Three Friends Stare Down the Years That Could Launch Them into the Competitive World of Professional Surfing
- Written byTanya Monaghan
- Photographed byKen Pagliaro
Jonny Herrouin, Cooper Wixom and Alex Beggs just embarked on their first year of high school at Mira Costa. In the campus halls, they may be little fish navigating a big and unfamiliar sea. But on the shores of the South Bay, these three young surfers are making waves and dominating competitive surfing.
Above: Jonny Herrouin
Dedication runs deep with this trio; they live, eat and breathe surfing. Each morning before the sun rises, you’ll find them in the water catching waves with the Mira Costa surf team. After school they ride until the sun finally sets.
Their commitment extends beyond dawn patrol sessions. They boast multiple surf coaches across different regions. When surf season kicks into full gear, they will compete in two to three contests monthly against some of the best local talent up and down the coast.
Yes, these young watermen dream of becoming professional surfers. But it’s not just the competition that drives Jonny, Cooper and Alex. It’s also a shared love and passion for the ocean. Even when the surf doesn’t cooperate, you’ll find them on the water—likely on a boat fishing somewhere between Manhattan Beach and Palos Verdes.
Achieving status as a top surfer is no easy feat. True excellence not only requires natural talent but time and dedication to develop the necessary skills and techniques to compete at a professional level. And it’s as much mental as it is physical. The unpredictable nature of surf, coupled with the pressures of competition, can take a toll. These young surfers are learning to navigate every aspect of the sport early in their journeys, building endurance and determination along the way.
South Bay Boardriders Club (SBBC) figures significantly in their early development. Founded in 2009 by a group of locals, SBBC’s mission celebrates the rich surfing culture of the area and introduces families and youth to ocean activities. SBBC provides a platform for serious athletes to compete and improve their skills while fostering a sense of community.
Above: Alex Beggs
Matt Walls, codirector and founding member, has witnessed Jonny, Cooper and Alex grow from little groms to capable competitors. As a former competitive surfer himself, Matt knows the path well.
“One of our favorite events is called the Grom-O-Rama,” he shares. “It’s a free event for about 50 kids. They come down, surf and get prizes. All the sponsors come from the South Bay: Spyder, ET, Jack’s, Dive N’ Surf, Watermans, Wave Rave, El Porto and other local businesses. The first contest of the season starts in December and continues through May, taking place monthly on local beaches from Torrance to El Segundo. We decided it would only be fair to surf in different spots to avoid a home-court advantage. So if you win the season, you’re theoretically the king of the South Bay.”
Kai Kushner is another young local making a name for himself in the surf world. Not only an inspiration to Jonny, Cooper and Alex, he’s become a mentor as well. Kai is one of the few young surfers making it to the next level. He also started with SBBC.
“I think the kids who are in the program got in at the right time, and they will hopefully stay the course,” says Matt. “Competitive surfing’s not for everybody. And one of the hardest parts is competing against your friends. We provide a safe platform for them to grow with their skill level and achieve some sort of positive reinforcement from our community.”
Above: Cooper Wixom
The World Surfing League offers various tiers of contests, and SBBC often sees some of its young surfers participating. While the financial rewards may not be substantial at this stage, the joy of doing what they love drives these young surfers forward. SBBC’s goal is to provide a solid foundation and a safe place to showcase their skills.
Of the three, Jonny has been competing the longest— since the tender age of 5. Both of Jonny’s parents are South Bay natives and fully support his dream to become a pro surfer. His mother, Jennifer Herrouin, is a nurse at Torrance Memorial Medical Center. His father, Yanick Herrouin, played soccer in Europe when he was younger and grew up surfing. He introduced Jonny to the water early on.
Jonny is truly dedicated and excelling in competitions. He has multiple sponsors including Spyder, Creatures of Leisure, Otis Eyewear and Buell Wetsuits, and local pro surfer Hunter Jones has taken Jonny under his wing.
