Totally Tubular


New Jersey Surf Camps at Ocean Outfitters

Wildwood Crest, N.J.

Sessions offered: Five-day surf camp, $250; four-day, $220; three-day, $180; two-day, $130; one-day, $65

Ages: All, starting at seven years old

You might say that Jeff Walden is a 21st Century Renaissance man, at least in the hybrid world of day camp instruction and the best sports ever created — surfing and skiing. Couple that to a passion to educate and improve his sports, and the Renaissance tag is probably right on target.

Walden, a native of Wildwood Crest, N.J., has been surfing since he was 11, developing an early and abiding love for the sport. And who can blame him? And, who can blame him for transferring those skills to skiing?

Walden took to skiing like a Norwegian to, well… skiing. Describe as a “second-found passion” Walden became so proficient that he ran a ski school and race program for seven years, taking regular jaunts to the Austrian Alps to share his craft.

He soon returned to his native New Jersey and started a surf camp there about five years ago in conjunction with his surf shop and cafe, Ocean Outfitters.

“It was something I had already done, and was already familiar with as an administrator and director. Utilizing the things I learned in my background from running ski programs into the surf program was pretty easy to do,” says Walden.

Easier said than done, though, as Walden says the greatest challenge — as it with camps of all shapes, styles and sizes across North America — is finding the right staff. But Walden has a good system that makes it easier.

Certified Skills

“More important than patience is empathy. If an instructor has empathy for their student, they’ll care so much about how they’re doing, that they’ll keep on diving in until they make it happen. I look for those people; the ones who obviously care a lot. It’s the main ingredient in the best instructors. I’d rather have a person with that quality than someone who can surf really well,” says Walden.

To find who’s got the right stuff to be a surf instructor/counselor, Walden does a one-week training session at Cape Hatteras, N.C. It’s a one-week certification try-out where instructors hone their skills at CPR, First Aid and general instruction.

“I get a good feeling out there because we put them in different situations. I can tell right away, and I can tell who I’m going to use for what kind of lessons they’ll be responsible for and which kind of students I’ll have them work with,” says Walden.

“The kids need someone upbeat — kids aren’t thinkers, they’re doers. I have this one instructor who’s awesome — Colleen — who says, ‘Little steps and big celebrations.’ That enthusiasm goes a long way with kids. Adults learn differently — some are much more cognitive — and need specific input, so it’s a different type of instruction.”

One Step at a Time

New Jersey Surf Camps offers one- to five-day camps, and individual lessons. The camps run in the morning daily, with 20-45 students in each session, most of whom are children. Walden marries a step-by-step instructional approach, instructor enthusiasm, and ocean education seamlessly in each session.

The day begins with a warm-up and stretches. From there, instructors get oriented with the students’ backgrounds — whether or not they’ve skated or snowboarded, their experience with surfing (such as their expectations based on what they’ve seen on television and other media) and other orientation tidbits.

Then, students are introduced to the ocean — conditions that day, currents, wave height and so forth — and to their equipment. Still on the beach, students are given instruction on the basics of the pop-up (lying on the board to standing) and how to fall safely, then they’re taken out to the water.

“If they’re not able to grab their board after the lesson or camp, take the board out, turn it around, guide it into a wave, stand up and ride it, all by themselves, you haven’t accomplished anything,” says Walden.

Walden says it’s important to explain everything so they know what to expect and are more confident in real conditions when instructors guide them through the waves and turn them around as students try to line up and pop-up on their own.

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