From Pro Surfing To Being An Elite Pitcher 0

By LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Closers in baseball routinely face high pressure situations late in games.

For U.C. Santa Barbara RHP Conner Dand, dealing with pressure is old hat.

He also is a professional surfer who has competed in numerous competitions. He has surfed in waters with great white sharks and ridden waves for over 300 yards which lasted 30 seconds.

Dand has been forced under water for over a minute when waves came crashing down on him, and he couldn’t get back to the surface for what seemed like an eternity.

Now that’s real pressure…not panicking when you face the prospect of dying if you do.

The vast majority of the time, surfing is an absolute blast to Dand as he has become an expert at determining which waves will be the largest to catch and how to attack them.

This 6-foot-3, 195-pounder had five appearances and two saves over 7 1/3 innings in 2020 for U.C. Santa Barbara before the season was shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He posted a 1.23 ERA and fanned 6 batters with only 1 walk and 1 run allowed.

Dand fires a 4-seam fastball at 90-96 mph with run. He also has a Vulcan changeup which is 87-88 mph. His slider has dynamic break and is 80-84 mph.

“When I was five or six years old, my dad taught me how to surf,” said Dand.

“I also enjoyed playing basketball and soccer when I grew up.

“In seventh grade, I switched schools and really got into surfing and got pretty good at it.

“Every weekend, I entered surfing contests. When I got to San Clemente H.S. (San Clemente, Calif.), I just pursued surfing as my sport, and I stopped playing baseball from my freshman to junior years.

“I was traveling up and down the coast of California competing in tournaments every weekend. I even traveled to New Jersey one time to compete in Belmar when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school which was a professional event.

“I was juggling surfing and high school academics at the time. Most of the big time surfers were being home schooled and traveled all over the world to compete in surfing competitions. My parents were pretty smart because they valued my education which ended up working out well for me.”

Dand said that he was essentially in the minor leagues as a pro surfer and never earned enough points to be one of the top 32 surfers in the world which would have allowed him to compete in the Championship Tour.

Dand ultimately went on to be the valedictorian at San Clemente High School and is currently a graduate student at UCSB which is an extremely difficult feat.

Gaucho Head Coach Andrew Checketts said that it is the first time in 10 years a baseball player from his program has been admitted to the graduate studies program at UCSB.

Only elite amateur surfers in California qualify for the weekend tournaments he competed in.

“You had to qualify for those tournaments, and I think 32 surfers typically would be in one of those competitions. When I competed in the larger pool of surfers which approached being a professional, there would be hundreds of surfers.”

Dand said there are heats as surfers navigate through the quarterfinals, semi-finals and finals.

He typically did very well in tournaments as he captured the state championship three years in a row during his freshman-junior years at San Clemente High.

While he was in high school, he entered a few professional events.

Early in his surfing career, there was no rule that prevented another surfer from darting in front of you to catch a great wave. Then the Priority Rules were embraced.

“Before the Priority Rules, there was some kicking and scratching between surfers trying to catch the same wave,” said Dand.

“Guys were paddling on top of each other. That was all part of the game.”

The Priority Rules now in effect include:

  1. The surfer who is closest to the curl, the peak or the breaking part of the wave has the right of way and priority over all other surfers;
  2. The surfer who is farther outside and away from the shore has priority over all other surfers sitting or paddling on the inside, even if closer to breaking part of the wave.

Ultimate Surfing Challenge
Dand was asked if he has ever surfed at Mavericks, one of the most dangerous surfing spots in the world near Half Moon Bay, Calif. just 20 miles south of San Francisco.

Waves in this area have reached 51 feet tall which are the equivalent of a 5-story building, and the waters also feature sharks and treacherous rocks that protect the local lagoon. As the wave goes over the reef, it rises and forms a tall A-frame peak as thousands of pounds of frigid water rise up, form a curl and ultimately crash back down.

Many surfers have been seriously hurt with a handful dying.

“I have never surfed at Mavericks, but I wish I had the chance to,” said Dand.

“If I wasn’t heavily involved in baseball, I would definitely do it now. Some of my friends have gone to places like that and sent me video and photos which are amazing to look at. Mavericks has some unbelievable waves, but it also is extremely dangerous. You really need to know what you’re doing there.

“Any wave over 10-15 feet is pretty heart-stopping.”

Dand said he has surfed in Indonesia which presented a dangerous challenge.

To read more of this story, purchase the Feb. 26, 2021 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE.