Summer of Surf
Updated: Feb 4, 2019
Blame The Beach Boys, or Endless Summer, or Hawaiian shirts; surfing and summer go hand in hand in popular culture, despite more consistent swell and less crowds during chillier months. While we love to surf year round here at Valpo Surf Project, summertime means surf time for us as well. Although the water is still frigid and a stiff fog rolls in some mornings, we take advantage of summer vacation by surfing five days a week. It’s a beautiful season to spend more time with our students and put extra work into fine tuning their surfing skills.
Our students have a tremendous amount of downtime during the summer, so it's important for us to make sure they continue to have structured activity that engages them mentally and physically, allows them to maintain positive momentum built during the school-year, and keeps them off the streets. It's also the perfect time to introduce new students to the program, as each week is full of beautiful relationship-building moments. We spend more time with our students than is possible during the school-year and nurture these mentor/mentee relationships on a daily basis, illustrating the support that our program can provide to each student and their communities. More than anything, the summer provides an endless stream of fun that builds infectious energy to carry our students into the school year. This energy is essential to our program as we want them to feel supported in every facet of life and to know that, despite fewer contact hours, we are there to help them succeed inside and outside the water.
A typical surf day begins at 9 a.m. with a brief team meeting to review group roles, transportation logistics, and relevant student information. Sometimes, if we’re especially lucky, a pot of coffee will make its way around. We then begin to pack the vans with everything necessary for a successful surf day, from boards to ham sandwiches and everything in between. One time we forgot the mustard for said sandwiches and, I can assure you, will never forget it again. After packing up, we head out into Valparaiso with stacks of boards atop our beautiful new vans, drawing the attention of confused pedestrians throughout the city.
I can safely say that we are the only light-blue surf van rolling through Valparaiso, so the kids can spot us from a mile away as we pull up to their neighborhoods. We pile the kids into the van, take attendance, and then make our way to the beach. It’s important to note that our neighborhoods are scattered throughout the city, so this process is not as simple as driving down the street and would not be possible without our two vans and dedicated team. The drive to the beach, while slow at times, is the perfect moment to see how the ocean is behaving that day and to build excitement before the session. We drive along the coast almost the entire time, past several marine biological reserves, naval stations, tide pools, and rocky outcroppings-- all reminders that ocean stewardship extends far beyond surfing.
A mad dash for wetsuits and sunscreen immediately follows our arrival at the beach, as our students clamor to enter the water. We generally take down the surfboards, attach a leash to each, change into wetsuits, ensure that every student has sunscreen, and enjoy a brief group swim to initiate our day of surf. As instructors, we use this time to assess the wind, currents, tides, and wave conditions to gain a better understanding of where to position ourselves and how to prepare each student for the day. Conditions shift day to day, week to week, and season to season, so we do what we can to instill an awareness in each of our students.
Each session commences with a group jog down the beach, which generally devolves into a race between teachers and students. The tortoise certainly does not beat the hare in these races, if you catch my drift. We follow up our jog with a circuit of stretches necessary to avoid dangerous cramping and fatigue in the water and practice a little bit of English as we count out together. After everybody is stretched out, we review our water safety rules, study the ocean conditions, divide students into small groups based on ability, and practice surfing fundamentals on land. It’s vital that we go over popping up on the board before entering the water, because bad habits and sloppy mechanics are much harder to fix among crashing waves.
After all the build up, we finally jump into the water, locate an optimal location for surfing and commence. Our least experienced students tend to catch small whitewater waves close to shore, while more advanced surfers are situated closer to where the waves break, all accompanied by members of our team. Due to our excellent group of summer volunteers, we are able to achieve a student to teacher ratio of 2:1 or better, allowing for high quality instruction that accommodates our students’ wide range of levels. Most importantly, smiles aren’t hard to come by after each successful wave, major wipeout, newly acquired skill, or encounter with a crab. The energy is palpable and it’s obvious that many of our students needed the distraction or release that the ocean provides.
Now for the most important part of the day: lunch. It’s safe to say that every surfer and teacher works up an intense appetite during each session, but we always change, rinse off our suits, and pack the van before enjoying a group meal. The importance of our ham and cheese sandwiches cannot be understated, nor can the importance of a good squeeze of mustard. They’re delicious in a nostalgic sort of way like a brown bagged field trip lunch or a pack of Lunchables, but you have to attend a session to enjoy the full splendor. To round out the meal, we eat bananas, share insights and anecdotes from the day, and acknowledge the largest and longest ridden waves of the day. We then pack ourselves into the vans once again and return students to their respective neighborhoods.
As a team, we then wash and hang-dry all of our wetsuits, reorganize the boards, and meet to discuss the various dynamics of the day. While our basic structure remains constant from day to day, the water conditions and dynamic personalities of our students provide new challenges and opportunities each day. We are incredibly stoked to put more concentrated time and effort into our kids’ surfing and soak up the summer rays for the next two months, especially as our friends stateside brave an intense winter. We can’t promise Southern Californian conditions or bleach blonde hair, but we can promise plenty of envy inducing surf content.