German-born surfer Lars Merseburg would live in the water if he could. “It’s my favorite place,” he says. “I wish I could breathe underwater.”

In reality, Merseburg, a former competitive swimmer, splits his time between Montauk, Long Island and New York City, where he runs Imagine Swimming, the school he co-founded with his business partner Casey Barrett in 2002.

“At Imagine we enjoy sharing our love for the water,” he says of teaching Manhattan’s young city dwellers how to swim. “Our main goal is not to produce competitive swimmers, but to empower children with skills to be happy and comfortable in any body of water – to love it and respect it, and enjoy any aquatic environment they choose.”

Merseburg– who competed for Germany in the 1990s – grew up swimming and skateboarding. At 20, he went to Hourtin Plage, on the French Atlantic coast, and tried surfing for the first time. “I quickly realized that surfing was the best combination of everything I loved,” says Merseburg, who soon after moved to California to attend University of Berkeley on a swimming scholarship. He’s been learning to surf ever since.

While a fan of surfing Costa Rica (Pavones) and El Salvador (Las Flores), his ultimate surf destination is Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. “Supertubes may be the most perfectly shaped wave on the planet,” says Merseburg, who met his wife Annabel, a South African, at a charity event in New York several years ago. The pair now surf together in Montauk, sometimes even with their 4-year-old, Oskar, who sits on the end of a big foam board, but prefers bodysurfing in the shore break.

An avid traveler, Merseburg – who recently returned from Brazil where he watched Germany win the World Cup final – has his sights set on the South Pacific for a family surf trip.

But for Merseburg, the ocean will always be seen as a powerful, sobering force deserving of our utmost reverence. “The sea is humbling,” he says, “A place to find and lose oneself.”

Name: Lars Merseburg

Age: 39

Where do you live: East Village, New York

Years surfing: 19 years.

Surfing is: “Gratitude. Nature. Freedom when disconnecting from this wired world.”

Lars Merseburg and his wife Annabel surfed Las Flores in El Salvador last year.

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