MIAMI — San Francisco running back Raheem Mostert etched his name in the history books with his 220-yard, four-touchdown performance in the NFC Championship game to propel the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
Among his teammates, though, the surfing celebration he performs in the end zone already made him stand out from the crowd.
Mostert’s signature celebration stems from years of riding the waves in his hometown New Smyrna Beach, Florida. He started as an avid skateboarder, then made a smooth transition into surfing by watching other riders and soliciting help from friends.
“It was the same mechanics, and I fell in love with it,” Mostert said. “[Surfing] was another way for me to get away and have fun.”
New Smyrna Beach and its surrounding county have gained a reputation as the shark-bite capital of the world, but Mostert never let that bother him. Surfing provided a needed escape from the grind of football and the turbulence of his family life.
“If I wasn’t doing right in school or if things weren’t going [my] way, I would use it as a getaway to go to the beach and relax,” Mostert said.
The water sport also provided a valuable lesson: Surfing requires a lot of falling and picking yourself back up. Mostert was cut by six teams in 18 months at the start of his NFL career, but he persevered and finally found a home with the 49ers in 2016.
Mostert’s surfing background caught his San Francisco teammates by surprise, but it made them appreciate his athletic abilities even more.
“The fact [he] can do that and be that good at it is unbelievable,” 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas said. “I thought it was super cool.”
Thomas and long snapper Kyle Nelson were eager to learn more about the sport. After DeForest Buckner’s Hawaiian wedding in 2018, Mostert gave Thomas and Nelson a surfing lesson that made them realize it was harder than they expected.
“When I got on the board and started paddling, I was like, ‘Hey, when do we start?’” Thomas said. “I almost missed my flight because it took a while for me to paddle back in because I was so tired.”
Nelson added: “I’m gonna say the reason we didn’t get up too much is because the waves weren’t very good. That’s at least what he told us that to make us not feel as bad we couldn’t get up on the surfboard.”
Mostert won’t be giving surfing lessons anytime soon, as a stipulation in his three-year contract, which was added this season, forbids him from participating in extreme sports.
Mostert’s passion for surfing, though, will continue to carry on through his touchdown celebrations, a reminder of his journey from riding the waves as a teenager to playing on the world’s biggest stage on Sunday night.
Ryan McFadden is a student in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism master’s degree program. He is covering the Super Bowl as a representative of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism.