Wearing the Hat w/ Surfer Ethan Slaman

by Bella Taylor April 01, 2024 8 min read

“Wearing the Hat” is a series where staff writer Bella Taylor showcases the incredible people in the Isla Vista community and all the “hats” they choose to wear as they bring their passions to life. 

Ethan Slaman (@ethanslaman on Instagram) has been catching California’s coastal waves for over a decade now. Having grown up in sunny southern Orange County, he is now a 21-year-old senior at UCSB studying History and graduating in the Spring. Ethan’s enthusiasm and craving for surfing is a big part of who he is, and it was absolutely elating to hear all about his passion for the ocean and this beautiful sport. 

Ethan Slaman in the Isla Vista is For Lovers Foam Trucker 

In true “Wearing the Hat” fashion, Ethan’s responses to our classic conversation starter questions can be found below: 

What is one time on your bucket list? 

ES: One item I have on my bucket list is to go to Peru and mostly surf and explore. There’s a lot of cool stuff I’d really love to see and just surf some of the best waves there. 

What do you truly value about yourself? 

ES: I value my creativity and how many different outlets I get to tap into, whether it’s surfing, music, writing, or just whatever it is. There’s really no limit to my creative outlets. 

What is a day or moment in your life that you’d like to relive?

ES: One moment that immediately comes to my mind is one day back in January of last year. It was the best day of surfing that I had in my entire life with some of my closest friends. It was only us out on the water, and it was at this one spot in Santa Barbara that I can’t say the name of. It was probably the best day of my life, and some of the best waves I’ve ever surfed. I would definitely relive that if I could. 

Go to Freebird’s order? 

ES: Bean, cheese, and rice burrito with spicy salsa on the side. 

Next, we leaned into Ethan’s story with surfing and when he first learned how to ride the wave: 

“I think I was probably about 8 years old, I would say. It was my dad’s uncle, my great uncle. He’s who got my dad into surfing and he’s just a big surfer himself. He took me out to San Clemente pier and it was on a soft top board. I just remember being pushed into the white wash and immediately falling in love. From that point on, every time I would surf, I felt more and more love towards it.”

Do you ever compete in surf competitions? 

ES: I used to compete in surf competitions in high school. My high school actually had a surf team so we would compete against all the other schools in my area. I was never super into it just because the whole competing part kind of took away from the fun in it for me, but I would still do it. I haven’t really competed since high school other than this one contest that I will always compete in because I think it’s the best contest. It’s up in Santa Cruz every year and it’s strictly longboards from the ‘60s. That’s the only board you’re allowed to use in the contest and those boards are definitely different than the boards we have around today so it keeps things super exciting and fun. It’s not as much pressure there compared to other contests. 

You have really awesome photos and videos of yourself while surfing. Who are the people behind the camera, and do you record for each other?

ES: Yeah, I feel like a good majority of the clips I’ve gotten of me surfing has been from my homie Paul, Pablo. He goes by a few names but his Instagram is @ghettozoom. He actually doesn’t surf much; he’ll just sit on the beach and chill and hang out and film. That’s how I get most of my clips. I don’t spend too much time filming others. I’ve had a couple other friends film me just out of courtesy which is super awesome. 

Slaman’s photos and videos capture him making impressive moves on the board and with the board, which, from an outside perspective, is sincerely soul-stirring to watch. He dances on the water as if he was born to do so, although it took him around three years to actually get the hang of “hanging ten.” Ethan explains, “Once I was about 14-years-old, I started to see more of a consistent point of improvement and progression.” Flash forward seven years, and Ethan’s talent and skill have gained deserving praise from spectators on the shore and on social media. 

What kind of identity do you find in surfing? 

ES: Surfing to me means completely being yourself, and having the ability to be whoever you want. You’re always in an area where you’re not being judged, no matter who you are. I feel like the moment you go out into the water, all those judgements you have of other people disappear. Nobody’s focused on that, everyone’s just focused on catching waves. That’s the best part about it and I feel like there’s no other sport with that type of community.

When asked what surfing has taught him, Ethan takes a moment to reflect on all that he has learned from this calling of his: 

“Surfing has taught me to really appreciate mother nature and to be grateful for the chance to be out there with friends in the most beautiful places ever, riding waves. There’s nothing else like it and it really makes me appreciate our Earth.” 

What are your favorite types of boards to ride? 

ES: My favorite boards are longboards, mostly. I always grew up riding one so that’s just what stuck with me the most. Usually, I’ll ride a 9’6 and my favorite shaper is Cade Doherty from Oceanside; he makes really awesome boards (@surfboardsbycade on Instagram). I also do ride shorter boards, mostly when the surf is big, which isn’t super often here. 

