Randy Angel

Hermosa Surf Camp stokes 8,000 kids over two decades

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A young Hermosa Surf Camp camper gets the stoke. Photo courtesy of Hermosa Surf Camp

by Deborah Paul

Vince Ray was struggling with the question of what to do with his life when his El Camino College counselor advised him to “just go ahead and teach surfing.”

Thanks to that advice, Ray is celebrating his 21st year as director of the Hermosa Beach Surf Camp. The camp meets each weekday throughout the summer at the 10th Street lifeguard tower in Hermosa Beach. Sponsors include Spyder Surfboards, Hurley and Kinecta Federal Credit Union.

The camp began 26 years ago following a conversation Becker Surf co-owner Dave Hollander and Easy Reader publisher Kevin Cody had about the decline in the number of kids learning to surf. Hollander attributed it to the difficulty in riding the then popular “potato chip” thin surfboards and the lack of surfing instruction. With support from local surf shops and the promise of an annual grant from Chevron El Segundo’s government affairs office Rod Spackman, the Chevron Surf Camp was founded. The camp was renamed three years ago to Hermosa Surf Camp, following Spyder Surf becoming the primary sponsor. Since its founding over 8,000 kids, mostly local, but many from other states and nations, have learned to surf at the camp.

Over the years, Ray has refined his teaching techniques. “Bigger boards are definitely better to learn on. It’s almost impossible to teach a big kid or an  adult on a 6-foot board.”

Because surfing is such a physically demanding sport, Ray stresses a healthy lifestyle by telling stories and getting the class to share experiences that have touched their own lives.

Wind, tide and swell conditions at the ocean can change in just minutes, Ray relies on instructors with sufficient ocean knowledge to teach their students how to judge conditions.

His instructors need to be able to read the ocean and convey the information to a variety of ages and skill levels.

“We give individualized instruction. A kid who lives on the Strand might already know how to stand up on a boogie board. A kid I had from Sweden had never been in an ocean before,” Ray said.

Surf instructor Kristin Barrows has been with the Hermosa Surf Camp for four years. She taught herself to surf at 15 and is now teaching her children, who attend the camp.

“Hermosa Surf Camp isn’t like one of those summer camps where kids feel they have to go,” Barrows said. “Our kids are eager to participate.”

One of the highlights of summer camp is Friendship Circle week, which is held August 14-18. Teens and young adults with various challenges, including autism and Down’s Syndrome, are taught to surf.

“One camper with autism took five years to stand up on the board,” Ray said. “One summer he went out in big, but consistent water and waited and waited for a smaller wave to come in. He finally got a ride all the way to the beach and landed at his mom’s feet. For that kid, surfing was life changing.”

Friendship Circle volunteers, who are mostly high school students, are issued highly coveted, yellow, Assistant Instructor rash guards.

Monday through Friday classes run from June 26 to August 21. Registration available at Hermosa Beach City Hall, 710 Pier Avenue, Hermosa Beach. (310) 318-0280. For more information call (310) 291-4378 or visit HermosaSurfCamp.com.

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