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SliDawg: An enviable life of adventure

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Steven “SliDawg” Chew’s family home burned down in the ‘93 Laguna Beach fire, he says, “It kind of freed me.” His family basically lost all of their possessions, though the family has since rebuilt. “It taught me that all we really have is family and friends. Nothing can burn those down. I became less materialistic.”

This became a seminal event in Chew’s life. Born and raised in Laguna, Chew went through Laguna’s schools and surfed Laguna’s beaches as a kid. He was on the NSSA National Team in high school and when he graduated he had to make a choice: go to college or try to become a professional surfer. He chose the former and headed off to San Diego State to study painting.

A trip to Bali is life changing

The year of the fire, he was in his last year at San Diego State. He didn’t go back for his final year. Instead, he got a job designing for the brand World Jungle. This led to an opportunity to create a line for a Japanese brand, Roar. 

“I made some money. So I went to Bali for two months. I got some incredible waves,” he says. “It changed my life.”

LLP SliDawg Chew

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Steven “SliDawg” Chew

 Bali was life changing for Chew because it instilled in him a bug for travel that has yet to release its grip. Since then he has managed to live an enviable life of surfing and travel and he has no intention of changing lanes anytime soon.

Surf camp, Tavarua, and Purple Corduroy

Chew funds his travel with two steady gigs: he runs the SliDawg Surf Camp through Laguna Surf and Sport in the summer, and he works as a lifeguard on the Fijian island of Tavarua in the winter. Designing t-shirts is still a passion (he is currently working with Soul Project and Laguna Surf and Sport, among others), and he is a partner in the wine label Purple Corduroy. As I said, it’s hard not to envy Chew’s lifestyle.

LLP SliDawg Waves

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SliDawg’s surf campers hit the waves in Laguna

The surf school he now runs was originally started by Billabong and headed by one of their team riders, Donovan Frankenreiter. When Frankenreiter’s music career took off they asked Chew to take over. He has been running it for the last 17 years. “It has always been like a fun summer job,” he says. “Every year it gets more and more fun.”

When asked what’s the biggest change he made to the program since taking it over, he laughs and says, “I got more help!”

Surf Coach of the Year

The camp is incredibly popular. Last summer, there were weeks when Chew says he was “overwhelmed” with kids just showing up. “I can’t take 50 kids to the beach!” he says shaking his head. 

Even when 75 percent of the kids who attend are local, they still need attention and supervision. He no longer needs to advertise. People just find him. Chew was voted “Surf Coach of the Year” by OC Weekly. (This means his sessions fill up fast, so make sure there’s room before you send your kids).

It’s no wonder Chew’s camp is in such high demand. His genuine enjoyment at being in the water day in and day out with the kids is obvious. ”We have a lot of fun,” he says. “If I’m not having fun then the kids aren’t having fun!”

LLP SliDawg Camp

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Everyone has fun at surf camp! 

And there seems little chance that Chew is not going to enjoy himself.

After surf camp, the next adventures begin

When surf camp is over in September, Chew’s next adventure is in Pahones, in Costa Rica. He says it’s the “longest left” in the world. “I’m a goofy foot and that’s good for left point breaks. It’s really beautiful and rustic, lots of wildlife.” He plans to stay for at least a month. In October he will head to Tavarua to lifeguard and stay through December. 

Fiji is a special place for Chew. “It’s hard to beat Fiji,” he explains. “They’re the nicest, warmest, funniest people. After 20 years, it’s all about the Fijians.” 

This past year he went from Fiji to New Zealand with his old high school friend and Foo Fighters’ drummer, Taylor Hawkins. “We spent a month there. It was super beautiful.” 

He also recently taught Google founder Larry Page’s kids to surf. “They flew me and my crew to Fiji. I taught them how to surf. They’re not the computer nerds you’d think; they’re super active. They were helping save sea turtles, pretty down to earth people,” he says. 

I would be writing page after page if I detailed all of the adventures Chew mentioned to me. Suffice it to say, not all trips have been surf trips, although it is definitely a theme. “The ocean and my surf board are my lover,” he says. He found this out when he decided it was time to “get serious.” 

Growing up is overrated

“In 2004 I was like, ‘Alright, it’s time to find the gal, have the family, get the solid job.’ I tried that for three to four years, and I found that being a grown up is overrated. I do have Peter Pan Syndrome, but there’s no time to waste in this life.” So, he has tried to follow his dad’s advice and be a “well-rounded” person. 

And while acknowledging that not everyone is suited for his globetrotting ways, he is a strong advocate for travel in general. “I’ve never met a racist traveler. It opens you up.”

Despite his love for seeing the world, Chew isn’t ready to become an ex-pat anytime soon. “I don’t want to turn my paradise into a bitter place. And I’ve seen that happen a lot,” he says. “I like to spend at least two to three weeks, get the local vibe and then move on.” 

When he has finished moving on, he always comes back to Laguna. He knows home is where the heart is, “Laguna is the best home base ever. I get sad when I fly into LA, but once I’m in Laguna it’s all good.” 

And as good as Laguna may be, Chew will nevertheless head off for another adventure, only to come back and do it all over again.