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Catching the Wave: A Beginner's Guide to Surfing at the 5Cs

April 20, 2010

Will Dudding
Catching the Wave: A Beginner's Guide to Surfing at the 5Cs

As a recent transfer student who grew up in a landlocked state, I really wanted to learn how to surf. In the last semester, with wetsuit on and board in hand, I've attempted to become Arkansas's best surfer since Clinton discovered how to change the safe search options on  Google images.[1] It's been a rough road, and I'm not just talking about the misaligned jaw that occurred when I, very much an amateur, ran into the ocean with the board in front of me and let Poseidon lash out and hit me in the face.  Surfing is hard for us college-age beginners because it's intimidating. On any given day at a popular surf spot, there are amazing surfers that make you feel like you have the skills of a five-year-old. Also, there's the surfboard to attain, the wetsuit, and how to get it all to the beach. While I'm a long way from going pro, my experiences over the last few weeks shed some light on getting started in Southern California's most iconic sport.

Getting the Gear

The good news is, getting a surfboard at the Claremont Colleges is pretty easy. My favorite 5C club, On The Loose (OTL), will check them out like library books. You have to put down $150 for a deposit, but you get it back when the board is safely returned. If you have any Mudd friends, you can get both a wetsuit and surfboard through their program as well. For a board, you are going to want to get a pretty long one with a soft top to start out on. Also, until it warms up in the summer, and sometimes even then, wetsuits are a necessity. While On The Loose lacks in the wetsuit arena, many surf shops will rent them to you for as little as $7.50 a day (i.e. 15th Street Surf Shop, Newport Beach).

Taking It To the Ocean

Now that you have the gear, you have to brave the California freeways for an hour to get anywhere. If you have something like an SUV, lay down the seats and problem solved. Otherwise, you are going to have to invest in some kind of roof racs. Although tying your board down with ropes is an option, it's much safer and faster if you buy the attachment that corresponds with your rack system. In most cases, it will cost you about $100 for the official attachments.

If transportation isn't an option, you can always rent at the beach. You can usually rent boards by the hour, and a good day of surfing with a wetsuit will usually run no more than about $30-$40. If you can't get to the beach, On The Loose sometimes hosts surf trips, which you can check out on their website.

When You Arrive

Assuming you've succeeded in the above areas, you have now squeezed into your wetsuit and are standing on the beach with your surfboard. If you're lucky, you have an expert California surf buddy with you willing to show you the tricks of the trade. If not, you might want to suck up your pride and take a beginning lesson to get your feet wet. This can be pretty expensive, anywhere from $50-$100, but it will help you get the feel of surfing which, when you think about it, is a really unnatural thing to do. Also, don't be afraid to talk to the surfers in the water, chances are they are named something like Zack or Cody and live up to the laid-back surfer stereotype.

Where to go? Newport/Huntington Beach and Santa Monica/Venice Beach are all about an hour away from campus. If you surf, help us out by telling us some favorite nearby beaches in the comments.


[1] William Jefferson Clinton is my second favorite Arkansan. Johnny Cash is numero uno.

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