Prodigy is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because of the spoils that accompany it—wealth, fame, fortune. A curse because of the pressure that it breeds—the expectation of success, the compulsion on the part of others to be brutally critical.

Dane Reynolds knows this all too well. He's 19, he's been surfing for less than a decade, and somehow he finds himself at the top of the list of American surfing prospects, which puts him squarely in the crosshairs to receive the lion's share of praise and cynicism. The praise: The most talented, creative, exciting free-surfer in the world. The cynicism: Can't surf big waves, zero North Shore presence, questionable competitive drive.

To some degree, technically speaking, all of it is fair—the praise and the cynicism. But Dane Reynolds' response is more telling than each one of the gushing editorials praising him, and more meaningful than every disparaging backroom conversation spent deconstructing his every move—he's just a kid. He hasn't thought about everything yet. He's 19, growing up, figuring it out. So maybe before we hype him into a realm of cautionary tales like Dave Eggers and Nicky Wood, we should let him finish being a kid, and wait a couple years until he figures it all out. Because, based on what he's told us here, in a very candid conversation, big things are going to happen, when he's damned good and ready.

SURFERMAG :One of the main things that separates you from the majority of your peers is that you didn't spend your earliest years near the ocean. Talk about where you were raised.

DANE REYNOLDS :Well, I was born in Long Beach, but I grew up in L.A., in Downey, and then when I was five or six, we moved to Bakersfield.

SURFERMAG :Bakersfield's a long way from the beach. How long were you there?

DANE REYNOLDS :About five years.

SURFERMAG :After that?

DANE REYNOLDS :We moved to Ventura.

SURFERMAG :So you didn't start surfing until you were 10?

DANE REYNOLDS :Pretty much. My best friend when I lived in Bakersfield moved out to Ventura when I was nine and I spent the summer with him and started surfing, and then the next summer I moved out to Ventura.

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SURFERMAG :How did that move come about?

DANE REYNOLDS :My dad got a promotion that was going to put him in L.A., so we were looking at places in Huntington and that area, but I just kept hounding him to move to Ventura until eventually he went for it. He's been doing that commute—Ventura to L.A.—every day ever since. And somehow he's the happiest guy I know.

SURFERMAG :You must have been surfing a lot once you moved out to Ventura to advance as much as you did.

DANE REYNOLDS :Yeah, I surfed all day pretty much. I'd get up before school and surf, and then go surf after school until dark.

SURFERMAG :How long was it before you first started competing?

DANE REYNOLDS :Probably about a year or so…maybe two years.

SURFERMAG :How did you get into that world of competition and sponsorship?

DANE REYNOLDS :Geoff Brack lived in the neighborhood that I moved into, and he was all sponsored already, so he was kind of like the guy that all the kids looked up to. He was only a year or two older than us but he would take us to the Channel Islands workouts that they held every Tuesday. The whole Channel Islands team would go out to Backside Rincon and run heats and do exercises and stuff. I would get to go with him from time to time, and eventually I got sponsored.

SURFERMAG :Who else from that area influenced you?

DANE REYNOLDS :It was mainly just the local guys: Dylan Slater, I surfed with him a lot, he had a license and he drove me around. The Malloys—from time to time I'd see them out. Sean Hayes, Adam Virs, there are so many guys up there.

SURFERMAG :A lot of guys have made it from up there. Were the Currans in Oxnard or the Currens in Santa Barbara an influence on you?