The surfer cruises down the road on his way to the popular wave-riding spot known as Churches, located in front of Camp Pendleton campgrounds.
Ziggy Marley is playing in his Toyota Tundra, setting the perfect chillaxing vibe before a mid-morning weekday session in sets of 2- to 4-foot swells.
His face slathered in sunscreen, Shawn Boatright isn’t playing hooky – he’s getting in what he calls “salt water therapy.” He surfs a few times a week before his 2 p.m.-to-midnight shift as an Anaheim PD bicycle patrol officer in the city’s resort district.
Surfing, says Boatright, a 27-year law enforcement veteran, is the perfect way to decompress from a job that can be very stressful.
“Overall, surfing helps me be a better person,” says Boatright, who’s been surfing since he was 12. His father, a contractor, would drop him off at the beach with a surfboard and $5 for food.
He got hooked.
Now, as a father, surfing and other water sports are ingrained in his family.
Boatright parks and takes his “puddle jumper,” a Lost short board, out of the bed of his truck. He owns about 15 surfboards that are stacked up in his garage like firewood.
Boatright grinds some wax on the 5-foot, 10-inch board.
He plucks a tube of sunscreen from a large bag filled with numerous tubes of sunscreen — some appear to date back years — and applies a little more to his face.
Boatright is 48. His dermatologist has been getting on him about protecting himself as much as possible from the punishing sun.
He also keeps a bag of shampoo and soap so he can clean up before going to work.
Boatright takes off his pair of cheap sunglasses before hitting the sand. He loses sunglasses a lot, so he doesn’t buy expensive ones.
A surfer walks up to him. He has a cut, and he asks Boatright whether he thinks it’s safe to go back into the water.
No big deal, Boatright tells him.
Another surfer walks by and tells Boatright 20 minutes in the water did wonders for his aching shoulder.
It’s like this down here. Strangers become fast friends.
Boatright hasn’t been doing a lot of surfing recently because he’s had back issues.
“I have two bulging disks, like most cops do,” he says.
He says years of wearing a gun belt with uneven distribution of weight can do that.
Regular visits to a chiropractor and jiu jitsu — another of Boatright’s passions — has helped, but Boatright warns his surfing today won’t be stellar.
“It’s starting to come along,” he says of his skills.
He wears a long-sleeve wet suit top for sun protection and to prevent rashing on his chest.
The water is 70-ish — fairly toasty for O.C. beaches.
Boatright starts to head out to catch some sets.
“If I’m having a bad day, a stressful day, (surfing) takes it all away,” he says.
Boatright became interested in law enforcement when he was a youngster.
“My uncle had a lot of police officer friends who were inspiring to me,” he says. “I also did a couple of ridealongs when I was young.”
Boatright majored in criminal justice at Fullerton College. He entered the police academy when he was 21 after the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department hired him.
He spent five years at the LASD before joining the APD so he could work closer to home.
At the APD, Boatright spent many years in patrol and also served as an SRO (school resource officer) for several years. He became a bike patrol officer in the resort district seven years ago.
“I love it,” he says.
While on bike patrol, Boatright rides a Kona mountain bike with street tires. He needs to be able to maneuver down stairs and other tricky spots. His skills have landed him the role of bike trainer for law enforcement officers throughout the state.
At the APD, Boatright also is a trainer in arrest and control techniques, and is an assistant wrestling coach for youth where he lives – other activities that keep his nearly half-century-old physique chiseled and toned.
Boatright often surfs with APD Lt. Craig Friesen, APD Corrections Officer Ryan Gurley, and APD Officer Ken Webber. He also surfs with officers from different agencies. Boatright is close to Harbor Police Officer Mike Hontucan of the San Diego Unified Port District, who’s shown him some sweet surfing spots south of O.C.
Officer-involved shootings, domestic violence incidents and child abuse are among the toughest calls law enforcement professionals respond to.
“They can take a toll on your psyche and emotions,” Boatright says.
That’s where surfing comes in. In addition to that, he also plays the guitar.
“I sit in the garage at night and look up tablature on the Internet and play my favorite songs,” Boatright says.
Sometimes, just coming down to the beach is enough therapy for Boatright.
“I don’t even have to get in the water,” he says. “Just being here… there’s a good, positive energy about the ocean. You’re in the medium of the purest form of nature. It’s cleansing.”