Student Loans

Southern California Man Paying off His Student Loans By Shaping Surfboards

At first, John Hannah was making boards for friends and classmates, but eventually his hobby turned into a business now known as Rock and Sea Garage Board Shop

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Being a medical student is a feat. Being a medical student, then becoming a dental student instead is double-the-feat … and expensive.

John Hannah, who lives in Redlands, California, grew up hearing his dad, a surgeon, discuss medical cases at the dinner table. Naturally, when the teen realized how much he enjoyed listening to these conversations, he went to medical school.

But it didn’t last long.

“I did the first two years of med school and got a little burnt out,” said Hannah, who admits he was looking for a more relaxed and balanced lifestyle.

A mentor encouraged Hannah to look into dentistry instead of the medical field. After shadowing and learning more about the profession, he had an a-ha! moment and applied.

“It was a deep gut-check before boards,” said Hannah.

John Hannah with one of his boards
Rock and Sea Garage Board Shop
John Hannah with one of his boards

In the transition from pursuing one career to the next, Hannah found himself with something he had never previously seemed to have enough of: time. He had a gap year in between med school and what he calls and “dent school,” but for someone who loves to create and build, it was only a matter of weeks until he started a new hobby.

“I had always wanted to make surfboards, always thought that was such a fun thing, but I had no time," Hannah said. "[I was} just totally slammed in school."

At first, Hannah shaped surfboards for friends and classmates, but eventually his hobby turned into a business that is now known as Rock and Sea Garage Board Shop. The company now helps pay for some of the hefty student loans Hannah had to take out to pay for medical and dental school.

“When I first started, it was about $75,000 per year, excluding living expenses, so most kids were getting out with about $300,000 debt and that’s a ton to stomach,” said Hannah, who spent two years in medical school at Loma Linda University before starting another four-year dentistry path at the same institution.

Hannah said that dental school is even more expensive than medical school and cost him about $100,000 each year. He is almost in his fourth and final year.

“As the years continue, every year taking out more student loans, it definitely weighs on you,” Hannah said. “During my time shaping surfboards, a light bulb went off. I made this connection that I could take this beautiful hobby that I deeply enjoy — it's definitely an art form — and I could use that to help pay off student loans.”

This story is part of Connect the Dots, a series that shows how seemingly unrelated aspects of our lives are connected to one another. Watch the video above to see the connections between surfing, student loans and grocery bags.

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