Coming from a culture in which self-restraint and control dictate success, surfing
provides an opportunity to step outside of
that box, where everything is fluid.
Inevitably, spending time in the ocean nour-ishes an appreciation for the environment
and a more personal desire to conserve it.
It’s difficult to say when I began to surf.
I think this is because learning to surf is in
many ways like learning a musical instrument or a foreign language — it’s a process
and it never feels complete. I grew up in
Morehead City with a boating and beach
family. I would wake up on a summer
morning and immediately put on my
bathing suit. There was no question that
the day would involve spending time in the
ocean or the sound behind my house.
With my parents watching from the
shore, my brother and I would take our little neon boogie boards out in all types of
wave conditions. We preferred big, nasty
and impossible, and we loved to get pushed
around by the ocean and tossed aggressively into the sand. Eventually, we tried
our luck standing. Mostly, the boards would
sink, and the wipeouts were always more
brutal. Enticed by such a challenge, I asked
some family friends to push me into a few
waves on their surfboards at Atlantic Beach
and Cape Lookout. For Christmas, I
received a surfboard. That was in the fifth
grade. The following summer, the boogie
board stayed in the shed.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF ELIZABETH BASNIGHT ’07
We play in an estuary on the beach. The
water is brown, and tadpoles scatter along
the edges. I lead the girls in some exercises.
A few disobey and run in the water before
we finish, but I don’t mind. At first, the
girls like Abby and me better than our
male counterparts. They tie our hair in
braids and climb on our backs under water.
Most of the girls don’t swim well. So for
the first week of surf camp, we won’t take
them into the ocean.
Some of the girls never will learn to
surf, but that’s not what matters most. I am
excited that Nicaraguans and Americans
are playing together peacefully in the estuary. I am pleased that the 16 girls who participate in the camp have an opportunity
to do something new together, as women.
We divide the girls into two lines, and
Abby and I demonstrate a relay race we
have designed to help them practice pad-
dling. Sharp yells for us to start, and we
sprint to our surfboards, carry them to the
edge of the estuary and race them to the
other side. The girls cheer for us, and Abby
and I share a glance, deciding to end the
race in a tie. After the girls run through the
relay several times, they beg for Jeff and me
to compete. The girls call Jeff “Hefe”
(HEFF-ay) because it’s easier to say. Jefe
translates to “boss” in Spanish.
As we race, the girls taunt him, “Jefe no
puede, Jefe no puede,” Jefe can’t, Jefe can’t.
They grab his shoulders as he paddles to
make sure that I will win.
Two summers before, just after my freshman year, I had been co-coordinator and
instructor with the Cape Lookout Surfari, a
surf camp for high school girls. I worked
with Keith Rittmaster, natural science curator with the N.C. Maritime Museum, to
start the overnight camp, based at the N.C.
Maritime Museum’s field station on the
Cape Lookout National Seashore.
High school is a crucial time for
teenagers who are struggling with their
sense of identity, with understanding their
bodies, with becoming independent from
their parents. The Cape Lookout Surfari is
an opportunity to learn and improve surfing skills in a comfortable, noncompetitive
We teach surf etiquette, safety tech-
niques, weather, marine science and envi-
ronmental conservation. But camp is more
Most of the girls
don’t swim well. So
for the first week of
surf camp, they don’t
go into the ocean.
They practice exercises In an estuary
on the beach with
Elizabeth and Abby,
pictured at top wearing a hat. Above,
some of the girls tie
Abby’s hair in braids.