With talk about vintage surfboards, Ethan elaborates more on his preference: 

“The boards I ride now compared to those boards from the ‘60s, it’s pretty much taking the same outline of the board but just refining it in terms of making it lighter. The boards back then were 40 pounds and now they’re probably, like, 15, I’d say. Lighter, faster, and more maneuvarable now for sure. They both serve their purpose; I think the boards now in a technical sense are better but I often find myself having a more fun time riding a board from the sixties.” 

Which beaches are your favorite to surf at? 

ES: Definitely San Onofre, San O. That beach, I think, will always have my heart. Not only is it a good wave, but the community there is like no other community I’ve seen at any other beach which is super cool. I also love surfing Rincón; it’s one of the best waves I’ve ever surfed, so can’t really beat that. 

Sunrise or sunset surf sesh? 

ES: I used to say sunrise, but based off of how much I value my sleep now, I’d definitely say sunset surf sesh. 

Any favorite surfers you like to watch or gain inspiration from?

ES: Yeah, I have a lot of surfers I like to watch. I would say the surfers I gain most inspiration from are the surfers from the late ‘50s and ‘60s. They were surfing in a way that was never done before in that time, and to see people now surfing in pretty much the same way they surfed is awesome and I think they did it better than anyone. Noseriding, hanging five, hanging ten, that was all made in the 50’s. People were doing that for the first time, and then throughout the ‘60s, it was becoming more popular in surfing and so it just went through a whole revolution of maneuvers being made that I do today and other surfers do, too. 

Ethan’s insight on surf culture is particularly eye-opening as he let’s us in on the fact that you “get to be whoever you want to be,” which is his favorite aspect of the community. He states, “It’s hard to even describe it as a culture because there’s so many different subcultures within it.” Ethan goes on to say that there’s so many different outlets of creativity for surfers, as many play music, make art, and are into doing other creative things that aren’t just surfing. 

When it comes to surfer slang, Slaman makes use of the words “stoked,” “gnarly,” and “fried” the most in his vocabulary, and refers to a couple terms, such as the “kook” title that Ethan laughs at, expressing how it’s one of those words that is hard to define without being a little bit, uh, rude, lol. 

Where would you really love to go surfing, but haven’t yet?

ES: There’s a bunch of places on my list of destinations to go, but definitely Peru, and Indonesia. I think those are the two that I really want to go to the most. 

Would you ever want to take this sport as far as to become a professional surfer? If not, what else would you like to do for a living career-wise?

ES: Surfing is definitely something that has always been my dream. If I could make a profession out of something, it would probably be surfing. But, the idea of being a professional surfer in terms of competing isn’t realistic for me because I don’t love to compete. I don’t think it’s fun, and I think there’s ways to still pursue that career even with not competing and just doing it out of the joy of surfing. I kind of tie my surfing into playing music, which is also my other dream career.

Do you have any other hobbies, interests, or ways you spend your time?

ES: When I’m not surfing, I’m pretty much just playing music or hanging out with my friends, or doing both, hanging out with my friends and playing music. I play the drums in Eternal Wave, which is a surf rock band here in IV and we make our own originals. The other band I’m in is Dead Set, which is a Grateful Dead cover band. 

How do you think Isla Vista has shaped you into who you are today?

ES: Isla Vista has definitely shaped me into a lot of things. One of the things I’m most grateful for is the ability to play so much music up here with so many different people. So many people in this town play music and I don’t think there’s really anywhere else in the world with a town like Isla Vista, where it’s just filled with, so many creative people in general, but so many musicians. I think it brought my music and skill to a whole other level that I wouldn’t have ever gotten to without being here. 

Favorite spot in IV? 

ES: My favorite spot in IV is “The Brick,” which is my buddy Jack’s house. That’s where pretty much all the music goes down and it’s such a creative space going in there. Anytime you go, you just know that nothing can wrong because you’re going to be immersed in so much creativity and music and good people. 

What is something that you can’t wait to do in the future? 

ES: I can’t wait to travel more, and surf all over the world. There’s so many spots that I’ve always wanted to go to. I can’t wait to experience different cultures and be surrounded with different and awesome people. 

Slaman’s advice to all aspiring surfers out there is to “just get a board and paddle out. Maybe go with someone who knows how to surf, that’ll make it easier.” He also notes, “Once you learn, just keep doing it because the more you do it, the more fun you’re going to start to have and the better you’ll get.” 

Ethan Slaman is a natural out on the water and it was with great pleasure that I got the chance to chat it up with him about his deep passion for surfing. His serene spirit and beaming energy really shows in his ability to work the surfboard and in his everyday life as he takes what surfing has given him and uses it for the better. He leaves us with a promotion of his band’s new single, “Back Home,” which is now available to stream on multiple platforms and can be checked out through their Instagram @eternalwaveband. The more blogs I write, the more gratitude I feel for Isla Vista’s ocean waves, live music, and rad people like Ethan Slaman who choose to partake in both. Thank you, Ethan.

Bella Taylor
Bella Taylor

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