Jonny placed third overall in the U9 division a few years back, but last year was one of his best—winning both the U14 boys and junior divisions in SBBC. He has continued to work toward competing at higher levels with the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) and Western Surfing Association (WSA).
His hard work has paid off, with victories in various divisions including a remarkable win at the NSSA for middle school, followed by a fourth-place finish overall at WSA, which allowed him to qualify for USA Surfing’s Prime league. He’s making a name for himself as one of the top surfers on the West Coast.
Cooper, born and raised in Manhattan Beach, is the oldest of three. His dad, Tim Wixom, is an avid surfer and got “Coop” out surfing at a young age. In fact, the whole family surfs, and his mother, Rachael Wixom, is the founder of Salty Grom, a local rash guard surf brand.
Both parents embrace the beach, so Cooper’s love of the ocean is no surprise. Rachael says she can never get him out of the water. “He would be in the water for 10 hours a day, even when he was little. This kid could live on an island with nothing but a fishing pole and surfboard.”
Cooper also started SBBC at the age of 5 alongside Jonny. At first, Tim wasn’t on board with Cooper going into the competitive arena outside the South Bay; he feared it would take away his joy of surfing due to the immense pressure these kids face. But as the years progressed, he saw there was no stopping Cooper.
Tim relented on the condition that Cooper only do it as long as he enjoyed it. Cooper agreed and began competing seriously last year. “When you compete and win outside the South Bay, it’s really rewarding because the skill level is higher,” he says.
Cooper’s recent highlights include an individual placing that helped Manhattan Beach Middle School take third place in the NSSA nationals. It was the first time in history the school brought home a trophy at this level.
Alex’s introduction to surfing came a little later than Jonny’s and Cooper’s. His love for the water was born from sailing—a passion he shares with his dad, Andy Beggs. He started Optimist sailing at age 8 and sailed with the King Harbor Youth Foundation’s sailing program, qualifying for the U.S. Optimist Dinghy Association’s national team trials in 2021.
He participated in the Junior Lifeguard program for four years and came first in the U.S. Lifesaving Association’s National Lifeguard Championships in his division for the board race in 2022. As surfing came into focus, competitive sailing fell by the wayside. At age 11, Alex started his competitive surfing journey with SBBC.
He explains that he has a “fearless” surf style—which makes his mother, surfer Suzanne De Stefano, grimace a little. “I love big waves, like the bigger the better,” he says. “The opportunity doesn’t come very often here, so when it gets big, it’s always fun to go out there and see what I can do.” And although he left competitive sailing, he still regularly goes out on boats to fish and spearfish.
Jonny, Cooper and Alex further bonded while on the North Shore of Oahu with ex-pro surfer Kahea Hart for a weeklong training camp last year. It was an intensive, holistic training regime, requiring early wake-up calls and lots of physical intensity.
“Kahea teaches us breathing and meditation,” Alex says. “It’s about using your whole body. We wake up at 6 a.m., then we work out, surf, eat breakfast, do another workout, chill for like an hour, then surf again. We do some surfboard and skateboard training and even swimming and underwater training.”
It was a grueling week, but the guys absolutely loved it and say the experience helped accelerate their big-wave surfing. They will be returning to train with Kahea again in February.
All three young men feel extremely well supported by their local surf community. The Jarvis family, owner of Spyder Surf, has been instrumental in helping them secure sponsorships. They also couldn’t be more grateful to SBBC and Matt for setting the foundation and supporting them wholeheartedly. The Junior Lifeguard program has also played an important role in expanding their experience in the water, and they hope to continue through the program—opening doors for their future.
The path to professional surfing requires a unique blend of talent, determination, physical and mental strength, and financial sacrifice. It’s a tough journey, but for those like Jonny, Cooper and Alex who have a deep drive for the sport, it’s the chance to live the surf dream—making a living by doing what they love most.
Matt is excited by their prospects. “These next four years are going to be amazing for them. They get to have all that self-esteem and confidence they have garnered through their hard work and passion for surfing. They’re all great kids, and they have bright futures. I’m super excited for them, but I hope they remember that the goal is always happiness.”