When she isn’t waxing boards on Santa Monica’s beaches, Marion Clark waxes philosophical about the benefits of surfing for youngsters.

The sport promotes self-esteem, she said, develops mental and physical endurance and encourages perseverance in the face of challenges.

“In the beginning, you trust that your teachers are going lead you in the right direction,” said Clark, who runs the Santa Monica-based Surf Academy. “Then it’s you and the wave. There’s only so much protection you can get, and you’ve got to know you can do it. The ocean teaches you that, and you can explore it through the act of surfing.”

Scores of local youths will explore the water and put their talents to the test Saturday on the beach near lifeguard tower No. 24, where Surf Academy is hosting a year-end party with a variety of competitive events and games as part of its Ohana Nalu surf series championships.

Students from Santa Monica High and John Adams, Lincoln and Paul Revere middle schools will participate in longboard and shortboard heats as well as numerous other contests from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Clark expects to have roughly 150 kids in the water, if not more.

“I’ve encouraged people to bring out their family and friends,” she said. “I want to get as many people in the ocean. I need as many people to care about the ocean.”

Saturday’s event will feature standard heats with students in grade divisions scoring for speed, power, flow and commitment. They’ll try to string together several maneuvers while riding one wave.

“It’s not necessarily the longest ride,” Clark said. “It’s usually the most innovative.”

Surf Academy’s end-of-year event will also be highlighted by wacky competitions like surf jousting, wherein two riders armed with firm pool noodles seek to knock each other off their boards.

The way Clark sees it, though, surfing isn’t all fun and games. It’s also a vehicle for teaching the kids about commitment, community service and social activism.

Clark’s surfing students regularly wake up early for practices, many of which are held early in the morning before school.
“Your whole day is molded by your time in the water,” she said.

Following instructions from Clark, they pick up trash as they leave the beach after their practices. The students also participate in Heal the Bay cleanups along local shores.

Surf Academy also supports the Surf Bus Foundation, which brings underserved youth to the beach for free lessons. The nonprofit uses surfing to teach the kids about water safety and environmental issues.

“We break down barriers to access,” Clark said, “and these kids are really active in that program.”

Clark’s academy holds events throughout the summer months, from training and camps to trips up and down Southern California’s coast. On so-called immersion excursions, youths learn about surf culture by attending professional competitions, exploring surf photography and visiting surf-centric clothing companies.

“I want these kids to see how they can keep surfing close as their lives unfold,” she said. “Not everybody is going to be a professional surfer, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be part of your life.”