Surfing: Drop in on the Sport of Kings
Bright, emblazoned tents are being raised on many of America's popular beaches. Beneath them are dripping wetsuits, large sponge-like surfboards, and sandy, happy humans. These are surf schools, and over the past few years they've multiplied as beginner-board technology and interest in the sport have grown.
The young, the old, and the out of breath now have safe and (relatively) easy access to the fabled sport of Hawaiian chieftains and stars of '60s beach movies. Instructor-led classes give almost anyone a chance to get into water and up onto waves, from children as young as five to adults with creaky limbs. If your family will be vacationing at major beach cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami, Honolulu, and points between, you can take lessons together. All you need is one to two hours, the money ($50-$150 per person), and the penchant to get drenched.
How to Find a Surf School
As a former surf instructor, I offer the following advice:
- Go to a local surf or other water sports shop, and ask an employee for brochures or numbers for local schools. Surf shops can recommend schools based on location and your water experience.
- Simply type "surf lessons," plus your destination city, into an internet search engine. A host of links come up for all major surf cities.
- Go to a large, well-known beach and look for one of the tents as mentioned above. Often, there are schools that let curious beachcombers check out their schools and sign up the same day. Beaches in cities like Santa Monica, La Jolla, Oahu's North Shore, and Cocoa Beach often have a number of schools that accommodate drop-ins. Just remember to bring your swimwear and towels in case they are able to get you in that day.
- Be sure to choose a school that looks reputable and has a clear liability contract. The school should offer a wetsuit (when the water is colder than 75 degrees) and a "soft-top" beginner surfboard (these soft boards are easier to ride and safer if they bump you).
- You may have the choice to take a large group lesson, a family/small group lesson, or an individual lesson. The group lessons are cheaper but the individual lessons provide more valuable instructional time, giving the student the best opportunity to ride a wave.
What to Expect During a Lesson
At the school where I taught, the lessons go something like this:
- Students are introduced to the wetsuit and the soft-top surfboard.
- Everyone does the "wetsuit boogie" -- flopping, falling, and rolling about in the sand in an effort to pull on the fashion-forward rubber wetsuits.
- The student and instructor spend some time on the sand, practicing a "jump-up" on the board, and reviewing safety topics and the basic principles of the sport's unwritten laws of etiquette.
- The student and instructor enter the water together, and the student begins riding the "soup" (the white, rolling part of the wave). At first, the student learns to navigate the surfboard while paddling on their belly. The instructor helps position the student in front of the whitewater, and pulls the student into the wave.
- This "belly-riding" continues until the student hopefully finds their legs and gets a satisfying, albeit wobbly, ride. The pattern continues until the end of the session.
- Student return to the shore with a smile that couldn't be peeled of with a crowbar.
- Instructor and student do the wetsuit boogie in reverse.
Some techniques and formats are different, but the lessons are largely the same.
Children learn quickly because they have a low center of gravity, are quick learners, and often a natural fearlessness that allows them to go for it. A fledgling adult surfer can learn something by watching the younger, shorter surfers play. Childlike playfulness is the soul of surfing.
Surfing can be highly addictive, in some cases leading to the entire restructuring of lives -- i.e., the new surfer must always be within a short stone's throw of the sea, sleeps with surfboard, etc. Happy surfing!
Links to Some Surf Schools by Area
Los Angeles, California:
Learn to Surf
San Diego, California:
Surf Diva (exclusively for girls and women)
San Diego Surf Academy
Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii:
Hans Hedemann Surf School
Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii:
Margo Oberg Surf School
EZ Ride Surf School (also in central and north Florida)
Cocoa Beach, Florida:
Florida Surf Lessons
Mark Robertson is a writer, educator, and surfer from the Southland of California. His dad Bill, a surfboard shaper and hydrophile, made sure that Mark was raised on a diet of saltwater and pollo asado burritos.