Surfing with Avila Beach Surf School

by Jillian Keller

We all had rocks in our stomachs. It was the first time any of us would surf and our lesson was quickly approaching. My four friends and I arrived at Avila Beach with a few minutes to spare, which was spent breathing deeply and feeling nauseous. One friend had chosen not to participate in the group lesson, and so she was feeling calm and pleased with her decision.After a few minutes we met Justin, the owner of Avila Beach Surf School and an active local voice in Avila Beach conservation.He handed out wetsuits and introduced us to John, a UCSC student and our surf lesson instructor. We squirmed into our wetsuits just as the sun peeked around the clouds—the time had come. We made our way down to the beach and had a quick safety and technique lesson from John. He reminded us of the dangers of a ride tide, but assured us that nine years of surfing experience meant he was a pretty strong swimmer.

“Both knees, front foot, stand up slowly.” This was all the technique we needed to know for us to surf that morning, and so we practiced this on the sand as John offered advice on our form. After this quick introduction to surfing we got directly in the water, surf boards in hand. John demonstrated the most pleasant way to jump over waves, which may have been the most significant skill I learned that day (it turns out that you don’t have to swallow a bunch of salt water every time a wave goes by…). We all practiced jumping over waves and onto our boards while one person worked with John to ride in a wave and move both knees forward, put our front foot between our hands- at an angle- and then slowly stand up. In the beginning we all ate a lot of salt water. Luckily, our friend Maureen, who had opted out of the surf lesson, was our photographer and took some excellent wipe out photos. Just as we were becoming acclimated to the feeling of the board we noticed that the waves were becoming massive—maybe twice the size of when we had started.

Just as I began to think, “this two-hour lesson might be the end…” Justin threw on his wet suit and came out to provide more instruction. He assured us that these waves were, in fact, humungous, and provided some adept advice in maneuvering the waves. With John and Justin in the water instructing us, “both knees, front foot, stand up slowly,” we all stood up on the board for at least a moment! After a few rounds of waves we were all dragging our feet with exhaustion. We requested to see the real pros ride some waves, and without hesitation, Justin and John ran out into the water and showed us how it’s done. Their talent, humility, and positive attitudes left us all with a smile on our faces—even Maureen, who seemed to have just as much fun watching as we did in the water. On the walk back I learned that Justin has experience instructing lessons for all sorts of folks, and he emphasized the ease with which people with disabilities learn how to surf, given their keen listening skills and ability to overcome fear! Justin also knows a lot about local ecology and he includes lessons in geology and marine biology during the summer surf camp that Avila Beach Surf School offers.

This surf lesson was the highlight of our trip to the central coast of California.Even if your trip includes people of varying ages, abilities, and interest level, a surf lesson from Avila Beach Surf School provides a safe opportunity to try a new sport and explore the natural environment in a new capacity!

About Jillian Keller:

Jillian Keller studies politics at Willamette University in Oregon, but visits her parents in Morro Bay, California for school breaks. She loves hiking, camping, and any other outdoor activities, including surfing! The central coast has always been her favorite place in California.