San O's surfing sweetheart to mark 1 year of waves
San O's surfing sweetheart to mark 1 year of waves
There are the perfect, glassy sessions — like Christmas Day, when Meg Roh caught waves for six hours.
Then there are the stormy mornings, so messy that Meg would be the only one in the water, her stepfather, Sam Hann, watching and staying dry under the lifeguard tower with the family lab, Kona, in tow.
A few times the swells have been so big that her mom, Sue Hann, walks away with tears streaming down her face, scared for her daughter's safety. Sue is no longer allowed to watch on big days.
Still, Meg surfs. No matter how crummy, cold, stormy, windy, dirty, crowded, big, or flat.
Four waves each day, that's the rule. That's the goal the Dana Point resident set out to conquer 365 days ago today.
"For a girl that young to have that kind of dedication and fortitude, to come out here every day — good, bad, whatever — it's phenomenal," said her board maker, Dennis Kemp.
"There's a champ in that little body there just waiting to bust out."
She took a few falls at first, but Meg will never forget her first wave, at age 4 at Doheny State Beach.
"I was hooked," she recalled after surfing a recent day.
But the day Hann knew Meg had unbreakable determination was a few years back during a weeklong Josh Baxter surf camp, when the biggest swell of the year hit.
Fifteen-foot sets were rolling in at San O, and three-time US longboard champ Baxter told the kids it was too big and they couldn't go out that day.
Meg, then 10, whispered to Hann: "That doesn't mean me, right?"
Hann decided he'd let her go and paddled out beside her, figuring she'd get worn out in the whitewash and make her way in. She was half-way out when a big set with five waves was growing in the distance, and she decided to commit.
She made it past four waves when the last wave – the biggest of the set at about 15-feet – loomed above her. She scratched her way up the face, before free-falling downwards.
Hann's heart dropped.
"I thought, 'oh no, she's going to drown. What am I going to tell her mom'?" Hann recalls. "She takes the tumble and I came up right next to her. She has a big smile and says 'Come on, let's go. I'm fine'."
Later that night, over dinner, she tells her family that she didn't know it was possible to hit the bottom that far out, and found out first hand after landing on the sand deep down under the ocean's surface.
"It was scary, but now that I think about it – it could have been worse," Meg says, a big smile showing off her metal braces.
On a magnetic whiteboard in their home, Meg and younger sister Claire write down their goals.
Meg jots down a few: Get straight As, make new surf friends, teach a friend to surf ... surf 365 days in a row.
The deal with her parents was that as long as she kept her grades up – she has a 4.0 — they'd support any goal she set.
Meg analyzes forecasts each day to determine where to surf. Most mornings by 6:30 a.m. she's at San O to longboard before school. Some days it's at Doheny State Beach. Sometimes she surfs twice a day, so she can shortboard at Salt Creek in the afternoons.
She practices with a swim team at night, just so she can build strength in her arms for a stronger paddle while surfing.
This is all for the long-term goal — becoming a world champion.
After morning sessions, the skinny girl with a ponytail pulling back her dark, sun-kissed hair tucks her Ohana Kemp board into her dad's blue VW surf bus and washes her face and Coral Reef wetsuit with warm water kept in an old plastic milk carton, before heading off to Ladera Ranch middle school.
Each night, she wipes off the whiteboard to write in the new accomplished day of surfing: 1, 2, 105, 199, 230... 364.
Her parents have offered to take her on surf trips to Hawaii or Mexico, but she'd turned them down for fear that she'll miss a day surfing and ruin her perfect record. Of the 365 days, Hann has been by her side in the surf about 300 of those days.
One of the days, the weather was so horrible Sue told her husband 'there's nobody out, you have to go out with her.'
"I'm not going out, this is her deal, it's not mine," Hann says with a chuckle. "It's a self motivation for sure. I've never told her 'You have to go out.' It's always been her thing."
San Clemente surfer Ron Chamberlain has had mornings when the weather was so horrible, he can't bring himself to get out of his van.
"I'll watch her go out by herself and think 'How does that little girl do it?'" said Chamberlain, who has been surfing at San O since the 1950s. "She really has inspired all of us."
Today is the day she's been waiting for – 365 days straight of surfing. But with a south swell coming this weekend, will she be taking a few days off for a break?
"No," replies the shy, soft-spoken surfer.
Meg is a familiar face at local surf contests, and after this goal is complete she'll be participating in a surf-a-thon fundraiser in Laguna on June 9 to raise money for a school in Sayulita, Mexico.
Throughout this yearlong journey, she's gained much more than a notch on her belt. She's made friends of all ages, surfers who ask what day she's on, and how the challenge is coming along. On Saturday, a beach party is planned at San Onofre State Beach for those who wish to congratulate Meg.
Locals have nicknamed her "Little Rell," after world champion Rell Sunn, a Hawaiian surfer who helped create women's pro surfing circuit. Meg also happens to resemble a young Sunn, who passed away from breast cancer in 1998.
Dotting vehicles lined at San O are pink heart "Meg" stickers, some adorning the cars of salty old-timers whose hearts have melted for this young surfer. Some cars have stickers that read "Meg Would Go!" a play off a famous surf saying "Eddie Would Go," which memorializes a brave Hawaiian surfer and lifeguard who died in the '70s trying to save lives.
"That's for our Meg," Vince Clarke, of Laguna Woods, says of the stickers. "We've followed her for a long time, she's our girl. It's a wonderful thing. I wish I had that much stoke."
After a year of getting Meg to the beach, Hann asked a few days ago how long this was going to go on. She said he's on the hook until she's 16, because that's when she can drive herself.
"She doesn't really plan on stopping," Hann says. "However many days it takes."
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