Future is ‘Open’ for pro surfer Petruso

Lifelong surfer and Malibu resident Anthony Petruso looks past the U.S. Open to participate in charity fundraising through surf-related events. Copyright © 2010 Anthony Ghiglia

The lifelong Malibu resident looks past the U.S. Open surf contest to give his time for charity.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

A few Octobers back, Anthony Petruso won the first 2005-06 Matix Sun Diego Pro Am Surfing Series at Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach, cutting across three- to five-foot waves like a flying guillotine before a thunderstruck crowd. Petruso came ahead of rivals Sean Marceron, Teddy Navarro, Magnum Martinez and David Diaz to snag the $2,000 grand prize. It was all in a day’s work for the professional surfer and a lifelong Malibu resident.

On Sunday, Petruso was at it again, this time competing in the U.S. Open in Huntington Beach as one of 128 surfers going for the top prize in a penultimate contest that sent only two finalists to this coming Sunday’s championship heat. Petruso’s competition included a dozen of the highest-ranked surfers in the world (including his personal hero, Kelly Slater) going for a $100,000 prize. Other big names participating include Aussies Rob Machado (surfing under the USA flag) and Matt Wilkinson, as well as Dusty Payne.

Petruso specializes in “power surfing.” He does not hunt the big waves but opts for speed and maneuvers.

“You’re turning a lot harder,” Petruso told The Malibu Times on Saturday, the day before his competition. “I like to use my weight and turn my board really hard. I kind of use my power to do big turns and throw a lot of spray.”

In the hours prior to Sunday’s contest, the reserved Petruso, whose sponsors include the venerable San Diego-based Rusty clothing and surfboards, and the Valley Village-based Val Surf store chain, founded by Brandon Richards, appeared ready for his big rumble at Huntington.

“It’s definitely one of the biggest contests of the year,” he said. “They have skateboarding, bikes and concerts.”

Petruso was slotted to surf at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. He had spent the past few weeks preparing the way he always trains: biking, yoga, swimming and, of course, surfing.

“He’s one of the best surfers in Los Angeles so it made sense for us to sponsor him,” Richards said of Petruso. “He excels at rail-to-rail surfing combined with power, and he has a complete bag of tricks. He’s good at them barrels, too.”

Growing up in Malibu, Petruso learned to surf at age six. His father, a commercial real estate agent, used to surf but quit after serving in Vietnam. But Petruso’s parents encouraged him to pursue his passion, which he caught like a flu bug from the local kids. He never attended college because “at 18, I turned pro and started traveling the world,” Petruso said. “This year, I haven’t done too many, but usually, on average, I do 10 to 12 international competitions.”

Petruso eventually met some of the surfers he looked up to, including Slater.

Today, Petruso, 28 and single, lives near Westward Beach. Petruso, who placed 5th earlier this year at the Van’s Pier Classic in Huntington Beach, said that a defining career highlight was the National Scholastic Surfing Association 2000 Championship, where he became the men’s champion.

“At the time, that was one of the biggest amateur contests in the country,” Petruso said. “It was a national contest so that was a big accomplishment.”

This year, he surfed in Brazil, as he did last year. He also competed in France, Spain, Portugal and Bali in 2009. Bali, he said, was his favorite surf spot. He added that he’s been surfing at Hawaii’s North Shore every year since he was 10 years old.

“North Shore is where all the pro surfers are,” Petruso said. “It’s definitely more fun [surfing there] when you start going.”

But over time, the novelty has worn off a bit.

“It’s 300 people trying to surf in a few select spots,” he said.

Yet, after many years and thousands of miles accrued from circling the globe, there’s nowhere he’d rather live and surf than right here.

Yeah, he’ll load up the vehicle and drive 200 miles to San Diego or Santa Barbara if the conditions are right.

“When there are good waves, I definitely don’t want to miss it,” he said. “You feel like you’re missing something [if you don’t go].”

But more often than not, Petruso will surf in his own backyard.

“I really like the surf around here,” Petruso said. “It’s close to home. I live across the street from the beach. Malibu is one of the nicest places around and all my friends are here.”

On Sunday, with a light southwest wind blowing and a swell slowly building to five-foot sets, Petruso dove into Huntington Beach’s waters to go for the U.S. Open gold. He competed in what is called a “four-man heat,” where he was evaluated on his best two rides.

After some vigorous surfing, Petruso, who had made it as far as the quarterfinals, ultimately will not get a shot at the top spot come this Sunday.

“I was surfing for four spots in the main event, which means I would of had to make one more heat and place first or second in the semi final to get [to this Sunday’s finals],” he said on Monday morning.

“It was definitely a challenge,” Petruso continued. “The waves were a little inconsistent and it was hard to get in the right spot. The other two guys in my heat happened to be in the right spot.”

The finals have not yet been determined, with heats scheduled throughout the week.

Naturally, Petruso was bummed out for not making it to the main event. But he’s also more determined to continue.

Next up for the seasoned surfer: the fourth annual Malibu Invitational, an annual charity event to benefit Jimmy Gamboa’s Therasurf, a foundation for kids with special needs. Organized by Val Surf’s Richards, the Invitational will be held at the Malibu Pier on Aug. 28 and 29. For more information, visit TheMalibuInvitational.com.