Surfers of UC San Diego: Eric Pinczower ’82

Surfer with surfboards on land.

Eric Pinczower ’82
▪ College: Revelle
▪ Major: Biology
▪ Hometown: Hollywood, CA
▪ Currently Lives: Seattle, WA & Del Mar, CA
▪ Career:  Retired | Otolaryngologist – Proliance Surgeons & Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Washington.

When did you start surfing?

I started surfing when I was 11 years old, so I’ve been surfing for 50 years. I grew up in Hollywood, and I learned to surf through the Jewish Community Center. They had a program called Summer Without Boredom and one of the activities was surfing. I just loved it from the first second I did it.

What inspired you to join the surf team?

When I came down to San Diego, I learned how to surf much, much better. Black’s Beach is one of the premier beaches on the West Coast. I joined the team my second year.

Eric Pinczower ’82, as a student.

How did surfing complement your education?

It taught me how to surf a lot better for one, and I even created educational relationships as well. One day, I was walking with Professor Paul Saltman’s son from Black’s after surfing together during the sunset. I lost my board and broke my leash, and so did his son. After swimming for a bit in the dark, Professor Saltman gave us a ride up the hill. We talked about my career as a biology major, and he offered me a position in his lab. He really convinced me to go to medical school, which was something I had thought about but wasn’t my biggest goal at the time. Professor Saltman was very encouraging, and I certainly owe my career to walking back up from Black’s and being picked up by him.

I ended up doing research on iron absorption in his laboratory. Professor Saltman taught me that you can be a surfer and pursue a career in medicine. I ultimately applied to medical school, and he even wrote me a letter of recommendation. I went to medical school at UC Irvine or, as I like to say: Newport Beach and Trestles.

What was being on the team like?

It was like herding cats; everybody was so disorganized in those days. Our surf coach, Mike Shand, MA ’75, PhD ’80, was instrumental in shaping the surf team we know today. During my first year Mike said, “Hey, there’s this new thing called the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) organizing collegiate competitions, and we are going to compete against other teams up and down the coast.” He got us involved in that very early.

I actually got a scholarship from the NSSA the very first year that they offered it. It was a combination of surfing and academics and I managed to get 250 bucks from NSSA!

Do you have any good competition stories?

During one competition, I was really excited because I surfed against Bud Lamas, who became a professional surfer from Newport Beach. Of course, he completely destroyed me out in the surf, but it was still pretty exciting.

I remember when we first started traveling, Mike Shand said, “You have to drive the van.” And I asked, why me? And he said, “Because you’re the most responsible person on the team,” which I thought was pretty funny because certainly, nobody else considered me very responsible at that time. Certainly not my parents. So, I think that was pretty cool that he gave us a degree of responsibility.

Back in the day: UC San Diego surf team

What have you done since leaving UCSD?

After I went to UC Irvine, I did my residency at USC and surfed in the LA areas. I moved up to Seattle and lived there for 25 years, and I was on the faculty of the University of Washington. But I’d keep coming down to surf periodically and go on surf trips.

Eight years ago, I bought a place in Del Mar as a vacation home. Now I’m retired, and since then, I’ve met some members of the surf team out in the water around here. I would say the quality of surfing has gone way up. There’s no comparison. I think our team and in our days was really a club we transformed into a team. I know for a fact that a few of the very best surfers at UCSD had no interest in being on the team when I was there.

What’s your favorite memory from your time on the team?

I thought living in the dorms was great, especially because I was able to walk to Black’s Beach. Then for my last three years, we moved to Del Mar with a couple of my friends. I learned how to become an adult at UC San Diego. I was taught the things I needed to be taught, but I learned how to become an adult by cooking and cleaning for myself.

Are there any parallels between surfing and your career?

You need a lot of patience when you surf and when you’re a surgeon, because things don’t always go according to schedule.

A lot of times people ask me to teach them how to surf and they’ll say, “I can go next Tuesday at four o’clock.” And I think, well, you don’t understand surfing because you have to go when the surfing is good. You can’t schedule something two weeks ahead of time and have any idea of what it’s going to be like, and it’s the same thing with being a doctor. You can try scheduling stuff, but you also have to be reactive to the current circumstances.

Surfing is a very calming and relaxing sport for me. A lot of doctors like to golf, which I just can’t even imagine how horrible that must be. [laughs] But I do think there is some similarity in that when you’re surfing, there’s a lot of times where you sit around, bobbing up and down in the water, waiting for the wave. And then when the wave comes, it’s 100 percent concentration on the wave for 30 seconds. And I think it’s the same with golf. There’s a lot of walking around doing nothing. And then when it comes to actually strike the ball, you really have to concentrate 100 percent for a few seconds and do your shots.

I think there’s something that’s sort of cleansing for the mind to just focus fully on something for a few seconds when you’re taking off on the wave. You can’t worry about your patients, you can’t worry about COVID-19, you can’t worry about the economy. You have to worry about taking off on the wave. It kind of cleans up your head a little bit inside. So that’s great.

What is your favorite place to surf?

The best place that I’ve surfed is on Tavarua, which is an island in Fiji. That’s the best surf I’ve ever gotten in my life. But my favorite place to surf is Del Mar.

And your favorite surf move?

I’m kind of an old school surfer. I liked the glide and the flow. I’m not a real flashy type surfer. I like just having a real nice flow.


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