Last summer, I REALLY wanted to go surfing. I’d taken a lesson the summer before with the intention of doing it more but then work got in the way. This year, I’m determined to make surfing and being at the beach a thing I make time for – so I emailed the Locals Surf School to see if they had a spot for me that weekend. The first time I tried on a Thursday night, they were completely booked up for that weekend, since at the beginning of June every weekend spot is claimed quickly. The following week, I planned ahead, emailing on a Monday and managed to snag a coveted Sunday slot!
I took my very first lesson with the Locals and for me, they are still the go-to surf instruction in Far Rockaway. Owned and operated by Far Rockaway beach natives (hence the name) – “the Mikes” Mike Kololyan and Mike Reinhardt, have created something special. Both have over 15 years of surf experience, are committed to having a 3-to-1 student/teacher ratio and only hire people who are current or former lifeguards. So, when I wanted to take another lesson, I only wanted to go back to them because I knew I would be in good hands.
The cool thing about going out to 67th Beach in Far Rockaway is that from my part of Brooklyn, you really only have to get on one train and just ride it straight out to the beach! It never fails to feel like the coolest thing, to get on in the middle of busy city-ness and get off in a beach community. I got there early, since even though it is a straight shot, it is a subway on the weekend and I didn’t want to miss a minute of my class. The fella, an avid surfer, had come with me and after I got all checked in, wandered off to rent a board to use for the day. I had brought my own wetsuit, since the water was still so cold it was needed, but while pulling it up on the beach, I promptly ripped it (r.i.p. supersuit). Thankfully, the Locals are fully decked out with wetsuits for their students to wear and handed up a perfectly sized one without hesitation.
Our group was promptly sent out with Josh, who went over some stretches to get ready, went over our “experience” and then we were off into the water. I was briefly confused since the first class I took there was a section on the beach were you went over safety things to remember, how to pop-up and lots of practice perfecting the pop-up before you headed out. After paddling out into the water, I glanced back to the beach and realized that I’d been put in the “experienced” group and that up on the beach, the brand new folks were practicing their pop-ups with one of the Mikes. I immediately decided to just go with it and got into the idea that I really did remember enough from my first outing to make this happen.
For the next two hours, I attempted to catch a wave. The way the classes work is one at a time you paddle back towards your instructor who is standing in the chest high ocean, then while you face the shore they watch for waves and talk to you about how you can improve after each attempt. When a good wave comes, you are told to start paddling, are given a shove and finally they scream “POP. UP.” In the perfect world, you pop up smoothly, get low and ride that wave all the way to the beach. I never quite made that happen. I’d get up for a little bit, sometimes for longer than others, then lose it and fall epically. I was REALLY good at the falling epically part but would just laugh it off, grab my board and paddle back out. The thing is, I LOVE being out on that board. The waiting for a wave, bobbing in the ocean part is just about the best thing on the planet. I can see why catching the wave is supposed to be the best part –and it is awesome when it happens – but really, it’s important to appreciate the amazingness of just being out there too. Josh was ridiculously helpful, going over pointers and being super supportive since I really wasn’t able to ride anything without falling at the end. I think he thought I was getting frustrated but really, I loved every minute of my session. After two hours, I was wiped but so blissed out. I hauled my big board up on the beach and back to the Locals tent. Up on the beach, I stripped off my wetsuit, putting it in the worn laundry bag and then plopped down on my beach towel and waited for the fella to finish up his surf session….
The only thing to do after that was head over to Ripper’s and grab a well-earned beer!