Surfers of UC San Diego: Bill Lerner ’84

Bill Lerner ’84
▪ College: Muir
▪ Major: Biology
▪ Hometown: Torrance, CA
▪ Currently Lives: Cardiff By the Sea, CA
▪ Career: Chiropractor – William E. Lerner Chiropractic

When did you first learn how to surf?

I learned how to surf when I was 10 in Torrance and Hermosa Beach, Calif. I began competing when I was 16.

When you first got to UC San Diego, did you know there was a surf team?

I did, and I fully intended on joining. Actually, I’m still friends with a lot of the surfers. A teammate, Dave Atkins, introduced me to my wife, and we wound up marrying sisters. Now we’re brothers-in-law!

What do you feel like you gained from your experience on the surf team?

It was a great way to meet people who share similar interests. UC San Diego is a big school, but when I went surfing, I met and connected with a bunch of other students in a way I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

We had camaraderie. We worked hard, and we played hard. It was a great way to blow off some steam from the curriculum. We inspired each other because all of us were really academic, so it was a good way to cross over in some fun activities.

I learned that you have to get along with people. We did really well as a surf team, and we were focused. We tried to push each other and inspire each other to do well. It’s interesting because surfing is such an individualized sport, but this was a team effort. We had such a great eclectic mix of people, and they’re all really intelligent, to boot.

Are there any skills you learned from surfing that you’ve brought into your life?

It’s really about finding balance and being able to give and take. You have to find a flow. Life doesn’t always go your way, but you have to be able to dance the dance with a situation that you’re in.

I’m a chiropractor now, and each of my patients is different. I need to learn how to treat and relate to them. Work is like the ocean; it has its own moods, and you have to be able to adapt and dance with each situation that comes at you.

What makes Black’s Beach a unique place?

It’s one of the best places to surf in California, and there’s a high level of ability there. Because of UCSD, there’s etiquette and integrity out in the water. People play by the rules. In some places, you go surfing and there’s no etiquette; it’s a free for all. But at Black’s, people look out for each other and everyone takes turns. If you don’t take turns, you get called on it.

What did you learn at Black’s that complemented your education at UCSD?

The first word that comes to mind is commitment. Because the surf gets really heavy, and the curriculum at UCSD is intense, I worked my tail off. I also had to be careful and watch for both myself and my friends when we were surfing at Black’s.

You have to jump into it. You can’t do it halfheartedly. You have to walk across the street, hike down the trail, and hike back up. It’s a time debt. You have to plan, and you have to be hungry for it.

Several people have called you the “Mayor of Black’s Beach”–where did that come from?

It’s my friend Jack’s name for me, mostly because I’m friendly out in the water. I’d rather make bridges and friends. When I go surfing, I like to enjoy myself and have a good time. There are some people who are kind of territorial, and I’m not one of those people. I’ve been around for a while, so I just know a lot of people. I think no one owns the ocean, and everyone should have a good time.

Where did your education take you?

I was a physiology major. Now I’m a chiropractor, so that dovetailed really nicely with my profession. I fell into it, really–I was premed, so I started doing volunteer work at a UCSD hospital in Hillcrest. I absolutely hated it and realized it wasn’t for me. I was working in the ER and noticed that people weren’t willing to take responsibility for their own health or lifestyles. Then I also realized I didn’t like needles or blood.

Now I work with people who are self-motivated or inspired to be proactive about their health. It’s really come across now with COVID-19, because most of the morbidity and mortality are people who have these inflammatory processes going on in their bodies. So this is what I’ve been preaching for the last 30 years: you need to sleep, and you need to be healthy. I hope I’m almost like a coach in that way.

Do you have any favorite memories from your time on the team?

One time that we were up at a contest in Salt Creek surfing against Saddleback College. It was really localized and there were all these hassles in the water. We’re a bunch of nerds— a bunch of pencil guys. They screamed at us and tried to intimidate us, but we still won. It was the best feeling. We put our heads down and surfed our brains out. We just wouldn’t back down.

I also remember the Lowenbrau contest one year. I was in the final with my hero, a kneeboarder named Rex Hoffman. Rock and roll blasted from the speakers, and the surf was pumping. I got these super long waves. I had a great wave, but you had a bunch of cars that got a tube right on the end and made it out. It was a perfect moment, and I wound up winning. So I was really stoked.

Were you world champion at one point, right?

When I was a sophomore, I won a world team contest against South Africa, before there were world championships. I won again during the contest between the United States against the rest of the countries.

The older I got, the better I was. I did really well in contests, and I was on the national team. I got sponsored by a wetsuit company, clothing company and surfboard company. When you’re a starving student buying your own stuff, that really helps out. I met all these people, and I still have these lasting friendships.

What was it like to be one of the 1983 UCSD athletes of the year?

That took me by surprise. It was a great honor, especially with all these great athletes. I’m the short, little skinny runt surfer competing against water polo players, volleyball players, skiers and lacrosse players.

Why do you like kneeboarding?

The sensation is so visceral. It’s probably the difference between riding a stock car and a go-cart. When you’re in a go-cart, you’re really close to it. You can feel all those G-forces. You can take off really late and get tubed on the waves. It’s a different feeling. Your center of gravity is really low. All that force transmits into your torso, as opposed to your knees. It’s like feeling the bass from a song in your stomach. That’s how kneeboarding is, like when you’re at a rock show and you can feel the bass reverberating in your body.

Has kneeboarding become more niche? How do you feel about that?

It’s a lost art. People aren’t into it as much, and it’s kind of unknown. There are pockets of kneeboarders at Black’s, and there are a few people in La Jolla and Santa Cruz. It was more popular before the bodyboard came out.

When the bodyboard came out, kneeboards passed to the side in popularity. People haven’t really taken up with it. It’s really easy to start, but it’s really hard to get good at. I don’t know if it’s a popular thing, but those who kneeboard know there’s no feeling like it.

Read more Q&A’s with UC San Diego surfers here.

And reach out to us with your answers to have your own! –