Daniel Boehne
UCI alumnus Daniel Boehne could have been a pro surfer; instead he chose dentistry to help others. Photo: Peter King

Dentists have all kinds of ways to relax their patients, from music to medication, but UC Irvine alumnus Dr. Daniel J. Boehne ’99 has a different tactic: He gets their minds on surfing.

Boehne not only makes crowns, he makes surfboards. His parents, Steve and Barrie, are world-champion tandem surfers, and his family has manufactured surfboards for decades under the Infinity Surfboards label. So when surfers find out their dentist is that Boehne (pronounced BAY’-knee), they chill.

“There’s a mystique associated with surfboard shapers,” Boehne says. “Most surfers already trust my name and my work.”

Boehne’s father began making classic long boards in 1960 and became a master shaper. Surfers revere his handcrafted boards the way musicians prize Fender guitars. For nearly 40 years, the family has owned the Infinity Surf Shop in Dana Point.

Boehne started shaping short boards at age 11 and within a couple years was getting custom orders from pro surfers, including “The Endless Summer II” star Pat O’Connell and U.S. champion Mike Cruickshank.

“Adults would pay me $300 a pop for a board. It was strange to me that they had confidence in a 13-year-old kid,” Boehne says. “Before long, my friends started riding my boards. A lot of them were pros, so that made me the new cool shaper in town.”

When Boehne was 19, Surfing Magazine labeled him “the Al Merrick of tomorrow” — the Michael Jordan of shaping. He’s been featured in all three major surf magazines (SurfingSurfer and TransWorld Surf) for his skill with a planer.

He also made a name for himself as a surfer seemingly destined to turn pro, winning amateur contests and finishing second overall in the National Scholastic Surfing Association championships in 1996 and 1997.

“Dad put me on a board before I could walk. I guess surfing’s in my blood,” Boehne says.

Still, he wanted to do more with his life.

He got his bachelor’s in biological sciences from UCI and decided on dentistry after assisting Flying Samaritans volunteers who operate free medical clinics in Mexico.

Boehne graduated from UCLA’s School of Dentistry in 2004 and is now a resident endodontist, specializing in root canals, at the VA Long Beach Medical Center. He also practices dentistry in San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente. In 2005, he visited the island of Sumba, Indonesia — a popular surf destination — to volunteer at a dental clinic run by the Sumba Foundation.

“There’d be a long line of islanders waiting outside the clinic — most of whom had never seen a Westerner, let alone a dentist,” Boehne says. “They’d come in, set their swords down and point to a tooth. They needed a lot of dental care, but there were so many we could only extract the worst offenders.”

He plans to return to Mexico with the Flying Samaritans and to Sumba, this time equipped to save infected teeth with root canal therapy. Boehne earned UCI’s 2009 Lauds & Laurels Distinguished Alumnus Award for helping others.

Through it all, he never stopped surfing; he even competed twice in the Teahupoo trials in Tahiti, considered the toughest test on pro surfing’s World Championship Tour.

“Dan’s surfing keeps him focused on his real ride — a better ride — of serving others with a kindness and humility that’s contagious,” wrote Chris Mauro, global editor of Surfer, in his Lauds & Laurels nomination letter. “He’s the best kind of leader and … one of the best surfers I know.”

Boehne still makes boards, working weekends and nights at his parents’ factory in San Clemente.

“Hand-shaping surfboards is a dying art,” he says. “I’m grateful that my father passed it on to me. It will always be part of my life.”

Originally published in Zotzine Vol. 2, Iss. 1