Surf’s up! It’s another beautiful day in Southern California as surf instructor Helina Beck looks out at the waves of the Pacific Ocean and evaluates the conditions.
Beck first learned to surf at the age of eight and began teaching it as a summer job at the age of sixteen. She founded Wavehuggers in 2013, and the school now holds lessons along the entire coast of Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. It offers a wide variety of classes for all ages and abilities, including surf camps for kids and surf in combination with other experiences, such as yoga, paddle boarding, rock climbing or snowboarding. To find out more, Speak Uptried out a class with Beck. As she explained, surfing is a skilled sport that requires guidance to get started.
Helina Beck (American accent): Surfing is super fun, but it’s definitely complicated. We teach a lot of beginners, a lot of first-timers. We get the people into their wetsuits, so we provide the best beginner surfboards to make it as easy and as safe as possible for somebody who’s just starting out. So we teach the people how to position themselves correctly on the surfboards, how to properly paddle, how to catch a wave, how to stand up, how to fall off safely, how to handle the board in the water. We physically help push the boards out to assist the person to get out to where we want to catch the waves. And then the surf instructor is going to guide them into the best waves for them to practice.
RESPECT THE OCEAN
So, what is the biggest challenge when surfing for the first time?
Helina Beck: I would say that there are probably two challenges. One of them is just the fact that the ocean is very intimidating. And so, for a lot of people who are signing up for surf lessons, some beginners, they have really limited experience in the ocean. And so that causes a lot of hesitation, or people don’t want to go out far enough into the ocean. The other thing, too, is just the motion of going from lying down on your belly, on the surfboard, to getting up to your feet. In surfing, you’re laying down on your stomach and your feet are at the very end of the surfboard and you’re supposed to push yourself up and bring your feet forward underneath your chest. And that is the biggest challenge, is just figuring out how to do that motion in a way that’s really smooth, and putting your feet in the right place on the surfboard in order to continue riding.
And, says Beck, many of the perceived dangers of surfing have been exaggerated.
Helina Beck: Surfing is considered a really safe sport because it’s water. Like you’re falling on water. So it doesn’t hurt when you fall. The dangers that are there are so low risk. The rare injuries that we’ve gotten in our surf lessons have to do with the board hitting you. Other than that, a lot of people are really concerned about sharks. The reality is that it’s really not a danger to consider at all. The sharks really don’t come anywhere near where we do our surf lessons. It’s really rare for them to actually come near any surfers in general. If I’m being honest, the sea creature that is slightly more of a danger is the stingray. Stingrays like to hang out in the shallow water and they’re actually really timid creatures. They’re not coming after you by any means. The problem is that somebody, a surfer, is just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and accidentally steps on one. And then the stingray might, it might not, but it also might sting you. But it’s nothing serious, getting stung by a stingray. It definitely is painful in the beginning, but the pain totally goes away.
Southern California is blessed with ideal conditions for surfing all year round.
Helina Beck: That’s the beauty of Southern California, is you can surf all year round here. The only difference is the temperature of the water. My actual favourite time of year, though, to surf is in the fall, in like mid-September to about mid-October or even late October. A lot of people don’t realize this, but that is when California has the warmest weather. We usually have a ton of fun waves that come through, the swells are great that time of year, and the beaches are empty.
Beck believes that the sport is unique in that it is accessible to all ages.
Helina Beck: My theory is that what surfing is really all about is being in the ocean and being connected to nature and actually just feeling the power of the ocean and the power of a wave pushing you. We have taught as young as three-years-old. And for a kid that small, what it’s all about is staying in the very very shallow water and just getting that child comfortable on a surfboard. And it’s so cute to watch the giggles as they feel themselves being pushed by a little tiny ripple. And then the same is true... we taught an eighty-six-year-old man, I think. And it was honestly a beautiful thing to see. He had had two different knee replacements, so for him, just being out in the water was so empowering. And then I turned him around and pushed him into a wave. He just rode it in on his belly, but he loved it. And to me that is still surfing.