Totally Tubular

“The camps cover so much more information, which includes currents, ocean conditions and surf etiquette, which is so important because they have to know how they fit in that line-up with other surfers. One of the best things that surf camps are doing is that they’re able to give all that information to the people before they get to the water. Information is everything,” says Walden. “You’re teaching ocean awareness as much as you’re teaching surfing, and it’s integrated the whole time. It’s hard to teach something unless it’s right in front of you, like rip currents. We try to wait for a time when it’s real obvious so they can experience and learn how it works firsthand. So we try to incorporate it in when it’s right there in front of them.”

Each camp averages a five-to-one student-to-instructor ratio, with two lifeguards on duty. The extra sets of eyes on the water help ensure safety, which is especially critical in an ocean environment.

“The difference between surfing and any other sport is that if you have a student go down in the water and go unconscious they can’t breathe, and if you don’t see them long enough, then you’ll have a situation on your hands where you may wish you never taught surfing. It’s a big, big responsibility,” says Walden. “Everything is prone to injury, but surfing is not that high-risk. We’ve done thousands and thousands of students and any injuries we’ve had were pre-existing, like someone’s ankle swelling up from an old injury.”

Besides staffing, Walden says the biggest challenge for any surf camp is beach access. Unlike private ski areas whose sole purpose is to cater to skiers, surfers have to share space in public areas or get special permission from residents at private beaches.

Fortunately, Walden has been around the area long enough to establish good relationships with local concerns. “You need to develop good town politics and relationships to get beach access,” he says.

Ultimately, Walden is striving to make the sport more professional, for lack of a better term. Consistent instructor certification — in both skills and teaching methodology — along with a more informed beginner surfer will help elevate the sport across the board.

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