Why Ryner Swanson traded in his Vans for football cleats

Fourth in a series of stories profiling top high school football players by position. Today, Ryner Swanson, Laguna Beach tight end.

At 6 feet 4 and 240 pounds, 17-year-old Ryner Swanson of Laguna Beach High has to be the biggest, nicest, most intriguing surfer dude in Orange County.

“You’ve never met a nicer, sweeter kid. He may well believe in Santa Claus,” his football coach, John Shanahan, said.

“Nah, my parents told me a couple weeks ago,” Swanson said.

A tight end and defensive end who has blond hair, broad shoulders and carries a bright green surfboard when he heads to the beach, Swanson is well on his way to challenging Rob Gronkowski as a player and entertainer.

First, there’s the story of how he became a football player. It was the fall of 2020. There was no football because of COVID-19. He was a 14-year-old freshman hanging out in his backyard hot tub with a friend who kept trying to convince him to come out to football practice.

“Dude, I don’t know. I kind of like basketball,” Swanson told him. “I’m kind of tall.”

“Well, we get team meals,” his friend said.

“Wow, I’m coming.”

So began Swanson’s football career motivated by food. He showed up to the first practice wearing red Vans, not cleats. An assistant coach asked, “Ryner, what position do you play?”

“Any position you want.”

The coach replied, “Ryner, it’s going to be the best decision you’ve made in your life. “

“And it has,” Swanson said on a cloudless, picturesque afternoon with the ocean visible from the Laguna Beach football office.

As a junior, Swanson caught 83 passes for 952 yards and 12 touchdowns. He wears size 13 shoes, runs 40 yards in 4.7 seconds and has “growth potential” off the charts because he didn’t start playing tackle football until 2021. He committed to Brigham Young in June.

Then there’s his personality. It starts with surfing, which he first tried when he was 8. There’s a three-minute short film he and a friend created. Swanson is the narrator and star as he awakens at 6:13 a.m., heads to the beach, waxes his board and rides the waves as he discusses how a trip to the ocean helps heal the mind and body.

“I was always obsessed with the waves and looking at the forecast the day before,” he begins. “There’s nothing like waking up before dawn and driving in the dark to surf. Walking down to the sand and taking deep breaths to calm my mind. The rush of your feet touching the cold water as it wakes up the body and mind in a healthy way.”

Surfing has helped him in football. His agility is visible when going up for a catch or taking on a blocker as he rushes the quarterback . Yet surfing is much more than a physical aid. The chance to walk five minutes from his house to the ocean or get on a surfboard wearing his black bodysuit once a week to experience a level of peacefulness hard to duplicate helps rejuvenate his competitive juices.

“I’m in my own world,” he said. “I forget the waves are there. There’s silence. In football, there’s a lot of stress and lot of real hard work if you want to be good. Surfing is not really work. It’s fun. Just a good way to relax your mind and have fun with your friends. It’s so peaceful. Another good way to describe surfing is good vibes, good vibrations.”

Swanson is an adventurer. He tried ballroom dancing at the request of a girl. He started learning how to play guitar after seeing girls scream at his 15-year-old brother playing guitar and drums in one of his three bands.

“Dude, I have to learn guitar,” he told his brother.

“Learning guitar is the most maddening thing ever,” Swanson said. “If you do it five minutes a day and stay calm, it gets real fun.”

Football, though, is where his future is pointed.

“This kid’s ceiling is off the charts,” Shanahan said. “There’s no ceiling for him if he wants to work hard and stay committed.”

There’s no doubt Swanson has found a way to enjoy life to its fullest. The end scene of his video has him looking out to the waves and observing, “The ocean is my sanctuary. There’s nothing like it.”

Thursday: Corona Centennial twin brothers Wade and Brent Helton, who are offensive linemen.