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Becoming a Gnarly Surfer Girl

15 Comments 05 December 2013

Maui Surfing Lessons

Heading to the beach for my first surfing lessons near Lahaina.

A lanky bronzed guy with a baseball hat came up to us and said, “Hi, I’m your surf instructor.” Hmmmm – something is wrong with this picture. My Maui Surfer Girls instructor is a male?  That wasn’t quite what I was expecting – I felt as if I had already wiped out before I started. However I quickly learned there was no need to get caught up on gender as Sharky and the rest of the staff at Maui Surfer Girls were super at teaching a bunch of novices how to surf – and that’s all I could ask for. Frankly, Sharky was an anomaly, as 90% of the teachers and staff at MSG are female. In addition to Sharky, we had our instructor Carol and were lucky enough to have the forward thinking owner, Dustin Tester, as one of our instructors as well.

I had some doubts. Could they make this 43 year old Midwesterner a surfer girl? As someone growing up in landlocked Peoria, IL – I never really became one with the ocean, it’s waves, currents, or sealife. Therefore, I was nervous about surfing – yet the athletic overachiever in me was pretty stoked to try. I hoped it wasn’t going to be like my failed attempts to learn and love snow skiing.  But I also knew every year that goes by I become a bit more fearful and uncoordinated – so I better tackle this now!

Luna surf dog maui

Luna the surfing dog

Then I looked over and saw that Dustin’s dog, Luna, was on a surf board in the water. If Maui Surfer Girls could teach a dog how to surf, then I had hope! Luna the surfing dog is just one of the many things that make Maui Surfer Girls unique. The MSG mission is to “empower girls through the sport of surfing” – and they take this mission seriously. They run surf camps for girls each year where they do more than simply surf – but also focus on building self esteem and confidence for teen girls.

maui surf girls

Professor Sharky schoolin’ us in the art of surfing

I had determined that I was in good hands for the day of surf lessons – even if my Maui Surfer Girl instructor was a guy. We gathered around Sharky for our ‘land instructions’. He threw sand on the surfboard and I wondered if he was going to make some offering to the surf Gods. Instead he started writing in the sand on the board – Aloha (hello), Mahalo (thank you), Ohana (family). – he pointed out that all of the words had “ha” in them meaning breath or breathing. Then he wrote the word “Nalu” the Hawaiian word for ‘wave’. He looked up at us with his sunbleached hair poking out of his hat, white zinc on his nose, and said in true surfer dude style – “You have to feel it.”

I knew right then that my ultra logical side was not going to like surfing. I knew I was going to need to beckon my adventurous, creative side of my brain and tell my right side to stop thinking. Easier said than done. Dude.

Sharkey, Dustin, and Carol started to demonstrate how to surf on land. They talked about centering on the board using yoga terms and positions. When broken down into the steps it actually seemed pretty simple. My logical type A side of my brain memorized the steps pretty easily, however it wondered and worried about how I would speed up the steps while balancing on the board in the water.

Surf lessons maui

Practicing the yoga steps on land.

We used softboards which were perfect for beginners – big and ‘sticky’ – much easier to get up on. MSG gave us long sleeve shirts to protect us from the sun and board rash, foot booties which provided some extra grip, and they told us to put on body glide for rashes. At least I looked bitchin’ even if I wasn’t able to ride a wave properly. We did a group cheer and we were ready to go be surfer girls!

Surf cheer

Hang Ten!

I knew that surfing was a great workout – I mean really – have you ever seen a fat surfer? However, until you get out there and start paddling out time after time do you really understand the core workout that surfing provides. Surfing takes great arm, neck, and lower back strength and stamina to paddle out. Luckily, the instructors would help us get out there when they saw we were getting tired – it was sort of like getting a tow.

I laid there on the board tense and poised. I looked behind me and couldn’t really differentiate a good wave from a bad wave but with Sharky yelling at me “paddle, paddle!” I sort of got the hang of it. I could first hear it – the sound of the wave coming behind me, then as I paddled furiously I could feel it.  A swell lifted me up and I heard Sharky yell “Now!”.   I quickly tried to go through the yoga poses in my head and before I new it I was wobbly on two feet trying to adjust and find the center sweet spot. I didn’t last long – but I got the sounds and feel of it.
I surprised myself by getting up on 2nd try – wobbly and uncoordinated – but I did it!

Maui surfer girls

Sharky cheering me on as I ride my first wave!

Once I had achieved success on the board, I knew they had created a surfing monster. I never stopped for the entire time during the lesson. Every time I got up – I thought about how I could do it better and even though I was exhausted I turned around and paddled back out again. Determination and my type A personality took over. I didn’t think surfer chick and type A really went together – but today it did.

By the time we came in I had stood up on the board a number of times and was to the point of trying to leave the steps behind and simply ‘feel it’ like Sharky taught us. This was only a little beginning glimpse of what it was like to ride the waves in Hawaii thanks to the team at MSG who gave us plenty of encouragement. They had me hooked, I knew that I would be back for more. Maybe, just maybe this Midwestern land dweller could be a gnarly surfer girl after all.

Maui Surfer Girls surf lessons
Dustin, Sharky, and me after a successful first day of surfing!

More Info:

Surfing Lessons- www.MauiSurferGirls.com
Surf Camp for Girls  – More Info

Disclosure:  I was a guest of Maui Visitor Bureau  for this trip.  However all of the opinions expressed here are my own.  I was able to choose my own activities that were of interest to me and my style of travel.

Your Comments

15 Comments so far

  1. This looks like an amazing experience. I love your instructor’s name – Sharky. :)

  2. Heather says:

    I really want to try surfing, but I haven’t had a good opportunity yet (or maybe I haven’t *made* a good opportunity…). Like you, I’m not exactly an ‘ocean-type girl’ but I do possess determination and a giant ego that doesn’t let me quit easily. Maui seems like a great place to learn how to surf, and I think learning with women would be a lot of fun. Congrats on your new skill set!

    • Sherry says:

      I thought about taking lessons in Sri Lanka when I was there a few years ago – but sort of got scared off by the bigger waves for beginners. This beach in Maui was perfect though!

  3. Amy says:

    OMG I’m so jealous. It’s 20 degrees here, and that’s warm considering the rest of America right now.

  4. Beautiful job! This looks like a brilliant surf school and a truly extraordinary way to spend a day and your photos are fabulous!

  5. It seems you had a lot of fun, wish I could go surfing, too. There are plenty of good spots here in Curacao, besides a great number of beaches and beautiful tourist attractions.

  6. shubhajit says:

    When I was reading your trepidation about waves, ocean etc. I was instantly relating your story with my own experience. First time in your blog, love the way you write in a simplistic tone and vivid photographs.

    Sharky! seriously!!!

  7. Attending an all girls surf camp was one of the highlights of my year. I plan to make it a regular trip.

  8. I love your pictures. It looks like a beautiful place! I think you have an amazing experience.

  9. Dan says:

    Nice work! I feel if Luna the dog can stand on a board then I should be able to as well, although I’m almost certain I wouldn’t be able too.

  10. Sharky-^- says:

    Way cool! Thanks Sherry for an amazing story, pictures, and a super fun time! We love teaching people about our passion of surfing and the beautiful Hawaiian culture.

    Mahalo nui loa Sherry! A hui ho’u (Let’s do it again)
    Aloha! Sharky-^-


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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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