In the last several years there has been a dramatic rise in the number of surf schools and school surf classes (the former are private enterprises, the latter associated with various schools) in the local Santa Monica “breaks.” Unfortunately, this rise has overwhelmed the available local surf breaks, angered old-time surfers and has led to a dangerous situation that can only get worse. Twenty, 30, even 40 kids on boards are thrust into an area that reasonable, experienced surfers will tell you can absorb a fifth or a tenth of that number. Imagine, if you will, a driving school that, rather than putting, say, four youthful learners in a car with a single careful instructor, piled five or six kids each into a string of five or six cars, and then just told the youthful drivers to get on the freeway and see what happens; mayhem, or worse, would ensue.
Well, the analogy, while not perfect, is apt. Some surf schools and some school surf classes do indeed take 20, 30 or even more young surfers and just push them off into surf breaks already bursting at the seams. These untrained, inexperienced and energetic young people have little or no understanding of the “rules of the road,” and, because they are young, think of themselves as indestructible; they take little care for their own well-being or that of others. The ensuing chaos is unpleasant, certainly, but far worse, it borders on the criminally negligent. Youthful surfers fling boards about without any sense of those behind or near them; the rules of surfing — don’t drop in, don’t snake or shoulder hop — are ignored, or even worse, unknown. The result is a stress on a limited facility and a dangerous situation. I speak from experience.
[The other day], while surfing a local beach break, a young student of one of the classes was paddling back out to the lineup. I was several yards behind and to his left, also paddling back out. I was in a safety zone I gave myself should the young student ahead of me be unable to hold onto his board when he tried to paddle over or through a set. As the inevitable happened, and a larger wave broke on top of him, the student flung his board away without checking his surroundings. The board zoomed toward me. When I saw the board coming my way, I tried to dive under the surface of the water, but was struck in the leg, receiving a serious bruise and minor lacerations. Had the board struck my head or face, the situation would have been grim — perhaps litigable.
Guess who would have been the named defendants, along with the school, the teacher and the student’s parents: the city of Santa Monica.
Now, accidents happen in any sport, of course, but experienced surfers will tell you that to “ditch” your board without checking behind and around you is a despicable act of cowardice that puts the onus of your incompetence on the shoulders (or legs, or face) of others. Whether this young student was intentionally dangerous or simply uninformed about the basic tenets of safety in the surf, is beside the point.
The surf schools put too many students into the water at one time. They must be curtailed, or serious injury is almost sure to follow.