Students happily get board during lessons on the Jersey Shore
- Last Updated: 11:39 PM, July 7, 2012
- Posted: 10:41 PM, July 6, 2012
On a scorching Monday afternoon, a group of kids and teens lie on a row of long foam boards facing the cerulean sea. All at once, they each pop up into a surfer’s stance, dripping with perspiration.
The coast of Hawaii, this isn’t. Instead, the group has gone “down the Shore,” as locals say, to Hammer Surf School in quiet Lavallette, NJ — just a stone’s throw from Snooki-saturated Seaside Heights (but, thankfully, without all the fist-pumping).
Before class kicks off at Brown Avenue beach, Kelly Slater wannabes — who typically range in age from 6 to 15 — mill around a black tent adorned with a Billabong logo. (The retail brand accredits many surf camps.) Some shimmy into black wetsuits (free with the class fee), while others slather on sunscreen and fuel up on granola bars.
The camp, now in its third year, offers one-, three- and five-day surf sessions, which begin with a series of yoga poses atop the candy-colored boards lining the beach.
Luckily, little time is spent in the sand: This is, after all, surf camp. Unlike many schools, where students spend too much time practicing “pop-ups” on the boards on land, Hammer Surf School pupils dive into the sport head-first — literally — after a quick crash course in surf safety (don’t hold the board in front of you while entering the water, unless you want it to whack you in the head) and paddling in the powder-like sand.
Afterward, it’s time to sprint across the scorching beach, lugging your board (they’re heavier than they look), and splash into the sea — a bath-like 70 degrees. Newbies are corralled into a separate group, while more experienced students — about 20 or so, depending on the day — paddle a few feet away with other teachers.
Then comes the waiting game — “the boring part of surfing,” says founder Sam Hammer, a Lavallette native who started surfing during elementary school. Now, he spends most of the year jetting around the world to pose for surfing publications, and for good reason: The 33-year-old has all the hallmarks of the classic surfer look — a tan, toned body and wavy blond hair that glints in the summer sun.
After what seems like an eternity waiting for the right wave to roll in, the big moment arrives.
“A set’s coming in,” Hammer calls out to his lithe brown-haired fellow instructor, Chris Ryan, treading nearby. Wave by wave, each student gets an encouraging push and is told exactly when to “pop up.” Many fall, but others — especially the little ones — quickly get the hang of it and are immediately hooked.
The school has a decidedly local feel, with instructors taking plenty of time to get to know their students.
Foster Abbate, a long-limbed 13-year-old, suddenly paddles by. “Foster’s gotten so big,” says Hammer.
“He’s been with us since the first week we started three years ago.”
After a couple of hours, the tide starts coming in. “We’re going to lose to the tide,” Hammer says to me. “But let’s get you a wave.”
A wave comes in, and Hammer gives my long yellow board a gentle push. “Pop up now!” he says as the wave begins to curl. I make an ill-fated attempt to channel my inner California girl, placing both feet on the board. I slip and tumble off, getting salt water up my nose and sand in my wetsuit.
Thankfully, I wasn’t the lone grown-up attempting to tame the Jersey waves.
“I keep telling my sister she has to try it,” says Foster’s mom, Lisa Gilmurray, a 40-year-old police officer, as she towels off after class.
“Seriously, you’ll feel like a kid again!”
Hammer Surf School, Brown Avenue and the beach, Lavallette, NJ; hammersurfcamp.com. Lessons start at $100 for a one-day session.