Dawn patrol. The morning is exploding out of the east, a half-box of crayons streaking across the sky.
Slowly, reluctantly, a bed-head emerges from the warm confines of a sleeping bag, followed by an arm, then a body. Eventually there are four or five of us milling about, sleepy-eyed, blinking away the night. One of us is munching away on Raisin Bran, the staple of his morning breakfasts, with the thousand-mile stare of a man sleep-deprived. Another is finding comfort in his coffee, and well, he should, considering he woke the surf camp staff at 6 a.m. to get it. When we find out that that only those with their own equipment can hit the water, we are disappointed, but understand the liability issues. So we are reduced to spectators, watching from the bluffs above the beach. The sunrise has reached the far horizon now, where ocean is beginning to distinguish itself from the sky. Down below, we see several lone surfers paddling into the morning gray, looking for that first set.
Such a devotion to surfing may surprise some, but those familiar with surfing understand. "Once you catch that first wave, when you stand up and you make your first turn, you get hooked," explained Jason Senn, owner of Endless Summer Surf Camp in San Clemente, California. Sun-baked and ocean-washed, Jason has been a part of the camp since 1991, when he was brought aboard as director. According to him, the most rewarding part of his job is seeing the progression of his students throughout the week. In fact, several of his alumni surf competitively today. There is a downside, however. "Surfing can become an addiction. You start making excuses to go surfing. Missing class, missing work." Dawn patrol was a testament to that.
By 9:30 a.m., well after Dawn Patrol had returned from its first foray, the rest of the day campers had arrived (there were roughly 12 day campers and 12 overnighters). We assembled on the beach, and although the morning fog was still hazy along the beach, it was already growing warm. A soft off-shore breeze carried the smell of salt and sun block. After a quick briefing about the basics of surfing and water safety, we were matched up with our instructors, about 3 students per staff member. After a few more detailed lessons, we hit the surf.
Three things I learned this day: 1) Surfing is tough. One aspect that is not emphasized on TV is paddling out. Getting pounded by wave after wave while your shoulder and trapezius muscles are screaming Fire! with exertion makes you very humble, very fast. There's a reason why surfers look the way they do; 2) You can't breath underwater, and 3) I don't plan on quitting my day job to join the pro surf tour any time soon.
The Endless Summer Surf Camp has been teaching people, young and old, how to surf for more than ten years now. Founded in 1991 by Mary Lou Drummy, a former pro surfer and Director of the United States Surfing Federation. Drummy assembled a camp staff composed of professional surfers, including then camp director Jason Senn. In 1995, using prize money he had saved from major pro surf competitions, Jason bought the camp from Drummy. Today, Jason still actively competes on the United States Pro Surf Tour, where he has finished among the top 10 for the last three years. The Endless Summer Surf Camp is one of few camps that can boast an active pro surfer on their staff. "That's one of the reasons I chose this camp," one camper revealed to me. "If I was gonna fly out here from Chicago for an entire week, I wanted to make sure the staff would give me my money's worth. That and the location." Indeed, the Endless Summer Surf Camp can boast an ideal location. Located at the San Onofre campground, halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, summer temperatures average 78° while water temperature averages 70°. When you spend an entire day in various stages of falling into and climbing out of the water, these numbers are important.
If a professional surf director and ideal conditions are not enough to offer, the camp staff will have you packing your swim trunks and towel in no time. Hailing from various backgrounds, including two "Tico's," or Costa Rican locals, the staff is highly skilled, easily approachable and they seem to share an inexhaustible supply of patience and enthusiasm. I tried my best to wear them down, but in the end it was always a staff member who was pulling me off the beach, encouraging me to get back in the water and hit the surf.
As the expression goes, you learn how to ride a bike by falling off, not by lying on the beach. Or something like that. I was determined to get my day's worth of surfing in, and I did. By the end of day one, I had swallowed hours upon hours of lessons and almost as much seawater. But I could see that a week with these guys would have me addicted to surfing and all the freedom it brings. In fact, for those who get hooked by surfing during one of the 15 weeks of youth or adults-only summer surf camp, Endless Summer also offers 8 weeks of Costa Rican surf camps/trips for those looking to take it to the next level. I wasn't quite there yet. I was beaten, battered, humbled, water-logged and utterly exhausted, with 4 more days of surf camp to go.
But I was hooked. Bring it.
By Misha Troyan, San Diego Correspondent. Photos courtesy of Ben Kottke, www.blam77.com.