Owner Das Jesson, in the center, shows his students how to stand up on their boards. jesson's camp Islands Surf Camp was one of many on the beach Thursday.

SM BEACH — A Santa Monica-based surf camp that has taught local youth to master the waves since 2006 may lose the right to operate on Santa Monica Beach this year in favor of a San Diego-based company.

Parents and students are rallying in support of Surf Academy Collective, which was recently informed by city officials that Surf Diva, a company that operates in San Diego, was recommended for the spot as the City Hall-approved provider of group surf instruction for 2012.

The announcement came as a shock to Marion Clark, co-owner of Surf Academy Collective.

Clark and her team has run the Surf Academy Collective since 2006, effectively taking over the reins from Clark’s mother, Mary Setterholm, who started a separate business called Surf Academy in 2000.

“You have this legacy going on within the city that’s thrived since I’ve been here,” Clark said. “It’s just sad and worth being pitied that in a crunch time in a business, the city of Santa Monica that we’ve chosen to be so faithful to (goes to someone else) instead of telling us certain things to work on.”

The “city provider” contract is one of three kinds of surf instruction allowed on Santa Monica Beach since 2008 when City Hall cracked down on a proliferation of surf camps that were crowding the beach and the waves. The other two are accredited schools and permits for people who teach one-on-one.

Overall, the city provider is allowed 200 students on the sand and 60 in the water per hour. There has to be one instructor for every 10 students on the sand, and one for every five students in the water.

Classes can occur daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Each provider selected has to re-apply each year.

Applications for the city provider spot were due Dec. 9. Four groups turned in proposals, and city officials reached out to an additional 114 camps and individuals that run surf lessons, said Karen Ginsberg, director of Community and Cultural Services.

Staff looked for experience, programs that demonstrate unique and high quality beach and surfing instruction, practice water safety, are financially sustainable and have good references and participant satisfaction.

“As with any RFP, there’s no guarantee that the incumbent group is guaranteed to secure the contract again,” Ginsberg said. “It’s a competitive process.”

Applicants went through two levels of review. First, panelists reviewed the applications and provided feedback on the various criteria on a high, medium and low scale.

Then, the panel conducted a round of interviews.

Surf Diva scored higher in both rounds, Ginsberg said.

Staff’s recommendation will go before the City Council in coming weeks, at which point the seven members can choose Surf Diva, Surf Academy Collective or any other provider that strikes their fancy.

Parents and students of Surf Academy Collective hope to tip the scales in the school’s favor through an online petition which had garnered 260 signatures from supporters as of Monday.

Debbie Bernstein heads up the surf club at Lincoln Middle School, a successful program taught by Surf Academy Collective.

In the past, the program was more casual and relatively unorganized. Clark changed that, and for the better, Bernstein said.

“I think that Marion and her staff do such a good job of teaching a love and respect for the ocean, teaching safety in the water,” Bernstein said.

The school also provides scholarships to low-income students and free surf lessons to local groups including the Police Activities League and Santa Monica Sports Experience.

Bernstein worries that many of the approximately 60 teenagers involved in the program won’t go to a new instructor because many of them are too old for summer camp and mostly attend out of loyalty to the Surf Academy Collective team.

“If Surf Academy (Collective) is not at the beach, they’ll do something else,” she said.


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