A Real Surfer

East County surfer riding a wave to the top

(Note–Vito is a great kid–and I’ve had the pleasure surfing with him and his brother. He competes in the Dempsey Holder Surf Contest and I’ve surfed with him in IB with my groms and at La Jolla Shores–this is from the San Diego Union-Tribune)

By Michael Gehlken

Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 9:58 a.m.

Standout Granite Hills High surfer Vito Roccoforte at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas.  

Robby TuttleStandout Granite Hills High surfer Vito Roccoforte at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas

EL CAJON — Vito Roccoforte carries a photo album with him at all times, a series of snapshots stored in a place no wave could ever wash away.

The pictures are arranged in order of personal significance, and there is one image Roccoforte cherishes above the rest.

Roccoforte, a senior at Granite Hills High, is a surfing purist whose most prized memories of the sport are as perfectly pristine as the water he rides.

He has been humbled by accolades and exposure — last month, the 17-year-old Lakeside resident was spotlighted in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” section, reserved for the country’s top amateur athletes — but none of those honors can overtake the love of surfing with good company as Roccoforte’s true source of passion in the sport.

“I always have a whole bunch of pictures in my head of super perfect days,” Roccoforte said. “In one, I just dropped in, and I watched the whole wave pitch over me, and then I could see just my buddies down the barrel looking at me. Just the picture of that on a nice glassy day. The water is clear. Friends. Sunshine. Just looking down the wave.”

This season, Roccoforte has been looking at success.

In October, Roccoforte earned a trophy, new surfboard and clothes for winning the junior men’s division at the Wildcoast Dempsey Holder Ocean Festival and Surf Contest in Imperial Beach. Currently, he is ranked first in the longboard and third in shortboard in the Division IV Scholastic Sports Series.

This prolific wave seems to have risen so high so early for Roccoforte, who began surfing on his 15th birthday.

Granite Hills coach Robby Tuttle said if anyone can handle the ride, it is Roccoforte, whom he calls “the most talented and accomplished surfer” in the surf program’s nine-year history.

At the end of last season, Tuttle and surfing assistants Tim Wright and Dave Sands gave Roccoforte the ultimate honor with the first-annual Keith Michael Memorial Award.

Michael, a popular, energetic teacher on campus, started the surf club. Months after an inspiring 2007 graduation speech, he lost his battle to melanoma.

“It’s really the character award, but it’s a little more meaningful because Keith was such a unique, helping soul, so we thought we’d give that first one away, and it was pretty unanimous,” Tuttle said. “We’ve never seen one like him, or at least I haven’t in my seven years here.

“He’s always smiling, and he’s always the first person to offer someone help or to offer a wave. He always says, ‘Hey Coach, do you want that one?’ Vito will always offer, which is just rare … Just the sharing. You can’t beat that.”

Roccoforte has immersed himself in the sport in hopes of picking up a sponsor and earning a career in the industry. He estimates he has watched well more than 100 surfing videos with his father and younger brother, Michael, also a member of the surf team. He is a sales associate at Hanger 94, a surf shop in La Mesa, with co-workers who are “like family.”

He has considered one day returning to Granite Hills as a teacher and assisting with the surf club.

“I guess that saying, ‘Only a surfer knows the feeling,’ is true because (surfing) makes you keep wanting to go back out there,” Roccoforte said. “I keep doing it only because it’s fun … Whenever I hang out with my friends, it’s always fun.”

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