These words come from Lou Maresca as I sit listening in a pavilion at Fort Pierce State Recreation Area just south of Vero Beach, Florida. I had come to write an article on his school and attend a session of classes and I have to admit I had not really given the issue all that much thought. I mean, after all, how hard can it be?
Have you surfed before?
What kind of equipment do you have at home?
Have you been injured in the past year?
Have you fully recovered?
When was the last time you were in the ocean?"
He was a very serious and focused, clearly a professional gauging the strengths and weaknesses of his clients. Next the payments outstanding were dealt with, all accomplished with very little hassle. Lou makes family discounts and will take checks (Florida only). This was about the time the comment that opens this story was heard. One of the students was not sure she was into it and it became clear that Lou had been here before. I figured out later he simply didn't want to be wasting anyone's time during the lessons to be dealing with a situation he could handle right now. He assured the young lady that his feelings were not on the line, he just wanted to make sure they weren't going to have to be talking anyone into anything once out in the water. She said she wanted to surf and we were off.
Billy is a 27-year-old business owner (G-Bolt, a company that makes and sells accessories for wake boards) who assists Lou in his spare time for some extra geld. He is also constantly smiling; actually his face looks like it hurts when he isn't grinning
These two were like all the surfers I met in that it was easy to see that one thing a surfer loves is anything to do with surfing. They are constantly looking for the next wave, a tireless and endless pursuit that seems to them like a natural extension of breathing.
At one point in my day I had asked Ryan if she ever got tired of talking about surfing. She looked at me like I was insane and explained that it was something inside of her, "a drive." Lou had recently been instructing a few Air Force Lieutenants, one of whom observed to him that he was constantly in the water, working in it all day, then playing in it; his response to this was that they should think of him as, "an ocean going mammal. I come out of the ocean to feed, sleep and one other thing. Then I'm back in the water." These guys live to surf and when your class starts you will feel that desire coming off them in waves, and I guarantee you, it is infectious.
My beginners class started with a hefty dose of safety instruction. Ryan was very clear and adamant about the potential dangers to be faced in the water. Although I never felt any fear of any of the things covered when I was actually in the water, they do an excellent job of making the possible dangers very clear to those who know nothing of the ocean.
Everything was covered; from holding your board properly, moving around with it safely in the water, and any potentially dangerous ocean fauna you might bump into. Ryan had an instant rapport with the kids, and although she allowed their occasional digression, she was expert at bringing them back to the task at hand and keeping their attention. If I were going to put my kid into a school to learn how to surf, these folks would be the ones I'd want teaching them; safety was a huge priority and yet I don't feel that the kids ever thought they were being talked down to. Ryan almost went out of her way to scare us all a bit, to make us know we were participating in a sport that could be dangerous, and in a potentially perilous place as well, although it was all a bit overplayed for awareness:
"Your first job is to not hurt yourself and then to not hurt someone else!"
"You do not want to get hit by this board. See this eye?", as she shows off what must have been a beauty of a shiner, "I got hit in the eye by the nose of my board, and I'm good!" (I found out later this was not quite the truth, but a little white lie in the hopes of keeping our attention and teaching something important seemed forgivable.)
Though all of this instruction was important, by far the vast majority of people who go into the ocean do so without incident and such it was for all in my class.
Once all of the safety was covered it was time to learn the basics of surfing.
We were taught the basic positioning of the body on the stringer (the centerline of the board) and the pop-up. I won't go into all the details here, but I advise you that if you are going to learn how to surf, some preparation may be in order. Swim, strength train, do push-ups, crunches and practice the pop-up at home. You can do this easily; simply lay a piece of tape on the floor to simulate the stringer of the board then lay down on top of it with your body centered down its length. Bring your toes and hands to a push up position: toes flat on floor, heels up in the air and your hands along side your chest. You should have your back arched and head up. Now pop-up: in a single, smooth motion bring your feet up underneath you, with whichever of your feet that feels natural forward and directly under your chin, centered at a 45 degree angle or so. The trailing foot should be under your butt, resting on the ball with your heel in the air. Your hands should still be on the ground. This is not easy and my description here is basic. See the pics, and if you are going to practice this move I'd suggest further research.
Once all the students had practiced their pop-ups on a picnic table it was time for us to get our rash guards (those cool shirts surfers wear) and head to the beach with our boards for some surfing. We arrived on the beach and laid our boards on the sand; made sure they were fully waxed up to provide maximum traction and did a few more pop-ups under Lou's intense gaze.
After a few more tips from him it was time to wade out to the inside surf and get the hang of what we were all there to do, ride some waves. As beginners we did not immediately paddle out and over breaking waves, turn around and then try and paddle up to speed and surf. No. It was enough for us to simply get on our boards and stay on long enough for our instructor to do a three count while pushing us into a wave that had already broken. We would be pushed into the wave while centered on our boards, then pop-up at the end of the count when we were released and the board was running with the surf.
You definitely got the feel for what it was like to be riding on a wave; you could feel the board grabbed by it and pushed toward the shore while you struggled to pop-up and not take a face digger into what was decidedly shallow water.
The School is also a camp for those who want to spend a few days learning how to tame the waves and if you want to walk away knowing how to surf I'd say a couple of lessons would be in order.
It must also be said that Lou has experience overseeing children and although he is a great guy he is also a father and is no-nonsense when it comes to his responsibilities. He had originally started his school as a day camp for thirty kids, so leaving your children with him for a few days while you cruise the coast is something you should feel very comfortable about.
Contact Lou for details.
So, how did I do? Well, I'll tell you: I learned how 'to' surf but I did not learn 'how' to surf. I was not very forthcoming about the fact that my left shoulder has a blown AC joint and pop-ups were something I could just not physically do for long. I would also say that in the beginning I was not sure that I cared if I learned how to surf; I was there to do a story. You do have to "want to surf!" I got bit by the bug, though. I'm swimming every day, doing push ups, and soon I'll start practicing my pop-ups. Some day, in the not too distant future, I'll be back in Vero Beach, knocking on Lou's door with his catch phrase on my lips: "Let's go surfing!"
By Mitch DeSoto, Florida Keys Correspondent.