When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, the only surfers I knew were hippies.
They drove beat-up VW vans, wore tie-dye T-shirts, and played guitar. They were bad boys (never girls), people who lived off the grid, who marched to a different beat.
They were boys you could date, but your father definitely didn’t want you to marry. They surfed at the Jersey Shore, but wouldn’t hesitate to drive all night long to Cape Hatteras if a storm was sending spectacular waves that way. They would even sleep in their vans just to be able to stay a little longer and catch another round. My type-A personality envied what appeared to be their cavalier attitude towards life coupled with their devotion to catching waves.
I spent many a summer evening sitting on a blanket on the beach watching one of my surfer boyfriends bob for what seemed like hours in the churning surf as the light began to fade. Their heads would disappear behind a wave and then suddenly reappearing above a surfboard soaring through the white frothy water as it curled all around them.
I often thought what I would do if they didn’t emerge from the angry ocean as I sat there in near darkness, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse looming above me. But in all the years through high school, college and into my early 20s that I was a spectator, I never once thought: Wow, I’d like to try that.
Until now ...
This week my daughter, my niece and I attended the Wrightsville Beach Surf Camp. It was clear to me from the very first day that surfing isn’t just for hippies anymore. There were a variety of people of all ages and backgrounds — children, teenagers, men and women. Several of the students were from places where surfing is not part of the culture like Ohio, Minnesota and Scotland.
They all came for different reasons — excitement, renewal, revival, crossing it off the bucket list. What struck me was their collective passion for learning something new, and maybe not mastering it per se, but at least taking on the challenge.
My two-day stint proved that I am not much of a surfer. I managed to get hit in the head, the knee and wrap the leash around my ankles more than once. But I did get up and in those brief seconds I realized what it was all about, that you could be on top of the word in control of what appeared to be an uncontrollable situation.
But, more importantly, my daughter got up again, again and again. This was in great part due to the patience, professionalism and confidence-building of our instructor, Deaton. At six foot, six inches, the little girls called him “tree” because he could literally stand there in the surf and pluck them out after their head first nosedives with his long branches that doubled as arms.
In fact, I noticed how all the instructors enthusiastically built up their students and cheered them on with each and every baby step — a few seconds standing on the board was enough to elicit multiple whistles from the red-shirted coaches watching and waiting in the surf as their anxious charges teetered on the center of their boards with surprised smiles.
Unlike other summer jobs where college students toil often mindlessly for pizza and beer money, it is obvious these young people have a passion for the sport and want to share it with others.
I was so proud of my 11-year-old, not just because she was able to actually get up on the board and ride some waves, but because she conquered something difficult that she had never done before and kept at it all week long no matter how many times she fell off the board.
At the end of the week, what surf camp did for her self-esteem was priceless, and I saw it over and over again on the faces of the ecstatic students ages 11 to near 50.
My take — surfing isn’t for everyone, but surf camp is. You too can experience the exhilaration, granted maybe for just a few seconds, of catching the uncatchable, pure energy beneath your feet curling wildly around you as you stand on top of the world.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.