The Soul Surf Comp Series, a family-friendly surf competition from Laguna Beach-based Soul Surfing School, kicks off Jan. 31 at Church's Beach with beach games, music, food and prizes for surfers. The series continues with a T-Street competition in San Clemente on Feb. 28, Oceanside Harbor on April 4 and the final championship at T-Street on June 6. A portion of the proceeds from each event go toward the Soul Surfing School's Camp Pendleton Kids program. The Register chatted with Dana Point resident and Soul Surfing School general manager Brandon Phillips about the upcoming competition, 7-year-old surfers and working at Camp Pendleton.

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Q. Tell me a little about Soul Surfing School.
A. Soul Surfing School started about 10 years ago by Chris and Karen Williams, a husband-and-wife team, fully family-operated. They started off just doing surf lessons out of Laguna Beach and it's grown to a competition series that goes up and down the coast from about Oceanside to Ventura, with our main focus in Orange County. There's a surf team which has a lot of junior high to high school-age (kids), which incorporates surf training and coaching. It takes a lot of the traditional sport that you would get from football or soccer - that kind of coaching or training - and implements it in surfing. ...Kids from Laguna Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente are all part of it.

From that, it's really allowed parents and even schools to take surfing a lot more seriously. A big thing they have is also the military involvement. (Soul Surfing School) offers a completely free program to Camp Pendleton families, called CPK for Camp Pendleton kids.

Q. So what's the Soul Surf Comp that's coming up?
A. The competition series has been going on for the past three years. There used to be a pretty well-known series (from) the Christian Surfing Federation. ...Chris and Karen (Williams) offered to help run it a little smoother and pretty much acquired it from Christian Surfing Federation and turned it into the Soul Surf Series.

One neat thing about the Soul Surf Series is it offers one of the youngest age divisions out of all the competition series, and that would be U-7, under 7 years old. We've definitely been seeing a lot more overall involvement and interest with surfers in that 5- to 7-year-old age range. Out of the need of all these kids and parents wanting to sign up, we created that division for them.

Now elementary schools are having surf teams, and we're pretty much supporting that by offering the (U-7) division in our competition and through our surf team and after-school clubs.

Q. What's looking like the most competitive division in the competition so far?
A. We always see a lot of talent in the under-18, under-16, under-14 (divisions), they're always pretty much hotbeds. What we've noticed lately is the girls' side of the competition has really been escalating. We've actually seen huge growth in girls' surfing, from very young ages in under-12, under-14 - middle school ages. It's really neat to see.

Q. Is it rare to hold a surf competition on a military base, like Camp Pendleton?
A. I believe this is the second year of having a stop at Church's Beach in Camp Pendleton, but it's definitely grown a lot more given the ability to pull onto the base. We're the only surf school that is authorized to give lessons on the base, and that relationship started many years ago by Chris Williams and him having a desire to do something for our wounded warriors and for their kids who...really don't have a way of getting introduced to the water.

Q. What is the Camp Pendleton Kids program like for children of military families?
A. We offer throughout the year beach camps, surf lessons and water safety. Our surf team, staff, coaches and instructors will go down once a week and hang out with the kids, free of charge.

A lot of these kids don't even know what they have in their own backyard, they move around so much or have never seen a beach before. They never really had an interest until they visited one of our clubs or overnight camps. I think it's a lot of fear of the unknown...and so when they visit, they start to be a little more familiar, learn a little more about water safety, how the ocean works with tides. Specifically the shoreline there is very rocky, so it's not very welcoming to someone who doesn't know. Once we get time with them, we can really educate them and take them in all sorts of different directions: surfing, water/ocean protection or taking care of the beach on their own time.