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Board Silly in the Sun

With surf wear all the rage this summer, what's the next logical step? Learning the sport. Surf camp may bring a new wave of fans--young girls.

July 19, 2002|CINDY CHANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Santa Monica Beach early Wednesday is swarming with 50 pony-tailed girls of all shapes, sizes and ages. They await initiation rites: assault by foaming walls of water, endless trudging in heavy surf, repeated dunkings in cold saltwater. Their reward will be the sheer exhilaration of standing atop a powerful wave and riding it into shore.

The girls--the youngest only 6, the oldest 16--are about to become surfers.

They begin on the sand at 9 a.m., miming the moves they will later do in the water--paddling with their arms, then clambering to their feet as quickly as they can. It's easy on dry stable land.

Then it's into the cold surf to try the real thing.

A mere two hours later, the girls emerge, boards in hand, feeling like seasoned veterans of the waves. Almost all have experienced the feeling that 14-year-old Regina Judson likens to "floating on thin air, as close as we'll get to being in space."

In between though is a frightening variety of wipeouts. The boards fly out from underneath the girls even before they try to get to their feet. As they shift their weight, the boards flip over onto them. One girl hits the water, rear-end first, moments after standing up.

This is the rhythm of the morning: paddle out, turn around to catch a wave, try to stand up on the board. On the sixth attempt or thereabouts, everything might all fall into place. Mallory Lopez, a 10th-grader from Montana, finds herself standing upright for a precious few seconds before the board slides out from under her. The glazed grin on her face says it all.

There's nothing much the instructors can say to ease the way. "Paddle, paddle, paddle, arch your back, now go!" they urge, but in the end, each girl must figure out for herself how to negotiate the complicated act of getting to her feet while balancing on a narrow board that's rapidly zipping toward shore. By the end of two hours, almost all manage at least a few precarious seconds upright on their boards.

"It's just fun out there. With the waves, it's a different feeling. It's more calm. You're just thinking about getting another wave," says Amber Cannon, a sophomore at El Segundo High School, who like most at the all-girls surf camp was a first-time surfer. They each paid $50 for the five-hour lesson and would take home a goodie bag filled with a T-shirt, bracelet, cosmetic case, beach towel and a copy of Surfing Girl magazine.

"My hope is that they'll want to keep on surfing, that they'll stand up, get going and feel that rush.... If we can get every girl to take home that feeling of surfing, then we've accomplished something," says Randy Hild, a senior vice president at the clothing company Quiksilver, which co-sponsored the surf camp with Screenblast, a division of Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment.

Quiksilver has been sponsoring a series of such surf camps locally and nationally. Girls are quickly eclipsing male surfers when it comes to sales of surf wear, but most have never ridden a wave. But the surf-wear industry expects more interest in the sport after the Aug. 16 debut of Universal Pictures' "Blue Crush" about female surfers.

Boys and girls have different learning styles, so surf camps are often separated by sex, says event organizer Mary Setterholm, who owns Surf Academy in Hermosa Beach. "The boys just want to get out and charge. The girls will listen to the lecture first, so sometimes they pick things up faster."

Surfing teaches patience, says Danielle Gasteiger, one of the instructors at the camp. "It takes determination to get good at it

The girls seem to pick up these lessons well. "When I wipe out, I just think, now I can try again," says Desiree Alayon, an 11th grader from Chula Vista.

"I think about doing it again, better," says Mallory from Montana, who is spending part of the summer with relatives in Los Angeles. "I fall but then I just go right back out again."

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