For 3-year-old Triston Gailey, the beach at Morro Rock is a very interesting place.
There are seagulls to chase. You can draw pictures in the parking lot dirt. And let’s not forget all those wonderful squirrels.
“Daddy, I wanna go find squirrels!” Triston says.
But when this preschooler paddles out to the surf, those squirrels might as well be a hundred miles away. Because out in the water, the blond-haired toddler is focused on one thing: riding waves.
“He’s the most coordinated 3-year-old I’ve ever seen,” says his father, Todd Gailey, a 35-year-old captain/paramedic with Morro Bay Fire Department, who lives in San Luis Obispo.
While plenty of kids jump on a boogie board and frolic in shallow water, Triston actually surfs standing up — an impressive feat for a kid who wears Thomas the Tank Engine shirts.
“He’s just a natural,” his dad says.
Todd Gailey has been riding waves since the second grade, though it was mostly boogie boarding until he was 21. His father, who grew up surfing the Hollister Ranch in Santa Barbara, introduced him to the water after the family moved to Morro Bay 30 years ago. And when he had children of his own, Gailey made a point to take them to the beach.
At age 2, Triston was inspired to boogie board by his sister, London, 6. But in June, his father bought him a 5-foot-8 surfboard from Costco — and Triston caught on right away.
At first, his dad would prop him on the board in a standing position, then push him into oncoming waves. More recently, Triston asked if he could ride on his belly.
“I just thought he was going to boogie-board in,” said Gailey, who is divorced from Triston’s mother. “So I pushed him on his tummy, and I glanced at the waves coming in. I looked back at him riding on his tummy just in time to see him pop right up, all by himself, and ride it all the way in.”
The kid’s a quick study. During a break at a soccer game, he once dribbled a ball across the field — at 14 months. He’s been riding a bicycle without training wheels for half a year. And he also skateboards and rock climbs.
He’s hiked Half Dome at Yosemite National Park three times, and he’s already been on his first surf trip to Baja.
“Daddy, I float now,” Triston says at one point, describing his recent swimming adventures.
“How old were you when you jumped off the high dive by yourself?” his dad asks.
“Two,” Triston says, then quickly adds, “I’m going to find squirrels!” before he explores the rocks that divide the parking lot from the beach.
Gailey said he doesn’t try to push his son. And Triston does play with blocks and toy cars, like other kids his age.
“I just want him to enjoy everything he does,” he said. “I don’t really care how good he does or doesn’t get. I’m just loving surfing with him.”
The thing is, he is good — as Triston will prove during this surf session. But first he brings his dad and a reporter a gift.
“Hey, look at these two big rocks!” he says, unfolding a hand to reveal the stones. “I got ’em for you guys. For the squirrels. You guys can feed ’em to the squirrels!”
Suiting up, Triston ditches his Thomas the Tank Engine T-shirt for a wetsuit and life jacket.
“Don’t look,” he tells two visitors as his father changes him. “You have to look at the birds.”
Without his shoes, the toenails he recently painted can be seen in their sparkly splendor, matching his dad’s toenails, which he also painted.
At the water’s edge, he and his father kneel for a prayer, asking for safety, warmth and fun, then it’s off to the water. On this partially foggy day, the ocean is glassy, and the waves are small. But to Triston, a 2-foot wave is still chest high. The waves are breaking in shallow water, though, allowing Gailey to take Triston farther out. There he initially stands his son up on a board, then pushes him into the wave.
Gliding atop the water, Triston is poised and balanced, his hands out in front as he enjoys a long ride to shore.
His father quickly rushes back to the wet sand, where he greets Triston.
“All right, buddy!” he says, then offers a high-five. Triston immediately turns for the next one.
Soon, he’s starting from a prone position, popping up with the help of a knee, but remaining steady as onlookers watch him ride to shore again. One of those witnesses, a woman visiting from Oregon, has an iguana named Rayco.
“He surfs, too!” says the woman, who didn’t want to give her name.
Rayco’s surfing skills, it turns out, aren’t as good as Triston’s. With each wave, he awkwardly stumbles off a boogie board into the water. But to a boy of 3, iguana surfing skills don’t matter much.
The boy likes lizards just as much as he likes squirrels.
Triston normally surfs for about 30 minutes each session, and with that iguana begging for his attention, he’s not about to break tradition on this day.
But as long as he enjoys surfing, his dad says, there will be more wave riding.
“I just figure as long as he’s enjoying it and he’s asking to do it, I’ll keep letting him try.”