Teen's surfing earns notice

OCEAN ISLE BEACH, N.C. | Catch 14-year-old Nick Rupp at home on a weekend and he'll probably be somewhere in the neighborhood watching movies at a friend's house and even watching some Nickelodeon.

But if the Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., youth is away, expect him to be flashing his Teqoph-Bill Johnson Surfboard as he conquers waves across the world on his his way to being a pro surfer.

Nick was ranked seventh in the world for young surfers by Surfer Magazine in its May issue under the title "The New Hot 100: A Definitive Guide to the Best Young Surfers in the World."

In the ranking, the magazine said: "The young regular-footer demonstrates great control of speed and fluidity. Nick possesses a natural sense of the ocean, which is evident in his wave selection and positioning."

For Nick, surfing came naturally.

His father, Greg Rupp, would take Nick to the ocean to go fishing. But Nick had more adventurous aspirations. He and friends began on boogie boards. At 8, he asked for a surfboard for Christmas, and Santa obliged. Then, dad would take him to the moderate waves of the Atlantic, give him a push on the longboard and let Nick go.

"I just had fun doing contests and did well in them," he said.

Now the fun has translated into nine regional, divisional and national first-place titles, a four-year streak of making the Eastern Surfing Association's All-Star team, numerous surfer magazine features and ads, and eight national and local sponsorships for clothing, glasses, watches, grip pads, shoes and surfboards.

The hobby also has opened Nick's eyes to the world. He's been to Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and a number of other coastal states across the country.

His ultimate adrenaline rush has been surfing the pipeline reef in Oahu, Hawaii. It's known as the most hollow, biggest barrel on the North Shore.

Nick said he and his family spend about 25 weekends out of the year in Florida, where many of the competitions are held.

"I definitely appreciate it," he said of the traveling he's been able to do at such a young age. And very modest. Nick admits he likes the weekends where he gets to "lay low."

As for his surfer friends, Nick's father, Greg, said many of the surfing families have been in it for years and have had a chance to bond.

"Because surfing is such an independent sport, these kids have a good rapport with one another," Greg Rupp said. "They sort of all pull for one another. Unless they're in the same heat."

Nick's mother, Debbie, recalled when Nick would first compete, people in the surfing circuit would comment on how he was "a natural." But the Rupps are humble and modest people - a trait Nick seems to have acquired.

"We just really still think he has a long way to go, where others say he's advanced beyond his age," she said.

Family life sometimes gets jumbled on weekends, she said, but they've learned to adapt, often spending time traveling in a camper as a family. And now they're traveling with one of the top young surfers in the world.

"It's wonderful, and we're very proud of him," she said.

And his parents aren't afraid to lay down the law about academics.

Nick missed a trip to Puerto Rico recently because his grades were starting to suffer.

Nick is a member of the National Honor Society and carries a grade-point average of between 3.5 and 4.0.

His contract with some of his sponsors include GPA incentives as well.

Nick said if he doesn't become a world champion surfer, he'd like to get into the surf marketing industry for a big clothing company.

His short-term goal is to make the World Championship Tour as a junior pro _ a highly selective team of 45 surfers from across the world, all under 19 years old.

Until then, Nick will do what he says separates him from other surfers, which is maximizing his board speed, working his board vertically through massive waves and mastering aerials - a move where his board exceeds the wave's height and glides back into the wave.

"If you fall, you're going to get worked," he said. "If you make it, you're going to have one of the best waves of your life. That feeling's really good. To overcome that."