One of the first things Craig Lieder had to purchase for his son Chase when he was a toddler was a life jacket. As a 2-year-old, Chase did not possess a sense of self-preservation while cruising around on Ditch Plains beach in Montauk. He would head straight for the water, charging in with abandon.
Once he had the life jacket, Craig Lieder gave into his son’s natural desire to be in the water, plopping him on the front of his longboard on days when the waves were small.
From there, Chase was hooked.
The now 15-year-old East Hampton High School sophomore has come a long way since then, making a name for himself as a competitive surfer. Lieder, a Montauk resident, recently won the open longboard division at the National Scholastic Surf Association’s National Championship event in Nag’s Head, North Carolina, held at the end of October. It was a fitting victory for a successful year in which he finished ranked 56th in the longboard division of the World Surf League.
“He was the kind of kid who would dive into the pool by himself with no life jacket at the age of 2, and sit on the bottom until we jumped in after him,” Lieder said, recalling his son’s early obsession with the water. “We had to get that life jacket because the whole beach was like, ‘He’s running into the shore break!’ I put him on my board and started paddling out with him, and he just fell in love with it. He wanted to do it all; surfing, boogie boarding, body surfing, you name it.”
While the coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation and postponement of plenty of surfing competitions both at home and abroad, Lieder has still had a great year. In February, he competed in a WSL tour event in Noosa, Australia, holding his own against surfers who ultimately finished in the top 10. He benefited from experience he’d gained in previous years on surf trips to places like Hawaii and Peru.
Lieder said he’s always been intrigued by the idea of competition and has followed that passion since he was young. He experienced victory for the first time when he was just 6, winning his division at the Rell Sunn competition, an annual event in Montauk that draws all the top surfers in the area.
“I was just really attracted and drawn to competing,” Lieder said during a phone interview earlier this week while he was taking a break from virtual schooling. “It’s just so much fun to spend all day at the beach, surfing with your friends, competing, having a good time and seeing who can win.”
The beach — and Ditch Plains, specifically — has been a home away from home for Lieder his whole life. Lieder’s parents, Craig and Lourdes Lieder, both surf, and even met each other at Ditch Plains. Lieder’s younger sister, Morgan, 14, also surfs, making it a family tradition. Lieder cites not only his father but his grandfather, also named Craig, as a heavy influence on his surfing career.
When he began competing during his elementary school years, Lieder was initially drawn to the shortboard division, in which surfers ride smaller boards that enable them to do more tricks and aerials. And while he still competes in the shortboard division at many events, Lieder has emerged as a true talent in the longboard division, which will likely be his ticket to eventually earning a spot on the WSL Tour.
The elder Lieder describes his son as a “natural” on a longboard, and said there’s a good chance he would have qualified for the WSL Tour if COVID hadn’t postponed the tour this year. His ranking in the mid-50s puts him right on the cusp of qualifying or being an alternate when the tour resumes, once it is deemed safe. Making the tour will mean a lot of travel to exotic surf locales around the world for Lieder, which will be exciting but not necessarily something new. He surfed the infamous Pipeline break on Hawaii’s North Shore when he was just 12 years old, after being invited to be part of the Eastern Surf Association’s All-Star Team. That was a confidence builder that helped him when he surfed the long, right-handed wave at Noosa, which he said was probably his favorite spot he’s surfed to date. He also enjoyed surfing at “the world’s longest left,” at Chicama, in his mother’s native country of Peru.
Craig Lieder said he’s been proud of the way his son has handled the increased attention that has come with the success he’s had competing around the country and the world, pointing out that Chase is friendly with the younger aspiring surfers who roam the beach, much like he did years ago, at Ditch Plains. Lieder has also excelled at virtual learning, despite some trepidation his father had about that initially, earning better grades than he had when he was in his first year of high school in a traditional setting. Of course, Lieder has built-in motivation to do his work well and efficiently; once he’s done, or when he has an hour break at lunch time, he’s only a 5-minute drive from the beach, and can go surf. The extra time has improved his skills, the elder Lieder said. For Chase, it’s a pretty nice kind of lifestyle for now.
“For six weeks, there’s been swell and it’s been so nice waking up and going surfing, doing school, and then going surfing again,” he said.
Lieder will enjoy that quiet and enjoyable routine throughout the rest of the winter, donning his thicker wetsuit, hood and booties to stay warm as he enjoys the best the Atlantic has to offer until spring arrives. Once competition gets into full swing again, Lieder will continue charging straight toward his ultimate goal with the same kind of reckless abandon he’s displayed since he was just 2.
“I definitely want to win a world title, at least one,” Lieder said. “I want to make a name for myself in surfing.”