OCEANSIDE — Pro surfer Sam Zuegner’s career has spanned nearly four decades. Now 35, he is looking to continue his ride as an historian and documentarian.
Zuegner’s first glimpse of the ocean was in 1977 when he traveled from an orphanage in Seoul, Korea, across the Pacific to his new home in Long Beach Island, N.J. He was 18 months old. All he knows about his biological parents is that his mother was Korean and his father most likely an American soldier, probably of Italian descent.
Zuegner was quickly embraced by his adoptive family: parents, Larry and Jeanne; brother, Larry Jr., 4; and sister Spring, 10.
“We always had skateboards and surfboards around the house,” he remembers. “My father surfed from the East Coast to Seal Beach. At night he’d sleep in a house that was being renovated and would leave before anyone arrived in the morning.”
Zuegner began riding a surfboard at the age of 4 with family members. He was 7 when he got his own board. At 13 he became a pro after winning his first contest sponsored by the Body Language Surf Shop in Long Beach Island. For the next few years he was a product sponsor for the shop and Gordon and Smith.
“I started getting cash at 17 wearing clothing for Lost Enterprises and began competing on the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) World Qualifying Series,” he said.
His career took him to exotic destinations throughout the world. His favorite is Indonesia.
“The waves are perfect there,” he said. “Also, there are a lot of Buddhists. I really enjoyed their peaceful, nonaggressive manners. I also liked their minimalistic approach to tangible items.”
Zuegner continues to traverse the globe, on surfing competitions and photo shoots for Surfer, Surfing, Surfer’s Journal and Eastern Surf magazine.
“The beauty of travel is getting something different,” he said. “I’ve been blessed being sponsored by Rip Zone International because they let me do whatever I want as long as it has to do with chasing waves.”
Aftermath Surfboards is another of Zuegner’s major sponsors.
Zuegner’s travels frequently brought him to Southern California, and in spring 2002 he moved in with childhood friend Jason Murray, a photo editor with Surfer magazine at the time.
“I wanted to get away from the whole 9/11 thing in New York City,” he said. “Also the surf industry is centered in Southern California and I was already spending several months a year out here. I figured it was a time to try something new.”
There was another reason.
“I was a big fish in a little pond in Long Beach Island and things like going to the store took too long,” he said. “I’m a little fish in a big pond here. That’s what I wanted.”
Today Zuegner lives in Carlsbad and says his routine involves surfing three times a day at Oceanside harbor and the Carlsbad beaches and playing guitar, banjo and ukulele.
He is also working on his A.A. in Video and Media Design at MiraCosta College with the goal of transitioning from a pro surfer to a filmmaker and documentarian.
If visitors are lucky, they can catch Zuegner at the California Surf Museum on weekends where he works from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thursday from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. He is a buyer for the museum gift shop, tapping his sources for vintage skateboards, old movie posters and aloha shirts valued between $30 and $100 that he sells for $14.95.
Zuegner has just produced his first documentary for the museum, an interview with local surf legend Jack “Woody” Ekstrom, 83.
For more information about the documentary, call the California Surf Museum at (760) 721-6876.