Santa Cruz. 

“[Surfing] didn’t really come naturally. It was fun, but my mom couldn’t bring me out all the time, so it was a rare occasion,” Katie said. “Even though I wasn’t that good at first, being out in the ocean [and] being with family and friends made me really happy.”

Once COVID-19 hit, Katie and her older sister Kylie Slevin started making daily trips to Bolinas. They surfed all day or for half a day until classes began, fully embracing the flexibility of their schedules. 

“We had so much fun. It was a long-ass drive going there and back, and we would just yell out the window at bikers and blast music. We were total kooks for so long, going out on our big foam boards and not knowing what we were doing. But we were together, so it was fine,” Kylie said. 

Noticing their improvement, Katie and Kylie Slevin then took on the more challenging swells of Fort Cronkhite and Ocean Beach. But as life has become busier due to fewer pandemic restrictions, surfing as frequently has become increasingly difficult for Katie, especially since her sister moved away to college. Regardless, she has remained committed. 

Katie Slevin shifts her balance to catch a left wave at Rodeo Beach as she looks down the line. (Sophie Smallhorn)

“I’m definitely a very motivated surfer. I am always asking to go surfing. That’s the main topic [of discussion] with my parents, ‘when I can get out in the water?’” Katie said. 

Katie’s family is considering moving down to Santa Cruz next year to be closer in proximity to her surf trainer as well as the vast surf community. Since December, Katie has been driving down to Santa Cruz every weekend to improve her technique and learn tricks with a private trainer. In one or two sessions per day, she skateboards, surfs or both. Many surfers, including Katie, cross-train by skateboarding to replicate the movement of making turns on a wave. Katie’s coach only teaches private lessons to those he sees potential in, proving to Katie’s mom, Kim Slevin, that her daughter’s hard work is paying off. 

“Now we time our weekends on the waves. If [the waves are] going to be good in the morning, we’re up at six. If they’re going to be better in the afternoon, we plan our day, and we’re there in the afternoon,” Kim said. 

In the past year, Kim has noticed how much surfing means to Katie and the skills that her daughter has amassed. 

“The only reason why I’m doing this is because of what I’ve seen from her … there’s been an incredible perpetuation of her showing me what she can do, and me saying, ‘You are showing up, I will help you,’” Kim said. 

Grinning after the 45-minute surf session, Katie Slevin retreats from the ocean. (Sophie Smallhorn )

Kim and Kylie see Katie’s success stem from her easygoing yet dedicated personality. 

“Most of the time, she’s this goofy, laid-back person, but she’s super devoted to the things she cares about,” Kylie said. 

Time and time again, Katie has demonstrated her desire to improve by sacrificing nights out for even just a three-hour surf session. Driving to the beach and changing their schedules has forced Katie’s family to decide whether her passion should consume so much of their energy. Kim had this realization about five years ago once she saw the lengths it took to go surfing with a surf camp instructor. 

“I saw her putting on a freezing cold wetsuit. It was probably 30 degrees. Then she [went] out in windy, crazy conditions [with] sheets of rain. It was slamming out there. That’s when I knew that she was dedicated to surfing. Nobody does that unless they love it,” Kim said. 

If the Slevin’s move down to Santa Cruz, Katie will likely attend Soquel High School, taking classes half online and half in-person to focus on surfing. The hybrid program strays from that of a typical high school student, but Katie is familiar with taking her own academic path, having grown up with dyslexia. 

“Having a child with the inability to fit into the regular school curriculum and then seeing that they excel in another one, as a parent, I’ve made a choice to really embrace and honor what she excels at and what her passion is,” Kim said. “Thank you, dyslexia, for allowing surfing into [her] life and letting [her] go towards that.” 

Like progression in any sport, surfing requires consistency, but wave conditions vary and can limit opportunities for Katie to practice. Even though she stays physically fit, Katie notices a psychological difference from taking even a five-day break. 

“When you’re really, really passionate about surfing, there’s always a sense of anxiety when you’re potentially not going to be in the water that day. It really got to her, and it still does when she feels trapped at home,” Kylie said. “Sitting in your room is not where you want to be when you can be out on the waves getting better at something that you care about.”

However, getting out on the water does not necessarily mean the surf session will be productive. Katie recognizes that off days happen and tries not to give herself a hard time. 

Katie Slevin attempts to gain momentum by shredding in the final few seconds of the dying wave. (Sophie Smallhorn )

“When I do have those days, I think to myself, ‘these days will happen, I just have to get them over with.’ Sometimes there are perfect waves in front of me, and for some reason, I just can’t surf. Since I’ve been getting out there more and focusing my time on it more, I don’t have those days as often,” Katie said.  

Although the competitions in Santa Cruz just ended for the year, Katie will continue training at the same intensity. Her determination speaks to her character and inspires her family every day. 

“Her passion, devotion, intuition and empathy; [I thought] those had nothing to do with surfing. Then all of a sudden, she’s surfing, and I see them intertwined. So, it makes my morning wake-ups and driving a lot easier,” Kim said.  

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