SANTA MONICA BEACH — It would seem a natural fit that local schools would have surf teams considering Santa Monica’s enviable spot on the Southern California coast.
But, until 2010, there were no formal teams at any of Santa Monica’s campuses.
That’s when Marion Clark, who knew a number of local kids from the area’s public schools through her affiliation with the Surf Academy where she’s a managing partner and beach programs director, decided to organize.
Considering that many of her students from the Surf Academy surf camps attended local middle schools, she decided to start there.
So, with just a few kids from John Adams and Lincoln middle schools, they set out to hit the waves for a little competition.
“There were loosely informal clubs before our teams,” Clark said just minutes after stepping out of the waves. “My hope is long after I’m gone the program is sustainable.”
As her team graduated to Santa Monica High School she decided to create a team there as well.
Now, all three teams combine for over 150 members and Clark expects that number to continue to grow.
This weekend, all three teams will get a chance to show what they’ve learned as they take on teams from San Diego to Santa Barbara in the Scholastic Surf Series competition at Santa Monica Beach.
Clark’s Santa Monica-based teams have been a part of the Scholastic Surf Series since its inception in 2010. The series has added teams from across the state who think they can hang in the breaks.
“Really, the whole thing is the most organized it has ever been,” Clark said.
With teams so large, naturally some kids are better than others, but that isn’t the point. She wants her surfers to learn life lessons during their time hanging 10, things like making a commitment to the team, facing adversity and sometimes their fears.
In that way, she hopes to make them not only better surfers, but better people.
“Some aren’t the best surfers, but they are willing to paddle through anything,” Clark said. “They may not be natural competitors, but we use the contests as markers of their improvement.”
To further her goal of making better citizens out of her kids, Clark has them thinking about the state of the environment.
“One of the most impressive things that the coaches do is to encourage each surfer to pick up trash and dispose of it properly as they walk to and from the beach,” said Tom Flavin, a parent.
Clark’s time volunteering with local environmental watchdog Heal the Bay and her experience of surfing alongside debris pushed her to add environmental stewardship to her teachings.
“We have a saying as surfers when your surfing in front of storm drains, it’s called ‘surfing with floaties,’” she said with a laugh.
Not much beach cleanup will be taking place this weekend for Clark’s teams, though, as they get set to see what they’re made of during the heat of competition.
Unfortunately, not all team members will compete, just the most accomplished and dedicated.
She said picking surfers for competition doesn’t always come down to raw talent. She factors in commitment and the kids’ attitude, but the most important factor for picking kids is their “level of stoke.”
Clark and the rest of the team will discover their “stoke” level starting Saturday at 7 a.m. near lifeguard tower No. 22.