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Pro surfers give NFL Pro Bowlers a lesson on the waves

PUPUKEA, Hawaii -- From the perch of a backyard that sits above the beach where the world's most legendary surfers regularly enter the Pacific Ocean, pro surfer Reef McIntosh was hosting guests Saturday as he normally would.

He engaged each one, sometimes three or four at a time, popping tops of Longboard Island Lager as he explained the intricacies of his craft while massive waves broke on the nearby shore. 

But these weren't his usual visitors. And this wasn't a usual day.

McIntosh, a San Diego Chargers fan who lives at the Quiksilver surf house on the Banzai Pipeline (it's one of the premier surf houses in the world), unexpectedly became one of the most popular people with NFL players at the Pro Bowl this week.

"Meeting Reef, just talking with him and becoming friends with him, has just been an amazing experience," said Chargers defensive back Eric Weddle, named to his second Pro Bowl this year. "It's made it worth it coming out here to Hawaii."

This wasn't just some random promotional setup, either. What started as a small collaboration between Quiksilver and the NFL morphed into several legitimate friendships that were witnessed Saturday as several players streamed through McIntosh's house wearing board shorts and t-shirts.

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham hung out for hours. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton also stopped by. Weddle's teammates -- guard Scott Mruczkowski and safety Steve Gregory -- as well as his agent, David Canter, literally spent their entire afternoon mingling with nearly a dozen pro surfers.

"This is sick," said McIntosh, who two weeks ago won the Da Hui Backdoor Shootout. "I'm star struck. I feel weird telling them what's going on. But today, the waves are explaining themselves. I'm just filling in some questions."

As several players made their way down to the beach at one point Saturday to watch some surfers from the shoreline, 11-time world champion Kelly Slater also briefly joined the crew. He chatted for a few minutes before taking to the water himself for a rare public session on a good day of waves.

"It's amazing," Weddle said. "I've seen it in person. It puts into perspective what these guys go through -- what exceptional athletes they are. Seeing how small they are is just unreal."

Earlier in the week, McIntosh and Slater also took out Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez and former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie for a surf lesson on the west side of Hawaii. Another day, the surfers hung by the pool at the Pro Bowl hotel, where they made the acquaintance of several friends.

By the week's end the surfers had several Chargers players geared up in board shorts with the team logo, all hanging out together in a group that might be otherwise difficult to envision.

But McIntosh, who was born in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego before moving to Hawaii, is a big Chargers fan. And Weddle, who grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., spent time surfing before giving it up for mainstream sports.

"Once I got heavily into sports, I put it in the back burner," Weddle said. "But watching it out here, I want to go do it."

Seated on a bar stool at Lei Lei's on the property of the famed Turtle Bay resort, McIntosh was staring at his phone as one text message after another filed in. One came from Graham. Another from Weddle. Several others thanked him for the day, too.

"I'm just blown away," McIntosh said. "I mean, Jimmy Graham is texting me right now!"

Then again, these Pro Bowl players seemed plenty impressed, too.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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