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Surf away those back-to-school blues

September is a tough month for student surfers. Sure, just like the rest of us, they celebrate the end of the tourist season and welcome the opportunity to surf the “real” waves of winter. But factor in the realities of school, homework, test scores and shorter days; the end of summer is indeed bittersweet.

Thirty or so students from Muirlands Middle School however have found the remedy for the back-to-school blues by joining the revitalized Muirlands Surf Team. “It’s great to have Friday practice to look forward to,” claims 8th grader Erik Vanstrum, a three-year veteran on the team. “It really helps get through the week knowing this is waiting for us at the end.”

In 2006, the surf program at Muirlands was actually in danger of collapsing completely when parents rallied together and convinced Chris Tardiff, a youth pastor at La Jolla Community Church and former Newport Harbor High School surf coach, to assume stewardship of the program. Working strictly as a volunteer, Chris, along with a core group of supportive parents, pulled their young competitors together, securing a 2nd place finish overall in the ISF (Interscholastic Surfing Federation), the governing body for the team’s competitive season. Contests are held once a month at various venues around Southern California. Current membership numbers are approximately 2,400 student surfers from more than 78 schools. Students are required to maintain a GPA of 2.0 and sign a Code of Ethics in order to compete.

“The vibe at the contests is really great,” enthuses Chris. “It’s a family atmosphere with lots of folks barbecuing and enjoying a day at the beach together.” Erik readily agrees, citing the camaraderie of hanging out with friends as a prime motivator for his involvement with the team. “Competitive surfing is so different from free surfing,” asserts Erik. “My teammates keep the atmosphere pleasant and fun during the contests.” Ashley Sawyers, now in her second year on the team, would agree. “You can definitely feel a competitive vibe at the contests, but we have become more organized as a team, so we really support each other.”

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Surfers of all levels are welcome, and they are actively recruiting for more girls to compete. Coach Tardiff is adamant that while they have a core group of consistent competitors, anyone making an effort to come to practice that wants to try their skills at competing will be given that opportunity.

Team Mom Dawn Moore came on board last year as well, recognizing an opportunity to teach her own kids as well as the other young surfers valuable social skills such as good sportsmanship, travel etiquette and how to spread the aloha spirit. Her duties run the typical gamut of organizing carpools, snack duty and mentoring the girls’ team.

In the past, Muirlands Middle School has distanced itself from the surf team, providing a disclaimer on the application that clearly states the surf team is not affiliated with the school in any way. San Diego Unified currently does not sanction surfing as a legitimate CIF sport. Both Dawn and Coach Tardiff hope to change that, noting a more open response this year from the school’s administration with a display of the team’s trophies from 2006 as well as the posting of informative flyers in the school’s offices. Chris agrees that while surfing is the essential component that brings this group together, the team’s goals include teaching these young men and women how to compete respectfully and be good citizens.

Traveling together as a team is another goal for 2007. “We’ve talked about planning a long weekend to Las Gaviotas, or perhaps San Elijo State Beach. We are open to doing whatever the kids and parents are up to organizing,” says Chris. “But right now, except for the sweatshirts that Hurley has been providing, we are a totally self-funded entity.”

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That does make the competition aspect tough for some of the kids, costing $250 to compete in the ISF season. For talented surfers like Erik, this may very well mean taking a pass on the competitive component. “It would be awesome if we could pick up a team sponsor,” says Erik. “That and letting us have surf P.E.!”

“Yeah,” agrees Ashley, “surf P.E. would be great!”

If you would like to help, please contact the Muirlands Surf Team at Muirlandssurfteam@yahoo.com.