Notice the skintone cover-up on Jacob's right tibia? That's a court-mandated GPS/alcohol/drug monitoring device – the result of his multiple violent crimes. Film: Malik Hurdman/Ryan Johnson
Attacking The Surf World In An Ankle Monitor
Despite the court-mandated tracker on his leg, Jacob Szekely recently became a national surfing champion and wavepool wizard.
The first time I met, or rather, encountered Jacob ‘Zeke’ Szekely, it was while chasing him down the line on a righthand runner at Blacks Beach.
“Yo!” I yelled as Jacob continued to pump towards Scripps Pier, paying no mind to the fact that he had blatantly cut me off. “YO!”
I decided the kid was either deaf or an asshole and eventually kicked out.
After finishing the wave – my wave – Jacob paddled over and explained in unkind diction that he lived in La Jolla, and by that mere fact, he could have whatever wave he damn well pleased.
At the time I was new to the region and didn’t quite understand the local surfing mechanics, but based on the fact that he was with three friends and seemed rather agitated, I kept my mouth shut and paddled away.
I would soon learn to expect this type of reaction in La Jolla and specifically altered my behavioral habits to avoid it.
As far as surf localism goes, La Jolla is about as brutal as it gets – especially at its fabled reefs. Kids are taught from a young age that in order to earn respect, they must demonstrate verbal toughness bordering on bombastic arrogance toward intruders. If that doesn’t work, La Jolla locals have no qualms about shedding blood (usually yours) over the “protection” of their home turf.
Jacob, now 22, grew up with financial stability but lacked a male role-model to guide him through life's many potholes.
Jacob was 16 at the time of our drop-in incident and an aspiring professional surfer.
By 17, Jacob had his first run-in with the law. He was put on probation after being caught in possession of alcohol after a fight. The next summer, at 18, he got arrested for two separate crimes: the first for a fight in La Jolla, the second for stealing liquor. In both incidents, Jacob was under the influence of alcohol.
“The community, the SDPD and the DA had enough of me and my friends poor behavior and criminal activity” Jacob said. “They claimed that my friends and I were wreaking havoc and needed to be stopped before it turned into a BirdRock Bandits situation*. I ended up doing six months in county jail and received five years probation for my Battery to Great Bodily Injuries charge from the fight at Windansea and stealing liquor. Basically I had become a bully and a thief, and that’s not who I am. It was a painful situation and time in jail was really hard but it’s what I deserved.”
After getting out of jail, Jacob, who was a high school dropout, returned to school, got sober, and started working on becoming a better person. At the same time, he decided to pursue his professional surfing aspirations and followed the WSL’s Qualifying Series to countries like Peru, Chile, Costa Rica and Indonesia. Failing to focus on his change led to another downfall for Jacob.
After returning from a long stint in Indonesia, Jacob spent July 4th, 2017 getting drunk with friends atop his homebreak of Windansea, before going out in La Jolla later that evening. This was a relapse for Jacob, who since being out of jail had pursued a program of a cleaner life and sobriety. But in one moment it all fell apart.
While drunk in La Jolla, an altercation with two men went south. Jacob trespassed and got in an altercation with two innocent victims, which he attributes to “being disrespectful, having false ego and pride, as well as being stupid and intoxicated.” Jacob was arrested for that incident and charged with two counts of Assault with a Deadly Weapon. According to prosecutors, Jacob struck these men with his car door – an event for which he's expressed deep remorse, and looks forward to making a face-to-face amends when possible.
This incident was a probation violation from Jacob’s previous crimes, meaning that when he was arrested, Jacob was eligible to be thrown in jail. Thanks to the help of his attorneys and addiction doctors – who, in Jacob’s words, “sober and compassionate male role models,” – he was instead allowed to seek treatment for alcohol and drug addiction and learn a new way of living. Jacob completed six months in an intensive inpatient treatment facility in Arizona called The Meadows, before coming back to San Diego where he has been residing in a sober living center, partaking in continued therapy work, and attending daily 12-step recovery meetings.
Yep, monitor's still there.
The deal also stipulated that Jacob return to school (he is currently enrolled at Mira Costa Community College), that he perform community service (Jacob has been leading surf events for the Natural High Foundation), and that he wears a GPS and alcohol/drug detecting ankle monitor at all times (which Jacob can surf in, so long as he water-proofs it first).
If Jacob ever leaves San Diego county without permission from the court, or if he has as much as a sip of alcohol, the police will be alerted and he’ll be picked up for booking.
Also part of the deal: Jacob will serve a mandatory one year of physical incarceration, and he has a court date coming up that will determine his punishment for the second assault charge (his sentence will begin following his September 5th hearing). If Jacob gets in trouble again and violates probation, he could face up to 10 years in state prison, meaning he has a lot riding on changing his life.
