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UNF Surf Team Heads To National Championships In California

The UNF Surf Team is heading to the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) Championships this weekend in Dana Point, California.

After taking home second place two years in a row, they are hoping to be the first East Coast team to win this West Coast contest.

Credit UNF Surf Team
Surf Team on NSSA Regionals stage after winning “Best on the East Coast”

The surfers walked away as champions of the East Coast Scholastic competition in New Smyrna Beach for the fourth year in a row in April, making them a force to be reckoned with.

RJ Berger, a Lantana, Fla. native, said he’s the most excited about having the opportunity to surf in California. “There’s always nice waves and the weather’s usually pretty perfect.”

Credit UNF Surf Team
RJ Berger strikes a mid-air pose.

He continued, “I think it’s just being around everyone, their vibes, we’re all on the beach together and pretty much on vacation.”

According to UNF’s Club Sports Coordinator Ray Bunch, the Pacific Ocean will present different conditions than what the surfers are used to, but catching smaller waves in Florida is actually harder, so they feel they might have a leg up on their west coast competition.

The UNF Surf Club started in 2005. It has about 200 members today, but just 10 of them will be attending the national contest this weekend as members of the school’s official team.

Berger said he was on the baseball team until his hair started growing out. that’s when he decided to take up surfing.

Berger and his teammates hope to carry the “surfer dude” title to old age.

Harry Chodorow shared how surfing made an impact on his life. “Surfing got me to where I am today.”

Credit Lauren Taffer
Harry Chodorow taking on some gnarly waves.

Chodorow worked in a surf shop for five years before moving to Jacksonville, getting a job as a sales representative for a surf company and attending UNF.

He said that once you start surfing, it’s hard to stop.

Merrick Cunningham, surf team member and Jacksonville native, began surfing at 10-years-old and hated it. “I remember I told my dad how stupid it was and that it was a dumb sport - and I don’t know how - but I got super into it. Now it’s all I do.”

Credit Alexandra Blackwell
Merrick Cunningham holds the surfboard he crafted himself, laughing with his teammates as they get pumped for the competition this weekend.

UNF is a top pick for college students with an interest in surfing. With their campus nine miles from the ocean, surfers can grab their boards after class, pile in a van and catch some afternoon waves.

Along with surfing comes patience which Chodorow said helps when wading in the ocean for the perfect wave. He said practices can last up to five hours.

“You’re sunburnt, you’re tired, you’re hungry but you keep staying out because it’s fun,” Chodorow said.

Surfing is a club sport, so the Ospreys have to fundraise to travel to monthly competitions. The California UNF team trip for the ten going totals about $10,000.

Ryan Alkhatab said they hold a fundraiser at Casa Maria Hotel in Jacksonville Beach every year where they auction off surf lessons with each of the surfers.

Credit UNF Surf Team
Ryan Alkhatab riding the waves.

From their own fundraising efforts that began last year and with help from their sponsors, they’ve nearly reached their goal.

However, according to Chodorow, team members will probably still end up paying out of pocket.

Their GoFundMe Account will be open until the end of the competition.

Competitors hope to catch some waves in the famous surf spot, Trestles, before the competition begins on Friday.

A livestream of the event will be available on the NSSA Facebook page.

Alexandra Blackwell can be reached at or 904-358-6316.