Surfers of UC San Diego: Michael Ciaramella ’16

A man in a black bodysuit surfs a wave.
Michael Ciaramella ’16 surfing a wave.

Michael Ciaramella ’16

  • College: Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Major: International Studies (& Minor in Business) 
  • Hometown: Stone Harbor, NJ 
  • Currently Lives: Cape May Court House, NJ
  • Career: Editor, Stab Magazine

When did you learn how to surf?

I actually grew up in Pennsylvania, which is landlocked. But we had like a beach house in New Jersey that we would go to in the summer. My dad was a surfer; he had me standing on a board with him before I was one years old. So yeah, I was basically like thrust into it, but at some point it became something that I actually wanted to go and do on my own. I moved to New Jersey when I was 12 and that’s when I got pretty serious about competing, the New Jersey circuits and then that goes to like the whole East coast circuit. And then you get to nationals. That’s the big deal at the end of the year. So that was through the NSA, which is the same organization that runs the college events that we all do when we’re at UCSD.

What is your experience surfing at Black’s Beach?

Blacks is unbelievable. California gets most of its swells from storms that happen thousands and thousands of miles away, whether it’s in the South Pacific in our summer or the North Pacific in our winter. So they basically are long duration swells, big ones versus those on the East coast, where waves come from storms that are inland and they either push up or down the coast. The reason I’m telling you all this is that going from the East coast to California was just such a crazy jump in terms of like being able to surf every day versus on the East coast where it’s more like these little short stints, you know, you get like sometimes it’s even like six hours of really fun waves and then it’s flat for a week. But Black’s–when the waves get good, it’s pretty much as good as a beach break gets. I was just so happy to be able to surf every day. 

What inspired you to join the surf team?

The surf team was definitely something that was on my radar before I committed to a school or anything, I guess I was technically choosing between like UCSB and UCSD. I ended up choosing San Diego because of Black’s. But the surf team also played a role in that–I had met Coco, who was the captain when I came on, and he was a super cool guy. He actually brought me down to Black’s when I was visiting San Diego the year prior. I’d competed all through like my teens, so I wanted to keep competing just because I enjoyed it. So the surf team was always something that I was going to do. 

Michael Ciaramella ’16 surfs through a wave.

Do you have a favorite memory?

Literally the first day that I got to school at UC San Diego, I actually went down to Black’s with Eric on the surf team and sprained my ankle really badly. I had to get picked up by like a lifeguard and driven back up. So for the first two months I couldn’t surf at all, which was killing me because it was like September, October, the most beautiful time of year. My friends were all running down from the dorms to go surf and I was just so depressed. But then come November, we had like our second team event and I was like, kind of just starting to surf again, but the ankle was still pretty tender and I was wearing a brace and everything. And I told Tyler,  I think I can surf in this event, you should probably just put me on the B team or something like that. And he was like, no, if you’re going to surf, I want to put you in the A team. But anyway, when we got into the event I just kept making it through heats. And then the final came and I knew that we were in like a good position team-wise. I think I was the only UCSD surfer in the final, but I knew that basically for our team to win the event I had to get first, and this other guy who I thought had been the best surfer all day had to place fifth or sixth in the final. I thought, Well that’s not gonna happen; he’s surfing so well, and I can barely surf with my ankle. 

But surfing is so reliant on inconsistent variables. We have 15 or 20 minutes out in the ocean and it’s just chaotic and anything can happen and that’s kind of the beauty of it. And I ended up winning that final and that guy got last place. I remember them announcing it as I was coming in from the water and the whole team was there. And they all lifted me up and chaired me up the beach and it was just such an awesome team win and personal win. It was like a big “welcome to the team” sort of thing. That definitely stood out to me. 

How did you find your career path? 

When I was in school, surfing has always been my number one passion. I got good grades and I was always planning to go to a university, but somewhere where I can surf good waves. UCSD was obviously perfect for that. But I didn’t really know what I wanted to study. I knew I wasn’t good at science or math. But I knew that I liked to travel and I wanted to pursue something within surfing, because that was the only thing I actually know anything about. I reached out to a friend who worked at Surfing magazine. He was writing about surfing and going on these trips paid for by the magazine. I asked if I could do some intern stuff, went in and started doing some work for them through my senior year of college. When I was graduating a spot opened up and I just happened to be the guy that was there.

It’s a long story, but at that time surf magazines started to shut down one by one. And soon after I landed my dream job, it got kind of like ripped out from under me. But I basically started doing freelance writing, but eventually Tyler Calloway, the coach of the UCSD surf team, thought it would be really good for me to meet Evan Slater, also an alumnus. Evan was at that point like leading a big part of Hurley and had worked his own way through like the magazines and all that stuff.

So anyway, I went up and met Evan one day. I spent some time with him at the Hurley headquarters and he was just super generous and everything with his time. It turns out that Evan is really close with the founder of Stab, Sam Macintosh. And Sam Macintosh was basically looking for someone to hire, to replace another editor that had left. So two years or three years after I met Evan, he put my name in, and that got me in the door with Stab where I’ve been for the last like three and a half years or so. This is the first time that I’ve actually felt like I’ve really a genuine career outlook in this whole space. Basically I went from being kind of like a beat writer, to now mostly managing the digital platforms, like Instagram, Facebook, all that sort of stuff. 

What did you learn from your time on the team?

The team is where I gained the leadership skills that I have kept throughout my life. After my freshman year, both our captains, Coco and Sean were leaving. I was tapped to be a captain as a sophomore, and I was a little bit hesitant about that because there were people who’d been there for like two or three years. But yeah Tyler had faith in me to do that. And it was basically like a real learning curve for me about how to deal with people’s emotions and egos. A team B team rivalries, etc. But I was forced to learn how to navigate a bunch of different people and their different desires, trying to figure out what’s the best way to manage each person individually so that you can manage the team as a whole.

What was your social experience of being on the surf team? How did it complement your education?

Everyone knows the big cliche–UC Socially Dead, but the surf team was my group, and everybody has to have kind of a group in college. I didn’t really have too many friends really outside of the surf team, to be honest; I lived with people from the surf team, and I basically did everything with them. So they were my group, like-minds, I suppose, and down to have a good time. It was a great complement. 

What is your favorite surf move?

Getting barreled–a hundred percent. Black’s gave me some of the best barrels of my life. That’s all I really care about in surfing.

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

It really didn’t matter if people were like the best surfer or not. I would encourage it to anyone, if you are down for improving your surfing skills and having a community that you really get along with at UCSD, just go for it. Competing is just so much fun, and this is that perfect intermediate level where the surfers are really, really good, but it’s also attainable–people that haven’t competed all their lives can still come in and make a few heats and all that. 

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

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