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Surf Sensei

ON ANY GIVEN WORKDAY, John Philbin might encounter tsunami waves, dolphins, sea lions or beautiful Hollywood actresses. His office attire consists of “4/3 wetsuit, booties, hood and gloves, sometimes goggles and a hat in the summer.” That is, when he’s not wearing retro-cool sunglasses to production meetings with the likes of Quicksilver Entertainment. Does it need to be said that he’s no relation to Regis?

When asked if he thinks he’s the luckiest person in the world — being the world’s most successful actor/producer/surf instructor to the stars — he laughs. “Very often I do feel that way. Till I see a beginner pushing into their first wave — then I realize my clients are the luckiest people in the world.”

Philbin’s surf-school clients have included A-listers like Kate Bosworth. He’s done more than his fair share in front of the camera, too — having had roles in North Shore, Point Break and Blue Crush. For now, though, he is concentrating on a forthcoming surf documentary and his passion — the school he founded and runs — Pro Surf Instruction (www.prosurfinstruction.com). “I love seeing some little, nerdy kid get his first good, long ride — feel the stoke usually reserved for only the coolest kids on the planet.”

Well suited to his golden-boy niche, Philbin was born in Carmel and raised in Palos Verdes, where his father taught him a love of the ocean. Philbin has particular empathy for both actors and beginning surfers. “When learning to surf, you feel like you’re performing — being watched and judged. You can be too self-conscious. It’s the same in acting. The worst quality in an actor — or a surfer — is being overly concerned with someone else’s judgment of your performance. That said, surfing and acting are both adrenaline rushes. Both can be performances on an elevated plane.”

Surfing, Philbin says, “is an art, like good acting. But unlike acting, you have to respond to the reality around you. The ocean is in charge. And that’s fun.”