Surfers of UC San Diego: Brian Sanders ’97

Group of men standing in front of a banner that says NSSA in bold letters.
Brian Sanders ’97 with the National Scholastic Surf Association.

Brian Sanders ’97 

  • College: Muir
  • Major: Physics – Biophysics
  • Hometown: Huntington Beach
  • Currently lives: Splits time between Newport Beach & Carlsbad
  • Career: VP of Sales at Sand Cloud

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Huntington Beach, California. My degree was physics and a specialization in biophysics.

Where do you live now and what’s your occupation?

I split time between Newport Beach and Carlsbad. I’m VP of sales for a company called Sand Cloud Towel Company.

When did you get started surfing?

Gosh, I started when I was 11 and wanted to start younger, but my parents wouldn’t let me surf until they put me in a surf school. The city of Newport Beach ran classes, but back in the day you had to be 11 years old to start surfing. My mom said I begged her since I was like five. She put me in those classes at 11, and then I was just hooked. I remember going out in the middle of summer and still wanting to go out in the winter, even though I didn’t have a wet suit.

She’d have to call me out of the water in the middle of January. That was when my parents finally realized that I was serious, and they got me a wetsuit and all that fun stuff.

Why did you choose UC San Diego?

I was in Model United Nations, and we had a conference at UCSD that I came down to participate in. We were there for the weekend and walked around campus. I knew Black’s was right there, and I still remember going to the quad. I saw these guys come in on their skateboards and wearing board shorts talking about how good the waves were at Black’s. As I sat there, I thought, “I’m going to school here.”

At the OP Pro Juniors competition, I sat with a few friends, and we talked about where we were going to college. We all realized we were going to UCSD together.

I found out that a couple of their friends were going to UCSD too. It was one of those cool moments where we realized we all felt the same anxiety of going to college and moving away. But all of a sudden, I realized I have five great friends coming down to school with me.

What does Black’s Beach mean to you?

Growing up in Orange County, we didn’t really get powerful, big waves. And going down to Black’s, you have the hike down, which is unique. I think the only place in Southern California that really is comparable would be Trestles, where you can have that long walk through kind of nature to get down to the beach. But for me, it was really just about like learning how to ride waves that had that kind of power and size.

You got the submarine canyons out there and it’s a magnet for winter swells. That was just a whole different level. I had to go. I still remember coming down and surfing the first big swell. After that, I realized I needed to buy new boards because the stuff I had just wasn’t the right equipment for those bigger swells.

And there is the feeling of isolation. It feels like it’s its own little getaway. With the ocean, you never know what you’re going to get or what the waves are going to deliver you.

Do you have any favorite memories from days on the team?

I got chased out of the water by an angry seal. I was out with all my buddies, but the seal focused on me and chased me all the way to the beach. My friends were laughing as I ran a hundred yards down the sand to try to come back out. It had followed me through the shore break and popped back up again.

During a contest up in Ventura, we were really close to winning, but one of our body boarders was sick. We had six men surfers, one woman surfer and one body boarder that were on the team. We had to throw in Peter Cole for the bodyboard competition. So he went out without any fans and borrowed a bodyboard from some kid on the beach. He had no idea what he was doing, drops it on some wave and does the slowest 360. But it was almost like every team was cheering for him. It was just so funny. It was a bigger day, and he helped us win that event.

What inspired you to join the surf team?

I competed and was one of the co-captains for my high school team. We just knew we’d join the surf team and did the first meetings and tryouts. For us, the surf team and club were like our fraternity.

How did you become captain?

At the end of the season, there were new up-and-comers and a few older guys. Some of the people that ran the team graduated, so we had a team meeting about it. We voted, and I became captain. I kept getting elected captain for about three years. It was a pretty cool time; we even won a national championship.

What did you gain from your experience on the surf team?

You know, it was really just about the camaraderie. I gained a lot of amazing friendships. The surf team brought the core group of guys even closer. John Sundt, an alum, started sponsoring us and offered to run a contest down at Black’s. So we ran the first ever, Rusty Pro-Am. Kelly Slater, Taylor Knox and some of the best surfers in the world showed up for this contest. Before that, no one had ever really ran a contest on Black’s.

For years, there had been small fun ones that the school ran, but nothing on a grand scale level like that. John pumped some money into the team, and we were able to bring even some people that didn’t have as much competition experience. We became a bigger, more coordinated family. We traveled together, surfed together, then competed together. Surfing is really an individual sport for the most part, so it’s fun to have that team environment because you don’t really get that outside of high school or college.

How did surfing complement your UC San Diego education?

It helps round yourself out. It keeps you focused because you know, the surf is typically best in the morning. You wanted to get to bed early if the swell was going to be good, so you got your school stuff done. It helped set me straight and focus for the day.

Surfing is good for physical activity, but it also is spiritual. You get down there and feel relaxed. It allowed me to get through the rest of the school day and have something to look forward to in the evening.

Do you still surf nowadays?

Oh yeah. I still try to go every day. But with work, it gets harder. If there’s waves, I’m pretty much finding time to get in the water somehow. I still travel a lot and do annual surf trips with a handful of the guys.

Brian Sanders ’97 with friends from the surf team.

Where did your education take you?

With my degree, I originally wanted to go into medical sales, but I just got steered by another alumni. I was looking for a job at the time and Bill Gage ’93, who was on the surf team back in the day, was over at No Fear of the Clothing Company. He gave me a job as a regional sales manager for them. From there, I stayed in the surf/action sports industry. A few months ago, I started talking to Sand Cloud, and those guys have just built an incredible, direct to consumer business. And they’re looking to expand into surf shops and beach lifestyle and resorts and stuff like that, where my specialty is, and they brought me in as VP of their sales.

Now when I’m at trade shows, I look around and realize that half these guys I went to highschool or college with. They’re directors of sales, national sales managers, and VP of marketing, all these different brands. We’ve all moved up the ranks. So the surf team definitely opened doors within the surf industry for us.

What would you like to share to someone thinking about joining the surf team?

It’s a way to take your surfing to another level. You could have all the talent in the world on your team, but if the guys aren’t getting the right waves or are having an off day, it’s tough. The team is not going to go anywhere. So it really teaches you how to take an individual sport and start applying like teamwork to it. We’re normally out there fighting for waves amongst each other, but in the competition, you really do learn to work together because there might be two of you in the same heat, and your buddy might be struggling. And so you have to think, “how do I help lift them up?”

It defined who I was at UCSD and opened a lot of doors. I got great friendships and something to always cherish and look back on. It’s been 20 something years, and I still have 12 or 15 guys on group texts, still just laughing and cracking up together.

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