Journey to the Olympics 1

San Clemente Local Heads USA Olympic Surf Committee

The CEO of USA Surfing has an important qualification for someone in his position: a pure love of surfing. Greg Cruse started surfing when he was 11 years old in Huntington Beach, where he grew up. In high school, he spent two years ditching football so he could go surfing, and when surfing became an official California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) varsity sport, he joined the team.

He says he was barely good enough to make the team but he sure enjoyed it. He had been playing football and wrestling up until that point. He caught flak from coaches and his father because, to some, surfing wasn’t considered a real sport at the time. But Cruse had a serious respect for surfing. He says he has always recognized it as the toughest sport to master. His love and respect for surfing have remained.

“Surfing has been my life,” says Cruse.

He says he has centered everything around it. His friends surf, and he has always lived near the beach and made time for surfing. Cruse moved to San Clemente in 1987. When his youngest daughter was 12, she got into surfing and wanted to compete. This led Cruse to get involved with coaching at Shorecliffs Middle School, alongside Randy Gilkerson. Together, Cruse and Gilkerson succeeded at raising support and led the team to win two National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) titles.

At the same time, Cruse continued supporting his daughter while she was involved with Western Surfing Association (WSA). He ended up getting involved with WSA as well, to help out with marketing, and then recruited Gilkerson and Andrea Swayne, who had surfing daughters the same age, as board members. Cruse says the WSA was a great way for surfers to gain experience competing and have a chance at the podium without having to go up against kids who were in the NSSA. Joining longtime executive director Mary Lou Drummy and Midget Smith as Head Judge, the new team took WSA to another level.

“The ultimate goal was to get surfing into the Olympics,” says Cruse, “but that seemed like a pipedream at the time.”

Cruse says surfing has a convoluted political history and because of this, the US surfing team finished in 17th place in the world in 2004, behind countries like Switzerland. Then Surfing America (SA) emerged as an initiative of the Surf Industry Manufacturer’s Association (SIMA) to help. SIMA President, Dick Baker, who resurrected the brand Ocean Pacific, was a great help in getting SA off the ground along with former World Surfing Champion, Peter “PT” Townend.

In 2008 Cruse and Swayne started Western Surfing Association Prime (WSAP), which was a higher level of WSA. Through WSAP, the best surfers under 18 years old could qualify for the USA Championships and have the chance of making the USA Surf Team. Kids from the WSA could work their way up to WSAP and kids from NSSA could also be invited to compete. This was another success. Surfers like Kolohe Andino and Courtney Conlogue have gone through WSAP.

In 2011, Cruse took over Surfing America as Executive Director. SA was suffering financially at the time and Cruse had to cut overhead expenditures by two-thirds. He says he was “hanging on by a thread” but continued executing the mission of the organization. They kept fielding international teams and have won gold medals along the way. At the same time, Cruse says they were continuing to push the Olympic Initiative.

Fernando Aguerre, President of International Surfing Association (ISA) has lead the charge for surfing in the Olympics for many years. ISA successfully got surfing into the Pan-American games in Peru, which happens in 2019. Then in August 2016, surfing finally became part of the Olympics. Over the last few years, Cruse says his team has been shifting things around in order to be recognized by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).

As of June 1, 2017, the team started a new 501c3 organization called USA Surfing, which has the national governing body status and is ISA and USOC recognized. USA Surfing is responsible for holding the annual USA Surfing Championships, and for selecting, training and fielding the official USA Surf Team. This means San Clemente is not only the epicenter for surfing, but is now also the hub of Olympic Surfing.

Though finances are still tight, the USOC has 81 umbrella sponsors and financial grant opportunities available. Cruse says companies like Hershey’s have expressed interest, and he has a vision to make San Clemente a premier training center. There’s a new dream for San Clemente surfers: Olympic Gold.