The young waterman makes a big splash in the Santa Cruz surf scene

By Neal Kearney


Santa Cruz is one of the best places to raise a young surfer. For one thing, the cold water and pounding winter waves toughen them up from day one. Additionally, there are dozens of great breaks at which to practice different styles of surfing, and expert surfers are everywhere, which makes it easy for youngsters to start emulating the greats from an early age.

Ten-year-old James Daniel is one of many preteens rapidly elevating their surf game in our local waters. He was ocean swimming in deep water at age 3, and first stood up when his dad introduced him to surfing at age 4. By 8 he was competing and sponsored. It happens that quickly around here. It helped that he had Junior Lifeguard experience under his belt, having competed in distance swim, distance paddle, paddle relay and run-swim-run.

The pint-sized wave rider can usually be found shredding at Pleasure Point, the Hook, the Lane, and some undisclosed secret spots around the county. When it comes to competition, he boasts two NSSA Northwest Conference Titles (in the Mini Groms 10-unders) and semifinal finishes at both the West Coast and national championships.

James portrait- photo Matt Daniel

Buell Wetsuits brand manager and former pro surfer Matt Rockhold says he is blown away not only Daniel’s surfing, but also by his attitude. “The kid’s been doing airs left and right, and he’s only 10,” says Rockhold. “He was one of the first people I sponsored when I started here last year. My favorite thing about him is how respectful he is. When we were kids growing up, respect was a huge part of our surf education, and that seems to have been lost lately. James not only rips but he is gracious and humble. We’re stoked to have him on board.”

Daniel still finds time to act like a regular kid outside of competition. According to his father, Matt, Daniel is a “slime creator and aficionado,” as well as a kind and hardworking student and gymnast. As a fifth grader at Mountain Elementary School, his favorite class is art. Daniel plans to continue traveling and competing, but reckons he’d like to be a lifeguard when he grows up if the surfing thing doesn’t work out. Keep an eye out for this gifted goofy-footed grommet in the next few years—he’s bound to turn some heads.


Date of birth: Dec. 29, 2006

Height: 4-foot-10-inches

Weight: 85 pounds

Sponsors: Volcom, Oakley, Buell Wetsuits, Sharp Eye Surfboards

Favorite local spot: Pleasure Point

Favorite surf pals: Koa Depuydt, Adam Bartlett, Jackson Taylor

What maneuver are you working on right now? Air reverse

What’s the strongest aspect of your surfing right now? Rail game

Any weaknesses? Big waves and barrels

Favorite candy and why: Gummies because they are really chewy and satisfying.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen someone do surfing? Jordy Smith, [doing a] barrel to alley-oop combo at North Point in Australia.

Locals you look up to: Nat Young, Noah “Waggy” Wegrich, Seth Taylor, and Sam Coffey

Ten-foot barrel or 5-foot air? Five-foot air because it feels really good to land a big clean air.

James 2016 age 9 air_photo Lucas porter


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