This not-so-subtle contraption must remain firmly affixed to Jacob's leg at all hours of the day.
“But the judicial system sees school and sober positive living as a big deal. You know, a 22-year-old kid who didn’t do well in high school but now is getting As and Bs in college – they see that as a big change in my behavior and thinking. And later his month I will celebrate being sober for one full year. My life has never been better because of that lifestyle change, which includes sobriety and being in service to others.”
“But ultimately the judge and jury are going to look for justice, and I need to take full accountability for my past poor behavior and actions. I get that. Now all I can do is continue to stay sober, go to school, and work on myself, and hopefully they’ll see that and understand I can do more good for society out here rather than if I were incarcerated."
Even beyond staying sober and out of trouble, giving back to the community, and getting good grades, Jacob has had other recent successes. Surfing for Mira Costa College at the NSSA National Championships this June, Jacob took his first-ever national title over 90 of the best collegiate surfers across the United States … while wearing his ankle monitor.
Despite it all, your 2018 National collegiate surfing champion.
“Yeah, that was super embarrassing,” Jacob admitted. “The water was warm so I was wearing a spring suit, and people could see that I had something wrapped on my leg. So many parents came up to me and asked what it was, and I just had to tell them the truth. People may think it’s cool, but it’s really not. It’s a beacon of a past life lived not well. There’s been that change in thinking for me. I’m not the surf punk I used to be. I’m becoming a whole person as well as a better surfer who is proud of his new life.”
Despite the constant reminder of his past discretions dangling from his shin, Jacob was able to achieve what he called a “childhood dream” by winning the national title, which he believes to be contingent upon his recent lifestyle change.
“This year I was going to bed early, doing a bit of yoga, and training with Jake Marshall and other really good surfers. I also surfed Salt Creek [the nationals contest venue] a bunch in the week leading up to the event, which is something I never would have done in years past. I feel like the last 10 months of doing the right thing and turning my life around opened the floodgates for something like this to happen. It’s definitely the biggest accomplishment in my life, and I actually won $1,000 from it, which will help me pay off some of the money I spent down in Texas. But most importantly I am working on me. I’m sober. I care about what I say and do and how I live my life with others in a positive way.”
With the help of a few friends, Jacob was able to book two private sessions in the Waco, Texas wavepool (MSRP $5,000), which allowed him to test its world-famous air section. As you can see in the video above, Jacob embraced the ramp like babies do nipples.
“The board I was riding was this 5’5, epoxy, SD model Rusty with a front pad, and it just went insane. I’ve been using that board a bunch for tow-ats recently, and everything just came together and I was able to land a bunch of things in a row.”
"He was killing it in the pool!" said Shaun Ward, manager to surfing super-talents Eli Hanneman and Barron Mamiya, who happened to be in Waco during Jacob's surprising performance.
Professional surfer and Waco’s live-in wavepool engineer, Cheyne Magnusson, delivered generous props on Jacob’s behalf.
“Jacob’s make ratio was insane – the guy had ten clips out of ten waves,” Magnusson said. “He reminded me of Aaron Cormican – same compact style and just glued to the board! Its really cool to see a guy come out of the blue and throw down with the best of them.”
For Jacob, the trip was yet another dream come true.
“As a skater and surfer, this is what we’ve always dreamed about: a perfect ramp that you can hit over and over again,” Jacob explained. “I can’t even imagine what the best guys are gonna be doing after a few sessions in here. I’m super grateful to have been able to surf the wavepool before my hearing.”
But due to Jacob’s September court date, it will be a long while before he's back in Waco. In just over two months time, he will be facing incarceration. With all of this in mind, I decided to ask Jacob for his current thoughts on La Jolla’s legacy of heavy-handed localism.
Through years of aggressive tactics and impressive backhand tube skills, Jacob has earned a spot at the top of the pecking order in La Jolla.
“Nowadays I’m trying to let the kids know that they’ve got to just surf and stay humble. They can’t fall into that alpha male, false-masculinity culture presented as “localism”.
“Guys like Skip McCullough do a great job of telling people, ‘Hey, you’ve gotten in the way three times now being in the wrong position, can you please just move toward the channel or maybe go surf a more beginner type wave?’ That’s what I respect now, and that’s the mentality I’m trying to have these days – kindness and compassion. I’m not in charge, and all I can do is just make suggestions to the community."
*A Hawaiian man named Emery Kauanui Jr.was killed during a fight with the La Jolla surfing crew in 2007. All perpetrators are now in prison.