Since the coldest days of April, a group of wet suit-clad East End school kids has been turning up at a local beach break, hitting the waves, and learning to surf.
The newbie wave warriors—"groms," in surf lingo—are part of Montauk Boardriders, a new after school surf camp for boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 14.
“We wanted to offer kids stuff by the water,” said George Wilson, the camp's director, on a recent breezy afternoon at the beach break (he asked that it not be identified). "We wanted to teach core concepts to local kids of surfing and water competency and after school seemed like the perfect time.
He added, "No one has done after school surf programs before. We thought it was a great opportunity to get the kids in the water and get ready for when it gets busy out here in the summer.”
An experienced waterman, Wilson grew up in East Hampton but spent many of his formative surfing years in Australia. His 11 fellow instructors in the camp's first season—all of them, like him, local, with years of experience and surf knowledge under their belts—include the camp's co-founder, Montauk fisherman and self-identified "big wave charger" Charlie Weimar, and brothers Matt and Ryan Burns.
On Tuesday, a breezy and sunny day with small to moderate swells perfect for beginners, Wilson and Ryan Burns were in charge of the dozen or so students on the beach.
First, they had all the surfers lie down on their boards on the sand and practice mobility and agility moves that would serve them well when they were actually in the waves.
“Yesterday the wind was off shore,” Wilson explained to his rapt pupils shortly before sending them into the icy surf. “Now it’s on shore from the southwest that makes the waves break west to east.”
Then, he watched as the students, still onshore, practiced their paddling and pop-ups.
“Zed, what are you doing?" he admonished a young surfer. "Look up from the board, like when you’re paddling. Show me your arm and foot position.”
Zed Albertini, an 11-year-old student at the Springs School, popped up from a prone position, landing on the board in a ninja-style pose, his arms akimbo. His mother, Sydney Albertini, who brings snacks for the surfers after lessons, looked on, along with a handful of other parents.
Wilson gave Zed the thumbs up, then said “Next, on the plan: where is the nearest sand bar?”
All arms quickly went up to indicate that they knew the answer. The kids then picked up their foam boards, which were attached to their ankles by leashes, trundled to the nearest (small) bar, and headed out into the surf “Remember,” Wilson shouted to be heard over the rush of waves and wind, “paddle out horizontal to shore, then around the bar before you go for a ride into shore.”
For the next hour or so, the groms practiced catching waves—sometimes riding them all the way in, often wiping out—as their parents shouted encouragement from the shoreline. When they were done, they eagerly scarfed down Zed's mom's treats.
Montauk Boardriders offers year round individual or group surf lessons , a summer surf school, an after school program for local school districts, and weekend surf chaperones. It has also gotten the ball rolling to create the first high school surf club and team on the East End, with a proposed launch date of September 2014.
For its spring kickoff, the camp has been meeting three times a week, but come summer it will offer daily lessons.
For more information, check out the
Montauk Boardriders website.