Perched on the rocks below the Brooks Street beach overlook on a recent October Sunday, Bob Booth pointed the long lens of his always present camera toward the breakers to capture his son Jeff and grandkids Travis and Tess as they made their mark at the 2015 Brooks Street Classic.
It was the 52nd running of the legendary, locals-only event. And one the Booth family will long remember. “I need light. I need waves. I need performance,” said Booth, who long ago combined his love for surfing with his passion for photography.
Well, the patriarch of the surfing Booths had plenty of light and sizable waves. But it was the performance that he and his family will long remember.
Jeff won the Senior Masters division, before closing out the two-day contest with the Pro/Am crown. It was a rare double and the 14th and 15th Brooks Street titles for the longtime Laguna resident. “I haven’t [won two] in a long, long time,” said the former pro, who helped put Laguna on the surfing map in 1988 when he was named rookie of the year on the pro tour.
“Jeff, at 46 years old, still has this tremendous passion for surfing,” said Brooks organizer Brandy Faber.
It was only the second time since the world’s longest running surf competition began 60 years ago that the Brooks ran past September. The late season start created scheduling problems for some younger surfers, who had other tournament commitments that weekend.
But there were no scheduling issues for Travis, who had been working hard for a chance to
improve on his second place finish in the boys division in 2014. Now 14, he would have to do it in the junior men’s division. And he did, taking first place in only his third Brooks. “The tide kind of got too low. It got really tricky,” said Travis, but “it was a really great experience for me. I was super happy.”
“[Travis] charges harder than all the other kids,” said Faber. “He just has this affinity for, you know, bigger, gnarlier, kind of meatier conditions.”
“It was really fun to see all that hard work pay off in the water,” said Jeff. “He caught the good waves and he surfed them really well. When it all comes together, it’s really fun to watch. And that’s what happened for him that day.”
His own success as a pro came at a time when the amateur tour was just gaining traction, and more lucrative opportunities on the pro tour were beginning to pop up all around the globe.
Still, Bob suggested that Jeff enroll at San Diego State and spend a year on the local pro circuit. “See how you do. See what you’re all about. See if you’re any good,” Bob told him.
It wasn’t long before “we could start to see his future coming out. Sponsors were coming. People were throwing money at him,” said Bob. “Jeff was at the right place at the right time with the right skill set. Everything worked out.”
With a year of college under his belt, Jeff began to travel the world on the pro circuit, racking up wins and bringing home the cash. “When he’d come home, we’d be doing his laundry, and there’d be hundred dollar bills in the washing machine,” said Bob, whose 20-year-old his son bought a house in Laguna Beach with his winnings.
All that early success didn’t impact Jeff the way it did many of his contemporaries, who fell prey to the money and the lifestyle. “Jeff’s head was always screwed on right,” said Bob. “If I would have been that age with that amount of recognition and that amount of money, I would have been the biggest jerk on the planet.”
It’s clear Jeff’s sense of perspective was honed by a father that was ever-present to support his young son’s dream, while taking care not to be too pushy or overly critical.
Now Jeff is passing on that perspective to a whole new generation of surfers. He and his long
time friend and former pro Bobby Lockhart coach the Thurston Middle School surf team, of which Tess is a seventh grade member and promising surfer in her own right.
With only a year of surfing experience, Tess took fourth in the girls division. During the girls’ finals, her father was in the water nearby, calling out approaching sets. “I felt really calm and was like in my happy place,” she said.
“For my daughter just to get the courage to get out there was awesome,” said Jeff. “She felt real good about herself. She was like ‘Dad, I’m going to surf this thing every year now’.”
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