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Eddy's Endless Summer

Many of the players on the U.S. U-17 Women’s World Cup team take part in other athletic activities during high school, from basketball to track to softball to volleyball. For U.S. midfielder Elizabeth Eddy, her other sport is a little bit saltier.

Two or three times a week, Elizabeth Eddy wakes at 6 a.m., rolls out of bed and heads to class.

Surfing class, that is.

Eddy, a midfielder on the U.S. U-17 Women’s World Cup team, attends Newport Harbor High School, which in case you don’t watch MTV, is in the O.C., as in Orange County, Calif. There on the idyllic California coast which has been immortalized in countless movies, TV shows, songs and photographs, some of the country’s most tasty waves await those who rise early, wax their boards and paddle out into the morning mist.

You see, in Southern California, surfing is more than just a hobby, a passion or a way of life. It can also count as PE credits.

Eddy’s “class” is actually first period practice for the Newport Harbor surf team, where she rides No. 3 on the varsity short board squad.

Eddy usually has her JC 5’10” Shane Dorian surfboard in the water at 56th Street in Newport Beach by 7:00 a.m., surfs for about two hours, rushes home to shower and grab some breakfast and then heads to class, the kind that feature math, English and history.

“It’s the best spot in Newport,” said Eddy of her home surf. “It gets most swells, usually the biggest and usually the best shape. Considering all the variables of surfing, it has the best and most consistent waves.”

Eddy has an incandescent permasmile, a full face of freckles and thick mop of curly locks that threaten to turn into dreads at any moment. When she pulls on her black O’Neill wet suit with green and yellow stripes, she would look right at home on the pages of any surfing magazine. She has been on the NHHS surf team since transferring from the smaller Calvary Chapel High School after her freshman year.

“I just love surfing,” said Eddy, a high school junior who plays her club soccer for the Southern California Blues, one of the region’s powerhouse girls clubs. “It can be relaxing and fun at the same time. You can choose to make it competitive or you can go out with your friends and just goof off. I think it’s fun to do both.”

Eddy has been surfing since she was nine years old when a neighbor family took her out for the first time. At the beginning, she didn’t like it, admitting that she was “afraid of waves bigger than two inches,” but when she hit her early teenage years, the call of the ocean was strong for this one.

She has dropped into eight-to-10-foot waves (any bigger and she’ll likely take a pass), albeit not without fear born from the very real possibility that hundreds of pounds of force might come crashing down on her head.

“When I catch an eight-footer, it feels like double-overhead to me,” said Eddy, meaning the wave seems to be twice the size of her athletic 5-foot-5 frame. ‘It’s really scary. You just paddle as hard as you can and pray you make the drop. If you do, you just fly down the face of the wave and can do huge hits, which is what gets you points in a competition. It’s the best feeling. Then you just have to hope you make it out. On the really good waves, sometimes I just get barreled. I rarely make it out of the really nice tube, but when I do, there’s no feeling like it.”

When asked what her worst wipeout ever was, she can’t pinpoint just one.

“It happens so much I don’t even know,” said Eddy, savoring the tumbles almost as much as the glassy rides. “When I fall, I usually drop in on a five or six foot wave, so it’s head height, but I pop up late and get sucked over the falls and just drop and get crunched. I definitely would be afraid with 10-12 footer. I probably would still go out, but I would be doing more floating than surfing.”

And what of the other dangers that lurk beneath the waves? Eddy says she’s never seen a shark, but one time she popped out of the water and saw a school of dolphins not far away. Mistaking the friendly mammals for their more carnivorous fish foes, she briefly panicked.

“I started paddling toward the beach like crazy,” she said. “My friends still make fun of me for that one.”

And she’s not sure if her friend Graham’s tales of a 10-foot bat ray that likes to swim under surfers at 44th street in Newport is fact or myth.

“I’m pretty sure he’s making it up, because I’ve never seen it,” she said. “But it’s still pretty scary.”

Eddy admits to being an inconsistent competitive surfer at best, which inevitably leads to some frustration, but she always comes back to that fact that while soccer satisfies the wildly competitive part of her personality, surfing is more an outlet for relaxation.

Still, her surfing does help when she switches to the grass. Surfing develops her core, leg strength and balance, while catching the perfect wave can erase any bad game or practice from her mind.

She’s even starting up yoga, partly because the U.S. National Team athletic trainers told her she needs to be more flexible for soccer, but partly because she wants to be more smooth on the waves.

“There’s so much power and chaos in waves when they crash,” said Eddy. “When I get crunched or fouled in soccer, I get mad. When I get pummeled by a big wave and thrown into the washing machine, I do get mad at myself, but I’m in awe of the raw power that the wave possesses. When I score an amazing goal, that’s the feeling I get when I catch a great wave. Both make me feel like I’m on top the world.”

Eddy will of course take her game to a college campus in the fall 2010, mostly likely on the West Coast because she can’t imagine being too far from the ocean.

And of course she’ll keep playing the game she loves as long as she can. But even years after the cleats have been tossed in the closet there will always be 56th Street.

“Hopefully, I will surf all my life,” said Eddy. “Maybe one day I’ll even get up on a massive wave. It might not ever happen, but I’ve dreamed about it, so you never know.”