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Surfer Magazine January 2002

Leo Nordine was 23 years old when he broke the news to his family that he wanted to get into real estate. They tried their best to take him seriously, but envisioning their ultra-reserved, painfully shy Leo trying to sell real estate was enough to make them clutch their guts in laughter. After all, at the time Leo was floundering around with no college degree, spending his days surfing and his nights delivering pizzas. He simply wasn’t pushy, cunning or obnoxious enough to be a flashy sales agent.

Meeting Nordine. “I was shocked when I found out what he does.” he says. “It doesn’t match his whole vibe. The guy’s just one of the mellowest guys ever, plus he rips the Breakwall.”

“I remember that day,” Nordine counters. “It was a couple years ago. I thought Greg was going to be mad at me because I burned him on a really good one… I actually still feel bad about it to this day,” he laughs.

“I REALIZED EARLY ON THAT YOU CAN HAVE JUST AS MUCH FUN SURFING 10 HOURS A WEEK AS YOU DO SURFING 20.”

But Leo quietly insisted that real estate was the perfect career to compliment his love of surfing. Having grown up in Manhattan Beach, California, in the early 1980s alongside South Bay standouts like Ted Robinson, Kelly Gibson, Chris Frohoff and Steve Machin, surfing was a passion he knew would never fade. “That was a special time to be a surfer. The equipment was changing a lot, and we had some great El Nino winters,” he remembers.

But as magical as his youth was in the water, at home his family struggled. “We were priced out of Manhattan early on,” Nordine admits. “We couldn’t afford the rent. When you grow up barely staying afloat, you value wanting to get ahead in life.”

The blow of moving to nearby Torrance hit him hard. In junior high, while his friends were off surfing, Nordine was usually held back with the responsibility of two paper routes. The same went for high school, where he worked every job he could: surf shops, washing cars, delivery boy. But while his work ethic was never really an issue, getting ahead was. Finally, still spinning his wheels at 23, he made the leap into the real estate knowing full well his surfing might temporarily suffer. “I knew I wanted to be able to provide for a family, so I became a weekend warrior. But I realized early on that you can have just as much fun surfing 10 hours a week as you do surfing 20.”

Today, 15 years later, Leo Nordine’s life reads like a success story from a self-help infomercial. For the past four years, the National Association of Realtors has ranked him the No. 1 real estate agent in LA County – a stunning accomplishment considering there are 55,000 competitors. He earned the ranking by selling more than 300 homes each of those years. All the while, Nordine has managed to keep his spot in the pecking order at his favorite spot, the Redondo Beach Breakwall. “No matter what deal is on the table, I still drop everything when the swell is up,” he explains.

Greg Browning, who became one of the South Bay’s most prominent pros in the 1990s, remembers first

Nordine’s soft-sell approach is even more surprising in the flashy business of real estate, where he maintains his low profile. When viewing homes, he whisks his clients around in his 1972 Plymouth Duster instead of some fancy S-Class Mercedes. He hates the computer, refuses to get voice mail and spends his entire day on the phone. Despite his wealth, he still rents a tiny apartment above his office, which conveniently overlooks his favorite surf spot and is littered with boards.

“I’m honest with my clients, but even more importantly I think I’m honest with myself, and I think that’s why I’ve been successful. There are a lot of used car dealers in this business, and they’ll say anything to close the deal. But that’s just not me. I’m brutally honest even if it costs me the deal, and people respect that.”
The 304 homes he sold last year prove that.
‘It doesn’t even seem that hard,” he laughs. “I mean, I’ve put twice as much energy into my surfing that my business.”

Today, Nordine makes more money than he ever imagined and has accumulated a few homes in the process. “I started buying beach bungalows a while back just to keep them out of certain builders’ hands. They’d come in and build these big, huge monster houses with no yards and no charm, ruining the neighborhoods.” At last count, Nordine has collected about 14 of them in the South Bay alone. Since they’ve roughly quadrupled in value over the years, he has no plans on getting rid of them. “They’re my retirement plan now. I just rent them out, and I will give them to my kids down the line.”

Speaking of which, his fourth lucky child is due to arrive any day, at which point Leo and his wife, Molly, will finally move into a custom-built home of their own in order to accommodate the 100-plus surfboards he’s collected. “We’ve set ourselves up pretty nicely after working so hard, and my family is really happy I didn’t listen to them.”

-Chris Mauro”