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O.C. Recreation

Riding a Wave of Passion

Surfing Schools Are Thriving as Visions of Offshore Thrills Seduce Young and Old Alike

April 19, 2001|DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Environmental consultant Andy Schwartz grew up in Philadelphia, where he reveled in its history and what he calls "some of the best Italian cooking" outside Italy.

But the 30-year-old left the City of Brotherly Love and headed to Southern California, attracted by its mountains, deserts, rugged coastline and laid-back lifestyle.

So it was that on a recent Sunday, Schwartz found himself at Bolsa Chica State Beach in a wetsuit with his arms wrapped around a longboard, studying 3- to 4-foot breakers.

His mentor: Corky Carroll, a former U.S. champion and surfing hero in the days when Gidget ruled the sand and Moondoggie ruled the waves.

"We have people of all ages, from as young as 7 and up to 69, and they come from all over," said the namesake of Corky Carroll's Surf School. "Today we have Andy, who lives here now in Huntington Beach, and also a guy from Washington taking a lesson."

While thousands of youngsters have taken to the water with surfboards in hand and turned surf camps and schools into thriving businesses, much of the growth has been among adults.

Though there are no statistics on the overall growth of surf camps, some are so large they have 10 instructors monitoring 30 surfers during summer's peak.

Nearly a third of his students are female, said Rick Walker, 49, Carroll's business partner.

"You'll see the moms come and watch their kids having fun. The next day they want to sign up for lessons too. Next week, there they are paddling out in the surf," Carroll, 53, said.

Schwartz, a natural athlete, took one surfing lesson last year and got bitten by the surfing bug, his wife, Kathy, said.

"He really likes the spiritual side to the sport--the idea of going one-on-one in the water. You know, a kind of man-versus-nature kind of thing," she said.

Elenice Senn, who with her husband, Jason, runs Endless Summer Surf Camp in San Clemente, said she has seen her business become popular among women and men in their late 40s.

"We've got fathers and sons attending our surf camp in the same week," Elenice Senn said. "Surf is no longer a sport for bums or outlaws. A lot of working professionals now view surfing as a legitimate sport and relaxing therapy. It gets them outdoors and in touch with nature."

Senn, who has run the camp for eight summers, teaches weekly groups limited to about 30 novices. She tries to keep a 3-to-1 ratio of surfers to instructors so everyone gets close attention.

"We get a lot of foreigners, and most of the students are from East Coast [spots] like Florida and New York," she said. "A lot visited California while on vacation, saw people surfing, got excited by it and returned to learn."

For about $100 a day, camp participants are fed, allowed to camp in tents and to surf under the watchful eye of veterans.

At Endless Summer, novices pay as much as $696 for seven days, which includes surfboards, wetsuits and wax.

During the week, participants camp at San Onofre State Beach and surf the trails area. It has a gentle, forgiving break with a sandy bottom, Senn said.

Though some camps segregate women and girls into all-female sessions, Senn said she prefers coed outings to give the girls a feel for what it will be like competing for waves with the opposite sex.

"I think it's better to learn with boys and men because it's a men's sport, and in order not to be intimidated, it helps to face them on the first day," Senn said. "And believe it or not, the girls do a lot better than the boys. They stand up [on the board] quicker."

*

Surf Diva Surf School in La Jolla offers women-only surf camps, including a two-day weekend camp for $98.

At San Clemente State Beach is Summer Fun Surf Camp, run by Steve Speck, 43, also known as "Mophead" for his once-bushy head of hair. Speck focuses on youngsters 10 through 18, who constitute 80% of his students.

Speck's teachers include college surf stars such as Jim Gordon, Melissa Mackie and Abbey Haney, a national champion from Santa Cruz.

They also serve as role models, Speck said.

"It's coed because at this age, these kids are learning a lot about social skills and it's an important age and time for them," Speck said. "But I got to tell you, it's a G-rated camp."

And an electronic one. Speck, like many surf teachers, videotapes the surfers so that at night they can see their progress--sometimes to the catcalls of their camp mates.

"Yeah, we're plugged in," Speck said. "They video during the day and see themselves on a big screen at night. We have about 20 sofas we've brought in to our campsite. You should see it."

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O.C. Surf Camps

* Corky Carroll's Surf School, Bolsa Chica State Beach, Huntington Beach. Provides private or group lessons by the day or half-day and weeklong courses for all ages and all skill levels. $30 to $50. Also: Summer Surf Camp from June 11 to Aug. 31, 12 one-week sessions. $125 to $250. Contact: Rick Walker. http://www.surfschool.net. (714) 841-0253.

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