by Corky Carroll
I learned about Dr. Eric Vanek from my pal Joshua Paskowitz. I was looking for a good dentist in Orange County to take care of my youngest son Tanner, who was having some teeth issues and hadn’t been to a dentist in years. Josh recommended Dr. Vanek and said, “This guy surfs and really has the Aloha spirit.” That was good enough for me and I sent Tanner to see him. He came back telling me, “this guy is a very cool dude, you will like him.” So, I decided to find out a little bit about him and was blown away by the story I found. This man is amazing. Let me see if I can give you a little glimpse of what I am talking about.
Eric learned to surf on a boogie board at a very young age and got his first surfboard, a hand me down from his older brother, in the third grade. He loved the ocean and did Junior Lifeguards, paddle races and all that sort of thing. He would ride his bike 30 minutes to Torrance Beach each day to surf. He loved the television show “Chips,” and used to love to imitate Ponch and John. Just before the 4th grade he crashed hard attempting a “massive skid.” This resulted in breaking a bunch of teeth and many visits to the dentist. It was from that accident that he got the idea to become a dentist “when he grew up.”
Through high school he rounded out his water array by becoming proficient in wake boarding, water skiing and played Water Polo. Entering college at UCSB he decided to blend his love for the ocean and desire to be a dentist. He gave me this account, which I like in his own words.
“I decided I liked oceanography and studied for a Bachelors in Science in Geology with a Biological emphasis (so I could get accepted and fulfill requirements for dental school applications). The reason this is worth mentioning is that as a result I was able to qualify as a research assistant for the Institute for Crustal Studies at UCSB. This job led to the opportunity of a lifetime. I was invited by Dr. Bruce Luyendyk (who recently had a mountain named after him) to work on the icebreaker N.B. Palmer mapping the coast of Antarctica. This took us by C-130 equipped with skis to land on the Ross Ice Shelf near McMurdo Base at the foot of Mt. Erebus. As oceanographers we were mapping the sea floor in an area never accessed by anyone in the history of the Earth! Lots of stories to go along with that research but it gets even better. One of my tasks was to utilize existing satellite data to help navigate our way through the sea ice. This led me to contact the Institute for Computational Earth System Science (ICESS) to learn more about the data and I was invited to a second trip to the opposite side of Antarctica. So, in a 2-year time span I traveled to Antarctica twice and on the way home was able to visit New Zealand, Fiji and traveled through Chile as well as Costa Rica. I produced a short surf film titled “Southerlands Travels” to celebrate all the trips. Those 4 areas are on my Facebook page. After returning from these research trips I entered into Dental School.”
O.K., so he goes off to dental school in, of all places, Nebraska. No surf there. But he figures out how to make it work.
“After living in Nebraska for a year and getting bored with the local activities I had an idea one windy day. I was always curious about these 2-line traction kites I had seen out on the beaches. Nebraska being very windy at times I thought to myself, I could use all that wind to tow me around on these new “mountain” off-road skateboards I had seen advertised. After a little online research, I came across a huge discovery, this rig I was looking for had recently been invented by a pair of French guys! So, in the late 90s I figured all this out and by 2000 I made my very first internet purchase shipping a Wipika 2-line kite from Oahu, HI to Omaha, NE. The kitesurfing revolution was on. There were no instructors in those days, so we learned through trial and error, but fortunately for me a now famous Canadian named Hung Vu was documenting all his experiences with the new kites online. He set up a FAQ page and it was translated into 70 languages. We learned through a lot of crashes we called kitemares, luckily I was not one who suffered any major injuries although I have had my fair share of close calls. Shortly after learning I got my Dad involved and he kiteboards as well. To my knowledge he is the oldest participant in the La Ventana Classic Crossing, which takes place on the East Cape of Baja every year. We have competed in this charity event a lot & I even came back with a 1st place in the Short Course Racing event & a 3rd in the Big Air. This sport really captured my imagination by combining all the wakesurfing, wakeboarding, snowboarding & surfing skills that I grew up loving.” (I love the “kitemares” part.)
Eric came back to California in 2002 and opened Vanek Dentistry in Costa Mesa, “modern dentistry that is affordable, caring and fun,” in 2002. He is an avid kite surfer, has two kids and a surfing dog that he hangs with. He is one of those people that just give off, as Joshua told me, the great Aloha Spirit.
Surfing Dentist Article