As a Black surfer and surf instructor, John Daniels knows he’s somewhat of an anomaly.
“There are not many Black surfers, and I may be the only Black surf coach in Southern California,” acknowledges Daniels, who started surfing when he was in elementary school and became a professional surfer when he was in his 20s – replete with commercial sponsors, photo shoots, a magazine cover and he even appeared on a TV show filmed in Australia called “Steel Roots.”
“There weren’t many Black or African American surfers back in the day when I first started, but there are more Black surfers now,” he said.
Now 39, Daniels is the founder, CEO and owner of Learn to Rip Surf Lessons, a business he has run out of North County San Diego since 2015, where he instructs beginners and helps coach rising stars. With five employees, LTR is also a vendor for local charter schools, which are able to use elective funds to partner with Daniels to offer lessons for students.
Daniels said the most well-known current Black surfer is Michael “Mikey” February, a South African athlete whose stylish, free-range and alternative ways of surfing has won him a steady following.
Daniels, who grew up in Oceanside playing baseball, practicing Tae Kwon Do and bowling, was always more drawn to the ocean and tackling its waves than participating in other activities.
“I just loved surfing,” Daniels said. “Everything was surfing. The back of my bedroom door at my mom’s house was covered in surf stickers. On the ceiling in my room, it was covered with surf posters – G-Land in Indonesia, Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii. All this stuff was surfing.”
Daniels started surfing when he was 8, despite the concerns of his mother, who was raising John and his brother Shawn alone after his father suffered a fatal heart attack on Camp Pendleton when John was just 3 years old.
Daniels said surfing became even more of a passion at age 12, after a friend moved to Temecula and gave Daniels his board – even though the first time Daniels went out into the ocean with the hard fiberglass board, it smacked him in the face.
“I went home with a bloody lip,” Daniels recalled. “My mom was pretty upset when I got home. She said, ‘You’re going to kill yourself out there. You need to go to surf camp.’ So… I went to surf camp.”
Within two years he was not only attending but also working at the city of Oceanside-run surf camp. He continued teaching at camp while at Oceanside High School. He would parlay that teaching background into starting a surf lesson program for local North County business Surf Ride and procured his own business license in 2011, officially founding LTR in 2015.
Daniels said he attended MiraCosta Community College for a couple of years but that despite “multiple people telling me I had to finish college,” a four-year degree was not to be.
“One of the things I think is important is to follow your dreams no matter what anyone tells you,” he said.
Before going into business for himself, Daniels “lived the dream,” surfing professionally for about five years, and was part of the World Surf League. He also had a career as a professional surfing judge at events as far away as Barbados and El Salvador.
Daniels stays closer to home now. He lives in Bonsall with his wife, Jenny (also a surfer) and their three young children – the oldest of two who are already surfing.
Daniels still surfs recreationally but most of the time when he hangs 10 at a local beach, he is teaching others how to surf and helping hone the surfing skills of those who already know how to ride the waves.
In an average year, Daniels estimates that LTR teaches more than 700 people how to surf in private or group surf lessons. LTR also offers intermediate and advanced surfers coaching that helps athletes improve their maneuvers and technique. LTR also holds an elite surf coaching summer camp that helps hone competitive skills.
Daniels also teaches surfers on a competitive level, and he is proud of the accomplishments of his students.
He has coached and continues to coach some of the top young local surfers, including 17-year-old Caitlin Simmers, who competes in the World Surf League. He has coached Simmers since she was 8.