On Saturday morning, Sept. 29, a group of 12 sleepy, slow moving Outdoor Rec participants answered lethargically to the routine roll-call that most students have answered to for a majority of their post-secondary lives, “My name is… and I study…” Even the prospect of a weekend surf adventure in Tofino wasn’t enough to liven the spirits of the 12 weekend warriors that slouched on the couches inside the gym entrance, awaiting the departure for the first overnight surf trip of the year. It was early… I’ll give them that, and we had a 3 hour nausea inducing drive ahead of us. With a couple of coffees, stretches, and fresh-air breaks along the way, we made it to the Tofino Botanical Gardens and Eco-Lodge. A majority of the group were international students, beginner surfers, and all were about to experience Canada’s cold water surf for the first time. Each of them brought their weekend bags along with their own thoughts and hopes for success, in the highly idealized, recreational ritual, of catching and riding waves.
Many experienced surfers can agree that surfing is not an easy sport to learn, while many beginner surfers have wondered why learning to surf is so hard compared to other outdoor sports. As frustrating as the learning experience can be, I’ve come to think that these frustrating, difficult, and humbling feelings are what beginner surfers sub-consciously like the most. Like many things in life, “easy” can become boring very fast. We can take “easy” for granted and form our opinions without experiencing all that there is to experience. Surfing provides a plethora of delights for all ages, but it takes time to learn how to look, listen, and feel your way through the learning process. So taking a 2-hour beginner surf lesson once isn’t going to get you there. However, if you have the time and opportunity to spread your 2-hour surf lesson over 2–3 consecutive days, weeks, or months, you could find yourself quite surprised by your personal progression, perspective, and understanding of the sport and the culture of surfing.
On this particular weekend, we stretched the 2-hour beginner lesson over 2 days, which is a lot of time in the water for a beginning surfer, physically and mentally. But the foundations of the sport are introduced and practiced in a way that leaves the learner wanting more, and enables the learner to confidently pursue the rest of the learning process independently—without the need for formal instruction, (although we found it hard to stop our coaching and encouragement throughout the weekend).
Over the course of the weekend, the group’s progression level and fun level was clearly noticeable in the water. Even with the presence of three busy local surf schools, tourists and locals, VIU’s Outdoor Rec group stood out. Any onlooker or beach enthusiast would put two and two together when they notice a whole group of individuals wearing odd-looking surf helmets in an area where the use of helmets is not a common sight. But if you’ve ever seen Chesterman Beach on a very crowded weekend day, with surf schools and beginners fully immersed in their activity, it’s easy to understand why the helmets have been with the program for the past 6 years. Personally, I have seen beginner surf injuries occur right before my eyes, and the most common is the contact between boards and heads, especially in a crowd of beginners, where board control and good judgment are skills in development. As a new staff member of the Outdoor Rec surf team this year, I had to wear a helmet for the first time as well. At first, I was a little hesitant, mostly thinking about the “image of cool” that I felt I was not projecting but that feeling faded fast once I paddled and caught a beauty with the greatest of ease. I think our helmets are a unique part of how we display VIU’s concern for student safety in off campus activities, and it’s great to see the students respond to these standards positively. In the 6 years teaching surf. prior to my time here at VIU, I’ve only seen one group wear surf helmets other than VIU and it was Thompson Rivers University, who run a similar surf program. It’s a smart idea, and it really doesn’t affect surf performance in any way. It’s getting over the odd looks and the “image of cool” in the back of your mind, but like I said, once you’re immersed in the activity, that’s all you’re thinking about.
By the end of the day, the classic west coast fog had rolled in, signaling the end of another great surf weekend. The group dynamic was now looking, sounding and feeling like the complete opposite of Saturday morning’s first impression. However, the 3 hour drive home returned everyone feeling exactly like they did Saturday morning. Only now, the hope of their ravenous feelings for a post-surf meal would be accompanied with an urge to satisfy a new kind of hunger… wave hunger.