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David Geffen School of Medicine

Endless Summer

MedMagSpring10-Surfing DoctorsON A COLD AND WINDY MONDAY AFTERNOON IN MARCH, while other doctors lunch cozily in the hospital cafeteria, Eric Savitsky, M.D., heads to a remote stretch of windy beach near ventura county to satisfy a different hunger.

“I’ve been surf-starved,” says the UCLA emergency physician. “I haven’t been in the water in four days!” despite winter-like conditions that make the erratic waves collide crazily onto themselves, Dr. Savitsky stays in the chill water for nearly two hours, finally emerging after everyone else has left.

It isn’t likely that surfing will replace golf or tennis as the physicians recreation of choice, but Dr. Savitsky is one among a small yet passionate group of UCLA doctors who head to the breakers to get a break. “People surf for different reasons — some to relax, some for the adrenalin rush,” he says. “For me, surfing is the ultimate relaxation. it keeps me in the moment.”

James N. Weiss, M.D., chief of cardiology, is another avid wave rider. he’s been surfing since 1978 and tries to get in the water three times a week. “Surfing clears the mind, restores the ability to think. When i haven’t been surfing for a week, my wife says ‘go surfing — you’re cranky!’”

For some of UCLA’s surf-loving physicians, the beach has become an informal clubhouse away from work. Head-and-neck surgeon Keith E. Blackwell, M.D., learned to surf 10 years ago with fellow head-and-neck surgeon Joel Sercarz, M.D. four years later, colleague Vishad Nabili, M.D., picked up a board. They are now sufficiently confident in their abilities to take an annual surf trip together to Fiji.

On a Saturday morning in March, the three surgeons gather on the sand at Manhattan Beach with their office assistants — novice surfers Hope Lattin and Anna Prus — Lattin’s husband, Daniel, and a sales rep, Don Kawachi. Surrounded by sea spray and seagulls, informality is the order of the day, and Dr. Blackwell doesn’t object when assistant Hope Lattin refers to him as “Blackie.” Still, he can’t completely escape the pull of the hospital, and, while floating in the lineup between waves, asks Dr. Sercarz his opinion on a thyroid case with a controversial pathology report.

“Surfing with each other is great,” Dr. Nabili says, back on the sand. “We’re not the best surfers. We don’t catch the most waves. but we like the camaraderie — even when we’re talking about work!” – Kim Kowsky


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