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OCEAN OF POSSIBILITIES

Surf's Up, Campers

June 25, 2005

Pity the poor surfers. They may be able to take whatever the Wedge dishes out, but not many can make money doing it.

Few are the spots in pro surfing. The surf-magazine world is maxed out, and the market is saturated with surf-wear labels -- Billabong, Op, Quiksilver, Hurley, North Reef, South Bay, Left Wing, whatever. It's getting so bad some surfers are actually being forced to get real jobs to support their wave habits.

There's still hope. According to the July edition of Surfing (not to be confused with Surf, Surfer, Surf Life or Surfing Girl) magazine, the new wave is surf camps, and a Web search of such camps bears this out. Kindergartners to senior citizens are signing up to spend days getting hit by so much saltwater that, when they're finally able to ride a wave, they're reduced to a single, all-expressive word -- awesome.

In the surfing world, "camp" is a relative term. It can mean afternoon lessons at the nearest Southern California beach or, as Surfing reported, exotic resorts that surfers are rushing (to the extent that surfers rush) to set up in Samoa, Africa and, of all places, Ireland.

It's definitely easier to sell surfing-brand clothing than camps. Kids who live in Kansas can get a whiff of surfer cachet by wearing Volcom board shorts, even if the only waves come from big kids jumping in the neighborhood pool and there isn't a board in town. They don't even have to get up from their surfing video games. As a result, some of the camps fail. Others offer special twists to draw customers or get funding from other sources to keep going.

There are plain old YMCA surf camps, and camps for girls and women offering apres-board Pilates and massages. The Paskowitz Surf Camp gives, touchingly, free surfing lessons for autistic children. The Walking on Water camp caters to Christians. In Costa Rica, one camp teaches both surfing and Spanish; also available is a kosher surf camp with "The Surfing Rabbi" -- who came of age in Malibu, of course.

It beats making wallets and singing "Kumbaya."

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