He slaps on a wetsuit. She buckles up her ski boots. Two Palo Alto High School athletes prepare for an eventful morning of fun and adrenaline. While senior Alex Washburn enjoys riding the waves, senior Emma Jacobi spends her morning flying down the slopes. These Paly athletes represent a category of unique athletics that have proven to be invaluable during the pandemic.
Hopping out of bed at 5 a.m. and preparing a cup of hot coffee, Washburn gets ready to go surfing before school. He arrives at the beach as the sun is rising and quickly dresses in his wetsuit and jumps on his board. After riding some waves under the ascending sun, he starts the long drive home to make it to his first period class. Surfing has become an almost daily activity for Washburn since sophomore year, and under campus closures, he finds himself embarking on his early morning adventures more than ever.
With the rise of COVID-19, many people have been spending time learning new hobbies or practicing old ones. For Washburn, that passion is surfing. Despite Washburn’s time commitment to surfing in the past months, he has had to consider that although there is flexibility with online learning, senior year often comes with added stress, whether it be college applications or keeping grades up. Overall, Washburn still believes the distance learning format has made the work easier to manage.
“Before online school, I couldn’t surf before school because I didn’t have time,” Washburn said. “Now, I can surf in the morning and then free up my afternoon for homework and other stuff.”
“Whenever I’m surfing, I don’t think about anything but surfing … I find that a very beautiful aspect of the sport.”
— Alex Washburn, senior
As the first semester of the 2020-2021 academic year comes to an end, Washburn reflects on how surfing has been a positive outlet for him to release stress and anxiety.
“Whenever I’m surfing, I don’t think about anything but surfing,” Washburn said. “Every other thought just goes away, and I find that a very beautiful aspect of the sport.”
Back in August, Washburn collaborated with fellow senior Charles Mitz to form the Paly Surf Club. The club has nearly 40 active members and holds weekly Zoom meetings at lunch, often featuring guest speakers. They also gather for in-person surfing sessions, with roughly a dozen students heading down to Half Moon Bay or Santa Cruz to enjoy the waves several times per month. With these in-person meetings, Washburn and Mitz protect the health of all members by requiring masks to be worn and social distancing.
“One of my favorite things to do is just go out with as many people that want to come because it’s so much fun, and that’s kind of why I started the surf club,” Washburn said.
He hopes to continue surfing in college and is applying to colleges based on their locations, ensuring that there are beaches nearby.
“I definitely oriented my college search around surfing,” Washburn said. “I don’t know what I would do without surfing for a number of months.”
“Send it!” senior Emma Jacobi’s teammates cheer over the strong gusts of chilly wind on the mountain. Taking a deep breath and putting her earbuds in with rock music on full blast, Jacobi determinedly sets off from the top of the slope at full speed. She has always loved the feeling of flying down the mountains.
Today, skiing is Jacobi’s main outlet to be able to take a break from the stresses of life. What started off as a hobby at the age of three turned into a passion by the age of 13, and as a member of the Squaw Valley Ski Team, her love for the sport is only growing.
As Jacobi does not live in Tahoe, she commutes from the Bay Area, spending 12-15 hours in the car every weekend of the ski season.
Despite the time commitment required of the sport, Jacobi ensures that she sets aside time for academics and schoolwork in between commutes, practices and competitions.
“I do my homework right when I come home from skiing, and I just have to manage my time wisely,” Jacobi said. “At times I might fall behind, but for the most part if I just stay on top of it [homework], it will work out pretty well.”
Even though Jacobi is not homeschooled or based in Tahoe like a majority of her teammates, she has always felt truly at home with her skiing community.
“The best part about being in the ski team is definitely the community that you surround yourself with,” Jacobi said. “Especially when you’re at the top of the racecourse just kind of vibing and listening to trashy music with everyone else, you come together as a team.”
Jacobi competes in three out of four different events: slalom, giant slalom and super giant slalom. Slalom is essentially a race to get through a course that consists of poles or gates that are spaced at a specific distance from one another, and the skier must adjust their turns and speed depending on the course. Jacobi trains for each of these events with her team by constantly pushing to improve and practicing regularly.
While Jacobi has made many of her fondest memories as a part of the ski team, she knows first hand that the sport comes with inherent dangers and has sustained many injuries, including three concussions, so far.
“One time my pole got caught under my ski and I fell headfirst, the other time was when I was going for a jump my knee hit my face and the third time I flew in the air for five seconds and when I landed my face went right into the snow,” Jacobi said.
Regardless of these risks, Jacobi’s passion and determination for the sport are continually on the rise, and while COVID-19 caused many of her competitions to be canceled, she is excited for the start of the season with the recent opening of the slopes.
Looking ahead, Jacobi plans to continue her skiing career and eagerly awaits the adventures to come.
“I was thinking of joining some kind of a team in college, and if that doesn’t work out then I’m just going to go skiing on the weekends anyway,” Jacobi said.