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Campers catch more than waves at surf camp

Claudia Lane (left to right) Charlotte Louks, Valentina Souray and Serena Perl catch a wave at Surfrider beach. Photos by Chris Bashaw/22nd Century Media
Charlotte Louks (left) tries to keep her balance as Serena Perl reaches toward her.
Maddox Mckeever (left) rides a wave as Nikita Polinger (center) gives Claudia Lane a high-five.
Chris Bashaw, Assistant Editor
12:03 pm PDT July 8, 2014

While paddling out on Surfrider Beach may be the highlight of a child’s experience at the City of Malibu’s surfing summer camp, Rich Lawson said there’s more to the camp he hopes children will walk away with than riding a wave.

“In addition to learning how to surf, this camp teaches kids how to be surfers,” said Lawson, a physical education teacher at Malibu High School who also teaches the City of Malibu’s summer surf camp. “They learn to appreciate what we have and it’s more than putting on a wetsuit and getting out here, take-take-take and leave. You just can’t take; we all integrate with each other out here and we all have to be aware of the things that might affect what we love doing.”

On the last day of each four-day camp session, Lawson sits down in the sand with his campers and discusses a range of topics including geology, anthropology, meteorology and anything else that might pertain to surfing.

He said he’ll bring down fossils of large scallops he found in Las Flores Canyon, point up to the location from the beach and have the campers consider that most of Malibu was, at one time in the distant past, completely covered in water.

Lawson said he will also discuss the Chumash Native Americans who are indigenous to the area.

“I try to let the kids know what a great place they [the Chumash Native Americans] had and what a great way to live,” he said. “I tell them that now we’re here, we have to remember that the spirits of the Native American Chumash are still on the beach and they watch over us when we come down here, so it’s important that we continue to be stewards of the beach like they were.”

With a participant-to-instructor ratio of three-to-one, Lawson and his fellow instructors offer a relatively intimate learning environment for young surfers, which Lawson said can help assuage hesitation among less experienced or new surfers.

“There can be a lot of apprehension on the kid’s part,” he said. “There’s a lot of things going on, lots of stimuli are triggered such as sound and vision, and there’s also other boards and people – just a lot of things for a young kid to digest.”

Lawson, who has nearly 50 years of surfing experience under his belt, says there will almost always be at least one child who expresses apprehension about getting in the water, but grows to love surfing by the end of the camp.

“He or she may not want to be here, but we try to make it as pleasant as possible,” Lawson said. “Those kids are generally the ones who, on the last day of camp, don’t want to get out of the water and are the last ones to do so.”

One of Lawson’s instructors, Rogan Weiss, said he learned how to surf with Lawson when he was 6 years old.

“I can see myself in them,” Weiss said about the camp’s participants who he was instructing. “This was the first place I surfed with Coach Lawson and through the years, I became a surfer because of him and it’s been really cool to give back to surfing, too.”