For The Love of Surfing

How long does it take to fall in love? Often, when referring to a relationship, it is surprising to hear couples say “I love you” within one or two months. Is it really possible to fall in love that quickly? For Mikey Saalfrank, a student-athlete at Montclair State University, he fell in love overnight. His first true love was not a person, but a surfboard and a few big waves in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Growing up, Saalfrank and his family left their residence in Ramsey, NJ to spend summers in Ocean Grove, allowing the kids to constantly hit the beach but, more importantly, the waves. Saalfrank never knew much about surfing until his cousin Jack gifted him his first board at the age of 7. The board was not much of a gift though; Jack found the board in the trash and decided it might work for his younger cousin. “It was absolute trash. It was probably the worst board in the world,” the Saalfrank said. Despite this, within one day, the inexperienced surfer was riding waves in effortlessly. Like many sports, surfing just came naturally to him.

En route to the beaches of Ocean Grove. Credit: Mike Saalfrank

Many people have a specific method of bringing peace to their lives. Saalfrank, a men’s soccer player at Montclair says “The ocean is my happy place. It brings me peace.” At Montclair, Saalfrank is the starting goalkeeper for the men’s squad; a team that has made an appearance in the NJAC (New Jersey Athletic Conference) Conference Finals for two years straight. The day before both games, Saalfrank jumped in his car with a few surfboards in the back, and headed straight for the Ocean Grove beaches. When asked what is so calming about surfing, Saalfrank says, “Unlike soccer, when I am surfing, I’m not competing against anyone else, only myself.”

Surfing at sunset. Credit: Mike Saalfrank

As calm ing as it may be though, Saalfrank has experienced some considerably alarming situations. This past summer, Saalfrank, his brother, and a couple of their buddies were surfing Island Beach State Park. About an hour in, his brother told him that he had spotted what looked to be a shark fin. Fairly calmly, Saalfrank responded that he had seen it too, but pointed to a completely different spot than where his brother had seen it. The boys then realized that they had seen not one, but two different shark fins. Luckily, they were able to escape the water safely, but once on shore, witnessed at least four sharks patrolling the waters they had just been surfing. Saalfrank, who has experienced almost everything, from nearly drowning to saving fellow surfers, will never be deterred from the waters. “Nothing could ever drive me away from surfing. I could get bitten by a shark and go back the next day and surf in the exact same spot,” says the Ramsey native. Kevin Simek, his roommate, teammate, and friend says, “Mikey is crazy. He just loves to surf no matter what the conditions. He will go out in below zero temperatures, come out freezing, and still talk about what a great time he had.” The love and passion the young athlete has for surfing is like no other. Saalfrank says, “I will never give it up. It is what I do, who I am. It always will be.”

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