Bud Freitas is fresh out of the water, breathing heavy after peeling soaked 5mm neoprene off himself after a sunset session underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. "I'd never surfed there before," he says. "I just really wanted to be able to say I had. It was terrible, windy and cold. Booties, hood, gloves, the whole bit. But I had fun." This is a version of Bud Freitas that hadn't existed for years.
When he was younger and in his competitive prime, surfing was always fun, and he had a knack for winning. "It was kind of a cakewalk when I was young," recalls Freitas. "I was winning all the amateur events, and even some pro events. It was all just falling in my lap. It was that easy."
At the time, Freitas was one of the most hyped talents to come out of East Side Santa Cruz in years. He lived up the road from Pleasure Point, honing his power, style, and flow on those pointbreak rights since gromhood. With his success came copious amounts of both praise and pressure. Freitas was unable to balance the two.
"I kept winning and winning," says Bud, "and then at one point I just hit a wall. I wasn't as psyched, I stopped performing, and I couldn't win anymore. It just stopped coming to me. There were other talented kids in Santa Cruz coming up around me, and they wanted it more. They had more aggression; I just stood back and let them pass me by. It ate me up to realize that I wasn't the kid winning everything anymore."
Freitas turned to the side of surf culture that doesn't actually involve much surfing. Partying became his priority, and his surfing suffered as a result. Some injuries, a loss of sponsors, and a lack of interest had him teetering on the end of his career. "One day, I realized that I was going to have to work for this. I realized I had to lay off the partying and I couldn't just go through life half-assing everything. It was time for me to put my head down and really want something."
Enter Surf School Santa Cruz. "I started my surf school three years ago. I was looking at all the other surf schools in Santa Cruz, and they were all run by kooks. I didn't think that was fair for the students, so we built a website and the school took off. I give lessons everyday, and coach the younger kids too. I go surfing with them after school, showing them what to do and what not to do."
On top of his surf instruction, Freitas is surfing professionally again, putting out an impressive section in the 2012 film #NoFilter. His late nights are behind him, and Freitas is back at the center of the surf scene in Santa Cruz. "It's not like I'm trying to be a cover guy, I just want to stay involved with surfing. I'm just going with it and really enjoying my surfing again. I get to cruise, ride good boards, travel, and teach kids how to surf. It's freaking awesome. To watch these kids so stoked after they catch a good wave, it makes my day, every day."
Read more comeback stories in our February Issue, on newsstands now.