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People in Your Neighborhood: New La Jolla Shores surf club president looks to ride a wave of growth

Sal Agnello is the new president of the La Jolla Shores Surfing Association.
(Jake Roth @AbstractSeagull)

Hoping to see a swell in membership, a new president has taken the helm of the La Jolla Shores Surfing Association and is focused on attracting a more diverse set of wave riders.

Sal Agnello took on the role of president after Lorraine Schmalenberger stepped down in December because of health reasons.

“It’s been a slow transition, [but] I’m happy to do it,” said Agnello, a Linda Vista resident who moved to San Diego five years ago.

The La Jolla Shores Surfing Association’s purpose “is to create a meeting point for a lot of the surfers” in The Shores and act as “a conduit between the surfers and the local government,” he said.

The club, which started in the 1960s and now has as many as 300 members, Agnello said, holds events including surf contests, parties and beach cleanups (many of which are paused for the COVID-19 pandemic).

Agnello, 23, who joined LJSSA two years ago, said taking on club leadership ties him more firmly to “a community I already love. It gives me a deeper connection.”

“I’m really excited about that,” he added, “because when we get together and have events, it’s really like coming together with old friends you never met before. Getting thrown into that world through this has been super nice. I’ve liked it a lot.”

As president, Agnello said, he would like to “cultivate a new class of members, especially younger. We have a very large disparity; I am one of the youngest members.”

He said he also will work to broaden awareness of the organization. “The club is historic, but if you don’t really know about it … it’s really kind of underground.”

Agnello said recruiting “more of the younger guys [with] the talented surfers that we’ve been able to bring into the fold … will bridge that gap.”

He said he’s also trying to get more families involved.

Sal Agnello honed his surfing skills at La Jolla Shores.
Sal Agnello honed his surfing skills at La Jolla Shores.
(Jake Roth @AbstractSeagull)

Agnello, who said he is trying to move closer to La Jolla, surfs The Shores often, as he “grew up surfing there” and worked at Surf Diva’s surf camps and the now-closed Rusty Boardhouse.

His connections with longtime surfers there made surfing a better experience, he said.

Agnello first learned to surf at Rockaway Beach in his native Queens, N.Y. “I grew up wading in the water and standing up on [body]boards,” he said.

His father, a firefighter, died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Afterward, Agnello’s mother, who still lives in New York, took the family annually for long vacations to San Diego, where Agnello improved his surfing skills at The Shores.

“There’s a freedom” to riding waves at The Shores, Agnello said, “but it’s also just mindless. You leave everything behind. You’re just really focused on what you’re doing. I love it for that.”

LJSSA, he said, is a “take-all” organization — “we’re not super exclusive.” He encouraged those who surf at The Shores to “show your face and get involved.”

For more information, visit ljssa.org.