Surf club members discover the ‘stoke,’ develop new skills

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The water is clear on a Wednesday morning, smoothly breaking onto the shore and just asking to be surfed. Other students may be at home sleeping, but Makaiah Spiess (12), Moorea Jones (11), Emilie Comer (11), and Kelton Stowell (11) are paddling out in the ocean with the other early-morning surfers. The sun is already up and is slowly warming the cool air. Stowell checks the wax on his board and slides into his wetsuit. It’s October and the ocean water is too cold for surfing without a wetsuit.

The four of them are members of Westview’s surf club and a part of the competitive surf team. So, they participate in surf competitions and practice surfing both with the club on Sunday mornings and whenever they find the time, on mornings like these.

After paddling out, Jones sits on her board and takes a deep breath, taking in the moment.

There’s a saying in the surfing community, the “stoke,” they call it. The word seems to mean different things for everyone who uses it, but the definitions all fall under a common theme of a love for surfing.

Spiess sums it up with the imagery within a day with perfecting surfing conditions. He describes the feelings that come along with a good surf.

“[The ‘stoke’] is just getting a good wave,” Spiess said. “It’s like when I’m out in the water early in the morning, no wind, sunrises, it’s just so nice and it makes me happy.”

Comer finds this same sense of happiness within the ‘stoke.’ She even marks discovering it as a time in which she realized she never wanted to stop surfing.

“The moment I felt I got the ‘stoke’ was during the summer before sophomore year,” she said. “I was surfing well and there was just a moment when I realized that I love this, and I realized I wanted to keep doing this every week.”

Along with the peace and happiness that come with the ‘stoke’ during every surf, the surfers said that they can also feel personal progression.

“It’s a constant self-improvement process,” Comer said. “It doesn’t matter where you start from, you’re always going to progress.”

When Comer started surfing, she couldn’t imagine herself making it this far.

“When you first start, it’s really overwhelming and there’s a lot of things that you have to do,” she said. “You’re just in the whitewash area and you’re being pushed around. At the beginning I really didn’t like it.”

Comer said that her father, a surfer himself, encouraged her to keep trying.

Through practice and joining the surf club, Comer developed her love for the sport.

Now, Comer isn’t being pushed around in the messy waves that crash close to shore, or the whitewash. Instead she paddles beyond the whitewash to where the experienced surfers perch on their boards in the swells before paddling to catch the next wave.

Also sitting in the swells is Spiess, getting ready to practice new tricks for fun and competition.

Spiess said he sees perfecting new skills as a way to mark improvement and foster his love for the sport. He spent a month practicing the ‘air reverse.’ This trick entails a 270-degree rotation in the air and a backwards landing onto the wave, with the fins of the board helping you spin back around to complete the 360.

“It takes time to land something,” Spiess said. “I practiced a lot for a month straight and I finally landed it. Now I can do it all the time and bring it to the next competition.”

But for all four of them, it’s not all about the perfection and the competition.

“It’s just something relaxing and fun to do and to look forward to,” Stowell said. “I love being in the water. It’s like you get the ‘bug’ [where] once you start surfing you can’t stop.”

Stowell isn’t the only person who has the ‘bug.’ Jones recalls the perfect day in the water, the day that got her hooked.

The air was clear at Scripps Pier, no wind interfering with the perfection within the waves. The water was glassy and just asking to be sliced by the fins of a surfboard.

“It was so beautiful, and I did so well that day,” Jones said. “That was the day that really boosted my self-confidence and I knew that I wanted to keep going and improving and I couldn’t give up on it because it just made me so happy.”

Now, she finds the same solace that Stowell has found.

“I love the ocean and I feel really free of all stress [when I’m surfing] but also you get a thrill out of it when you drop into the wave,” Jones said. “It becomes a necessity to just go out there and clear your head. It’s definitely therapeutic.”

No matter what happens in the day, no matter the number of exams at school or the length of the essays that need to be written or the number of mistakes that are made, the ocean is still there. The surfers know this, rely on this.

“There’s definitely times when you crave surfing,” Comer said.

With this, they value surfing on a different level than other sporats.

Stowell said he values the personal growth that comes along with surfing.

“Surfing is different from other sports because you’re not competing against anyone,” he said. “It’s really just against yourself. It’s not dependent on anyone else’s performance, and it’s just all on how you perform.”

Similarly, Spiess said he feels that surfing is different from any other sport. It’s a mode of personal development and it’s always flowing, changing.

“It’s just you and the ocean,” he said. “You don’t have a controlled environment and it’s a totally different scenario every time and every wave.”

To the four of them, surfing is an escape, a stress-reliever, an addiction, a passion. It’s finding the “stoke” and feeling the ocean. Comer sums this up in a simple phrase:

“It’s a lifestyle.”