Follow editor Amy Bickers as she spends five days with her son at a North Carolina family surf camp, where “falling well” is the secret to success―in and out of the water.
Confession: One summer I read eight books during a six-day beach trip. This illustrates my typical vacation activity level.
My inner bookworm thinks this is awesome. My inner adventuress, however, says this is lame. So when my 12- year-old son, Jacob, and I have the opportunity to attend family WB Surf Camp in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, I tell the bookworm to put a sock in it.
For five days, we wake up at 7 a.m., pull on our suits, apply sunscreen, and head to Public Access #4 north of Johnny Mercer’s Pier. Every morning, we learn a little more about the “sport of Hawaiian kings” and a little more about ourselves. It turns out both Jacob and I are capable of so much more than we had ever imagined.
Never say "never." Don't be afraid to fall.
We’re separated into groups of three, assigned an instructor, and given white rash guards (long-sleeved shirts equipped with SPF 50 that help protect the skin). First, we learn some basics on the beach. Surfboards are laid out in rows, and we lie on them and learn how to “pop up.” This is the move that takes you from lying on the board to standing on it. This is when I learn I’m a Goofy Foot, the term for a surfer who pops up and puts his or her right foot forward. Apparently, Goofy Foot is not a hereditary condition. Jacob is regular footed (he puts his left foot forward).
Then it’s time to hit the water. Our instructor, Doug Carroll, leads Jacob, Michael (a 12-year-old from Atlanta), and me out to the surf and chooses waves for us. He gives each of us a push to help us gain momentum until we’re stronger paddlers. Each time, Doug yells, “Paddle, paddle, paddle! Stand up!” And within the first few tries, amazingly, we all get up on our boards.
Take pride in the power of your arms as you beat two 12-year-olds past the breakers.
Paddling is a huge part of surfing. It’s your arms that must take you out to a spot where you can catch waves. Doug says there are times when you just can’t get out. The vast ocean denies you access. The key is to find your place on the board (not too far forward, not too far back) and fully extend your arms as you paddle. This is no time to doggie paddle.
Day two brings with it lingering effects of day one. We all feel a little sore in our ribs (from throwing ourselves up on the boards over and over again), and my arms and legs are a little achy. But I realize I’m much stronger than I thought (thanks to regular yoga and push-ups).
Develop a crush on your 23-year-old surf instructor. Don’t do the math that tells you he’s closer to your son’s age than your
On day three my body is less sore, but my pop-up is defective. I can’t seem to hop up on the board quickly enough to ride the wave. Today also brings with it choppy waves that break closer to shore. Surfing in shallower waters increases chances of injury, so we don’t spend as much time in the water.
We go back to the beach, and I practice my pop-up while Jacob gets buried in the sand by another young camper. I realize that when I’m lying on the board, I’m not putting my feet in the right position for hopping up. I also realize my son is never going to get all the sand off his body.
Apply sunscreen. Don’t forget to reapply it.
Another confession: We finish with surf camp by lunchtime each day, and we spend our afternoons at the hotel pool. I lie in the sun and read (you just can’t take the bookworm out of the girl). Jacob and his sister, Kate, splash around in the pool and make vacation friends. I put my book down occasionally to order a refill on my daiquiri. I also do a poor job of reapplying sunscreen. I will regret this when I’m middle-aged.
Enjoy the thrill of the ride. Don’t let the quiet moments pass you by.
By the end of the week, Jacob is catching his own waves. I still count on Doug to choose waves for me, but I’m more confident about getting up. I’m also better at falling. (Falling well is a skill and that is true in all aspects of life.)
When we make it past the waves, I revel in the beauty of the moment. Here there are no worries, just the dip and swell of the ocean, the occasional flock of birds flying low over the water, the sight of a fishing boat in the hazy distance. Jacob, Michael, and I lie on our boards and float in easy silence until Doug calls out, laughing, “Where are you guys going?” And then, one by one, we paddle back to where he stands, wait for a turn, and ride the waves in once more.
Photo: On the last day of Surf Camp, director Mark McCann shows off his headstand. (Don't try this during your first week at camp.)
Check out these Southern beaches for good surfing.