From the pool to the ocean: Lowell swim class learns to surf

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Sophomore Tala Rahal catches a wave. Photo by Ciara Kosai

Before the sun awoke from layers of rain clouds, before the barking of dogs pierced the calm and before the colorful surfboards decorated the ocean, Lowell’s swim class had already arrived at Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica.

On Feb. 26, P.E. teacher Terence Doherty led his swim class of 15 students on their second surfing trip. These trips, organized monthly for four months, are an entirely new addition to the curriculum. Doherty decided to incorporate this surfing unit as an way to stimulate the students’ passion for the ocean.

Although the class has previously been exposed to various kinds of water sports, including water polo, Doherty has always been looking for ways to develop the class’ swimming skills outside of a swimming pool. One year ago, he found the way to do exactly that. Through a connection with a P.E. teacher at Mission High School, Doherty was able to contact the City Surf Project, a San-Francisco-based nonprofit organization that serves underrepresented Bay Area youth by providing surf lessons. The Introduction to Surfing Field Trip Program, which the Lowell’s swim class is currently enrolled in, is a sample introductory course for high school novice surfers.

In their first trip on Jan. 29, the class was introduced to the etiquette and rules of surfing. One of the major concerns was safety, according to Doherty.

They warm up before getting into the cold water. Photo by Ciara Kosai

To prepare for a safer surfing experience, Doherty trained the class in gaining upper body strength, holding longer breaths and improving water-treading skills. Once at the beach, the student-to-staff ratio was kept low at 3–1. In addition, it was vital for the students to develop an awareness of the changing directions of the currents, Doherty said.

Under the instructors’ guidance, students were trained on bodyboards, instead of a regular surfboard. With its extruded foam core giving it heightened buoyancy, this type of surfcraft is especially advantageous for beginner surfers, Doherty said.

Lowell students already got a taste of surfing during their first trip. According to Doherty, one student even succeeded in standing up on the surfboard on the first try.

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To increase the number of students attaining this “ultimate feeling” of popping up on a surfboard, the second trip focused on enhancing students’ balance. Before they hit the waves, the class spent most of their time on land drilling for a proper popping-up position. According to the City Surf Project’s Volunteer Coordinator and Operation Manager Olivia VanDamme, the knack of performing a successful standing position is broken down into three consecutive steps: paddling, cobra and pop-up. The transitioning between each step demands speed and stability on the board.

Although the beginning of surfing was a struggle for many, three students eventually overcame the hurdle of imbalance and successfully stood up on their boards. Sophomore Tala Rahal was one of them. Rahal shared the secret of her success. “I think it was [because of] the constant reminder to stay in the middle on the board,” Rahal said. “I used to move really forward and now I have someone reminding me to move my feet in the back.” Now, Rahal’s goals include maintaining a longer stance on the surfboard and catching bigger waves.

The class returns from surfing. Photo by Ciara Kosai

Mr. Doherty’s swimming class will take its third surfing trip to Linda Mar Beach on Monday, March 12.