Austin Neumann was growing tired of playing video games and watching his sisters have all the fun, so he finally decided to give surfing a try.
His dad, Mike, who had been surfing for 30 years, got him a board. That was five years ago.
Turns out Neumann is a natural.
“I got a wave, and I felt going down the line, and I just kept going,” said Neumann, who spent his early youth in Nipomo. “Then we moved to Pismo Beach, and I just haven’t stopped.”
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Neumann, now 20, is part of a group of five young Arroyo Grande surfers in their late teens and early 20s — including Braden Jones, Joel Bishop, Konner Bickel and Corbett Horn — who call Pismo Beach Pier their home break.
They have know each other “since forever,” so Bishop clearly remembers surfing with Neumann when he first put on a wetsuit.
“I was like, ‘This kid rips,’ ” Bishop said standing next to Neumann and Horn on the Pismo Beach boardwalk last week. “We were all like, ‘Why doesn’t this kid do contests?’ ”
Eventually, Neumann did start competing with Jones. Now they are both making a run at a surfing career on the Qualifying Series of the World Surf League (WSL).
Neumann might not have been on the path he is now if it wasn’t for his uncle Andy McKay, owner of Surfside Donuts in Pismo Beach.
“He came to me with this crazy idea to start a GoFundMe Page and start a plan to do the QS (WSL Qualifying Series) Tour,” Neumann said. “I just did it. Got the community behind my back, raised some money.”
In six months, Neumann has raised more than $2,500 to help pursue his dream. He has used that money, plus what he makes working at his uncle’s shop four days a week, to finance the growing costs of travel and entry fees.
“It’s so crazy. People who I have never met before were coming in and saying, ‘Dude, we support you.’ That’s super motivating,” Neumann said. “The surf community is super rad around here. I don’t think I will ever move from this place.”
The support, paired with Neumann’s natural talent, has allowed him to do things most surfers only dream about, like catching waves on the beaches of Israel and riding barrels in Bali.
“Surfing takes you to really cool places,” Neumann said. “It’s always an adventure.”
Long Time Coming
Jones, 17, took a much different path than the late-blooming Neumann. Jones knew he wanted to pursue the stoke since he was a grom. He began home schooling in sixth grade so he could spend more time in the water.
“I can’t sit in class all day, and when the waves are good, you can go surf whenever,” Jones said via text message from Mexico, where he was competing in a WSL event.
The goofy-footed Jones is starting to create some buzz on the WSL in large part due to his second-place finish at the Pipe Pro Junior in Oahu, Hawaii in March.
“I was a little bit nervous to paddle out because I have never surfed it,” Jones said. “But once I got out there, it was the best wave ever.”
Jones also finished seventh at an event in Barbados in November.
For the tour rookies who have been competing for about a year, it hasn’t been easy.
Neumann has finished near the bottom of each of his events, and Jones has struggled to get though heats at times, including this week when the waves wouldn’t cooperate at the Los Cabos Open of Surf at Zippers Beach in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico.
“It’s just difficult being comfortable with everything,” Neumann said. “There are so many good guys there at every contest, and that’s nerve wracking. And then going somewhere to do the contest and knowing you paid all this money to get there and not doing as well as you hoped, it’s a huge learning experience.”
Despite the early difficulties on the junior tour, both agree that chasing their dreams and surfing all around the world isn’t a bad gig.
For the second half of the year, Neumann said he will travel to Mexico then to the East Coast — New Jersey, Virginia and Florida — for contests.
And with the typical summer lull at the local breaks, the young crew will continue to move up and down the coast in search of dreams and swells.
“A lot of guys quit, but I’m not,” Neumann said. “It is just so different every time. And I just love it so much. I don’t think I ever want to stop.”
Surf board of choice for crew members
- Braden: Super (5’11”)
- Austin: Whal (5’10”)
- Joel: Roberts (6’2”)
- Corbett: Firewire (5’9”)
- Bickel: Roberts (8’)
Popular surf spots in SLO County
- Morro Rock Beach, AKA “The Rock”
- Pismo Beach Pier
- Morro Strand State Beach, AKA “A-Beach”