By Patricia Dwyer
For La Jolla resident Debbie Beacham, surfing is much more than a sport or hobby, it is a life-long endeavor that demands dedication and respect.
Beacham was one of the women who helped pioneer women’s professional surfing for the International Professional Surfing world tour in the 1970s. Then in 1982 she won the title of “World Champion of Women’s Surfing” she had worked so hard to justify.
“Surfing is an experience that connects you with the raw nature of the ocean,” Beacham says. “A gym or a pool or a field won’t have the natural high that surfing does because surfing gets you in the ocean.”
Beacham also believes surfing can strengthen a person’s character.
“Surfing makes you assertive,” she said. “You won’t get waves otherwise. You have to have a strong personality to be a surfer.”
It also makes you more confident,” Beacham adds. “When you walk into a room and know you are a strong surfer, it makes you feel more sure of yourself.”
Teaching people to surf is a major industry in San Diego County. The Mission Bay Aquatic Center has one of the most extensive surf class programs in San Diego, hosting classes through local universities UC San Diego and San Diego State University.
Justin Baar, lead surf instructor at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center says beginning surfers often go through a personal transformation when learning how to surf.
Justin Baar, lead surf instructor at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center in San Diego, CA, explains how surfing can increase a person’s self confidence as well as their general quality of life.
Living on the water
Water-loving San Diegans believe aquatic activity is a life-enhancing pastime, not just a sport. They believe that being in the ocean is a universally leveling experience that all humans are hardwired to connect with.
“It’s like an addiction. You can’t help but want to be in the water,” said San Diego Junior Lifeguard program manager James Murphy. “It’s like going back to the womb. You come out of water and you want to go back to water.”
This addiction leads its followers to learn a respect for the environment, as well as their bodies. Most water activities are a form of cross training, involving cardiovascular, weight resistance and concentration. Being addicted to being in the water makes it difficult to get out of shape and generally listless.
Water sports aren’t just about the competition
San Diego’s 70 miles of coastline hosts an innumerable amount of schools for oceanic activities, which receive flocks of customers every day. Most of these activities aren’t in the Olympics, except for Olympic canoeing and kayaking, an activity that Chris Barlow, founder and head of the San Diego Canoe Kayak Team, spends his days teaching and practicing.
Chris Barlow of the San Diego Canoe Kayak Team explains the benefits of children learning to paddle.
Even with competition in mind, Barlow does not speak of his experience in the water as a sport.
“Its definitely something that you kind of have to feel to understand,” Barlow said. “It’s almost addictive, it’s such a great feeling just to be gliding and skimming across the surface of the water like that.”
Barlow has people paddling on the team in their 60s and 70s who have been paddling their whole lives. Such examples of dedication support Barlow’s assertions of the activity’s addictive nature.
“I hope I’m still paddling when I’m that old,” Barlow said.