Riding the Wave: Zoe Chait Strikes a Balance Between Surfing and School

12/14/21

Zoe participated in the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) Open Tournament in Huntington Beach, Calif, in November.

The tide determines Zoe Chait’s days. Every night, she checks her bookmarked surf report sites to see what to expect from the next day’s waves in her hometown of Half Moon Bay, Calif., and in nearby places like Santa Cruz, just in case the local waves aren’t cooperating. From there, she sets what she thinks her training and school schedule might look like for the next day. Even then, nothing about the day’s schedule is solid for the 15-year-old Laurel Springs School 11th grader until the moment she’s supposed to wade into the water.

“Today I woke up at 5:50 a.m. and rode my bike to a spot right next to our house, and it was bad,” Zoe said of one morning in November, describing the way uncertainty is the ONLY certainty when it comes to relying on the waves for ideal training conditions. “So I had to ride all the way back, and then an hour later, my mom took me back to see if it was any good, and it wasn’t. So I’ll do school, and then we’ll go back again.”

A Flexible School Schedule that Rolls with the Tide

Days only have 24 hours, and Zoe’s sport doesn’t fit well into the 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day. Laurel Springs’ asynchronous model allows Zoe to attend classes on her schedule and train during the most pristine surfing conditions possible. Customizing her school calendar helps Zoe elevate her game, meet her athletic goals, and not experience timing roadblocks when pursuing her dreams. 

Without the flexibility to build a schedule every day that allows her the opportunity to capitalize on her time, Zoe says she would be less “at her best” for both academics and athletics. Training while attending a traditional brick-and-mortar school meant she had to train either very early in the morning or late at night, regardless of conditions.

Sometimes, the waves are good in the middle of the day. Sometimes they’re good in the afternoon,” Zoe says. “With Laurel Springs, I can go whenever I need to and then just push school for later or before. So that’s how it’s helped me, for sure.”

Physically and Mentally Preparing for Competition

Zoe participated in the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) Open Tournament in Huntington Beach, Calif, in November— her third appearance at the NSSA tournament since she started competing. She placed 2nd in the nation in U18 and 3rd in U16. According to the Orange County Register, the U18 competition is considered prestigious, and “sponsors watch to discover the next hot surfer.”

Zoe spent months preparing her mind and body to compete in the U18 category. While in-the-water training focused on specific skills is a big part of prepping, of equal importance, is devotion to strengthening her body in other ways and her mind.

In addition to surfing at least 14 hours a week, Zoe kickboxes two times a week and works out with a personal trainer who focuses on surf-related training.

Surfing is a super interesting sport where everything you do, you have to do on a wiggly surface. So it’s a lot of work on stability,” Zoe says of her workouts.

She also works with her trainer in Santa Cruz (about an hour from home in Half Moon Bay) on breath work and controlled movement, focusing on how every physical motion can impact what happens on the water. Zoe also has to focus on strengthening her mind and thoughts through meditation. It’s a challenge to “give in” the way you need to with meditation exercises for them to work, Zoe says, but it helps with concentration and the ability to visualize what’s happening—and what’s about to happen—while surfing.

Looking to the Future

Surfers have a bit of a different trajectory than those in other sports. After she graduates from LSS, Zoe plans to pursue a career as a professional surfer.

“It’s kind of different than what most people think,” Zoe says, smiling as she explains. “Most people think that all surfers are, like, big wave surfers, where you ride the biggest wave you can and ride down it. But the type of surfing I mainly focus on is tricks and maneuvers.”

Zoe’s goal is to continue down this path, explaining that she likes to “do turns and airs and get barreled to get scores.” To get there, you start exactly where Zoe is currently—national competitions. From there, she says you pursue Qualifier Series (QS) events all over the country and travel the world to compete in the Challenger Series. Beyond that is the World Tour.

If you make it to the World Tour, you travel the world for surfing,” Zoe says.

In the end, Zoe says she is excited at the prospect of doing something she loves for the rest of her life. And, she says, something that will always appeal to the adventurous spirit. She’s tried other sports—soccer and swimming—but nothing comes close to the excitement and unexpected nature of surfing.

“The ocean is not like a soccer field or like a basketball field where it’s always there, and it’s always the same,” she says. “It changes every single day. So it’s kind of hard to get bored of it.”

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Read more about Zoe’s October 2021 NSSA West Coast Regionals competition here.