Professional surfer Tom Petriken is a Point Pleasant native who now calls Monmouth Beach, NJ home. His surfing is smooth and precise, with an emphasis on style, slicing turns and a healthy aerial assault. Judging by his overall mellow mood and approach in the water, you would never suspect he is one of the best surfers New Jersey has to offer. It’s a breath of fresh air to see guys who can totally annihilate any wave they take off on, while displaying a courteous and positive vibration in the lineup.

I caught up with Tom who just returned from a surf related trip to southern California to see what’s up in the life of a pro surfer.

Zappo: When and where did you start surfing? What initially drew you to riding waves?

Petriken: I fell in love with surfing when I was 7. I started on a summer day at an empty sandbar in Island Beach Park. Both of my parents surf so I was very comfortable in the ocean. I consider myself very  fortunate to have grown up at the beach.


Zappo: Can you describe the feeling you had the first time you cruised across the face of a wave? How did that event change your life?

Petriken: I’ll never forget how good that first wave felt. I couldn’t believe I was finally turning. I know I had a huge smile on my face and couldn’t wait to catch another one. It’s amazing watching that moment unfold all over again when I’m teaching surf lessons in the summer.

Zappo: What are the pros and cons of being a professional surfer from New Jersey?

Petriken: New Jersey doesn’t have waves everyday like most surf destinations. We have to travel and make the best out of what the Atlantic sends our way. Last Saturday I took a day trip down to the Outer Banks to get some waves. It was last minute and I thought we were going to get skunked, it ended up being totally worth it.


Zappo: Tell us about your VW van?

Petriken: I’ve always been fond of old cars, especially VW’s. A year and a half ago, I became the owner of a 1971 VW Campmobile. My mom called her “Big Red” and the nickname stuck. I’ve been adding and replacing parts since the day I got her. A few months ago I decided to redo my interior with oak wood panels. At one point everything needed to be taken out and my lawn was covered with parts. It felt like I was playing with Legos. Whenever it’s flat you can find me in my driveway  tinkering with something.

Zappo: You recently took a trip to California. Did you get any fun surf while you were out there? Also how does the California surf culture contrast to that of New Jersey’s?

Petriken: I scored a couple of fun days in Encinitas with the boys from The water was “cold” by their standards, but I was stoked to be out of a 5 mill and into a 3/2. Surfing is embedded in California’s lifestyle. For the most part, everybody living by the coast surfs and there’s something to ride every day. In New Jersey the average person thinks we are fit for a straight jacket when we tell them we went surfing in last week’s snowstorm.


Zappo: What does surfing mean to you?

Petriken: Everybody looks at surfing in their own way. I like to think of the ocean as my “happy place”. I could never live without it.

Zappo: What inspires your personal approach to surfing?

Petriken: I just do whatever feels natural. The best thing about surfing is that you can be as creative as you want. Watching clips of surfers like Taj, Dane and John John always keeps me inspired. “Dear Suburbia” was insane.

Zappo: What gets you more stoked, a finely executed bottom turn or a massively boosted air?

Petriken: I love bottom turns. They are timeless. I hope they never go out of style.


Zappo: Do you have any advice for the younger generation of surfers coming up that may want to make a career out of surfing?

Petriken: Have fun.

Zappo: Any last words of wisdom or shout outs?

Petriken: I owe Robert Weiner and the Roberts Surfboards crew plenty of waves on their next trip to the East Coast. I’ve been getting his boards for a little over a year now and every one has been magic. Another big thanks to everyone at Insight, West Suits, Reef, Sol Republic, Creatures of Leisure and Brave New World. Also thanks to my family, girlfriend and friends for their never ending support.

Shawn Zappo is a local surfer and skater who rules the stoves at Kaya’s Kitchen in Belmar. He’s also a musician and will be writing about his surf and skate related experiences as well as reviews on bands and whatever the hell else he feels like writing about.

All photos by Mike Incitti.


  1. jeff says:

    nice interview…


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