"To surf or not to surf?" asked this Midwesterner transplanted to SoCal many moons ago. Upon arriving in L.A. I hired a surf instructor, rented board and wetsuit, and prepared to surf the big waves. Just one hour in the water taught me how incredibly hard it is to balance upon a thin sheet of fiberglass atop moving liquid. "Not to surf," I declared. I'd be an outdoor adventurer still, just a land-locked one. That is, until this past weekend.
I led a group of preteen girls on a SoCal quest that attempted to give them what I'd yet to find: a safe and supportive place to learn to surf. After a traffic-ridden Friday drive south on I-5 we arrived at YMCA Camp Surf in Imperial Beach. In addition to running kids' camps, this facility provides family camping and group retreat weekends with cabin rental or beach camping. Their three day packages include 2 nights and 4 meals priced anywhere between $115 and $125 depending upon the season. Food, shelter, surfboards, and boogie boards are included; wetsuit rental is extra. Groups are defined anywhere between 14 and 300 people.
Friday night we slept in tents on the beach, a rarity in SoCal. Waking to the sound of the waves I expected. What I did not expect was the food, more particularly how good it was. Think back to your days at camp and you might recall cold clumpy oatmeal or tater tots and hot dogs. Camp Surf touts delicious food on their website and they mean it. "Have you tried the sweet cream-filled empanadas?" asked a member in my group one morning. Sadly, I was too busy stuffing my face with homemade banana bread to notice the empanadas. I kept my fingers crossed they'd reappear Sunday morning. They also aim to please. Gluten free? Vegan? They've got not only the four food groups but the many dietary restrictions covered with a vast array of choices at each and every meal.
After the banana bread, eggs, sausages, and hot coffee, I scrambled into my wetsuit and stood at the shoreline. To my right was San Diego; to my left the hills of Tijuana, Mexico. The ocean this morning delivered a calm break and small waves; it felt as if I was in the baby pool of the Pacific. Camp Surf provided a lifeguard and surf instructors on beach and in the water. Now it was just the surfing, a sport with challenges aplenty. Reading the waves, catching the waves, standing on the board, staying on the board: these are just a few things making surfing one of the hardest outdoor sports around. Yet the instructors made the learning curve a little less precipitous. One gently pushed me into the first wave which I rode prone to shore. On the next two I rose to my knees. Finally I mustered up courage to stand. If I was up more than 10 seconds, I'd be surprised. Yet I stood, on a board, with moving water beneath. These weren't the epic, gnarly waves of surfer lore, but I didn't need those waves. To be carried by the forces of the sea, propelled through time and space to the shoreline, this is a gift of nature all its own. It is an exhilarating experience rivaling any ride at Disneyland or Universal Studios. Your heart beats faster. Your brain waves are in hyper-drive. Riding a wave, big or small, is California living at its best.
Group retreats (14 person minimum, maximum 300) at YMCA Camp Surf are available April through November. More information about YMCA Camp Surf can be found here or by calling 619-423- 5850.