A New Wave

COVID-19 has created the perfect opportunity for newcomers and longtime surfers to enjoy the California coast.

The+Surf+Club+meets+up+for+a+sunset+session+at+the+Half+Moon+Bay+Jetty.+Photo+courtesy+of+Alexa+Gwyn.+

The Surf Club meets up for a sunset session at the Half Moon Bay Jetty. Photo courtesy of Alexa Gwyn.

It was the perfect cotton candy sunset, and no one was out. There are no words to describe how happy I was during that session,” said Charles Mitz, a Paly senior and avid surfer. He has been chasing waves for a couple of years now and has never looked back. “Days like those are what we chase.”

During COVID-19, surfing has rapidly become one of the most popular quarantine activities. Amongst the feelings of isolation and boredom, people have been encouraged to pick up new skills. Many were inspired by this rare opportunity to pursue surfing; a combination of nature, art and sport, an activity like no other.

“Like anything, surfing has kind of become trendy; it’s quarantine, so it just makes sense,” Mitz said. He and senior Alex Washburn are co-founders of Paly’s first ever Surf and Ocean Conservation club which has amassed a following of almost 50 members, eager and ready to join their peers at the nearest surf break. 

Surfing can be conquered by the rider in many different ways, and every individual surfs for a different purpose. “Alex surfs more for peaceful purposes [while] I’m always thinking about catching the next wave,” Mitz said. 

Alex Washburn longboards at the Half Moon Bay Jetty, a popular Bay Area Spot. Photo courtesy of Alexa Gwyn.

For junior Isa Morabia, her experience is similar to Washburn’s. “It’s honestly kind of a high; it’s therapeutic, and you forget about [your] week,” Morabia said. Morabia picked up surfing over quarantine and specifically enjoys the more peaceful and social aspects of the sport. Like Morabia, many surfers find tranquility within the ocean; they surf waves for serenity, not for exhilaration.

Senior Lulu Gaither has been surfing since age seven and loves the community aspect. “Everybody has different life stories you can hear about, it’s really fun to get to know people,” Gaither said. She finds being out in the water and meeting new people is a great way to get a break from the chaos of everyday life. 

“When you’re gliding through the water, it’s the best because you really do forget about everything else,” Gaither said. “Everyone’s just out there to have fun.” 

Everyone has different life stories you can hear about. Its really fun to get to know people.”

— Lulu Gaither

Along with Gaither, Steve Henry, a local longtime surfer, admires certain parts of the culture. Henry has always had a love for watersports which started when he played water polo in high school, and from that, grew a passion for surfing. The adrenaline attached with catching a wave makes him feel ecstatic. “That initial feeling of making a commitment is just really fun,” Henry said. 

However, with every great sport comes its own set of challenges. As a surfer of more than 30 years, Henry has a lot of experience under his belt; therefore, he can highlight a lot of the difficulties that come along with the sport. Surfing requires patience, precision, and a comprehension of how the waves around you work. “Not knowing where you are, or who the people are out there; not enough people have an understanding of that,” Henry said. “Sometimes it can create challenges out on the water.”

That initial feeling of making a commitment is just really fun.”

— Steve Henry

Another aspect that Henry thinks is a very important part of surf culture is having respect for the ocean. If people don’t pick up their trash and aren’t considerate of the effects that pollution can have on the environment, it creates lasting change. “[We need to] make sure the ocean stays clean and usable for the things we all like to use it for,” Henry said. “Regardless if you surf or not, it’s really something you learn to appreciate if you’re out in [the ocean] a lot.”

The rise of surfing at Paly is enabled by Palo Alto’s close proximity to the beach and its endless opportunities for reflection and relaxation. Surf culture is an important aspect of the sport that attracts people; COVID-19 gave many the opportunity to take it up. The definition of culture is different to every surfer you may encounter. Surfing may rise and fall just as the tides do, but in Palo Alto, it is something truly special.

Ben Bolaños, a History and Sociology teacher at Paly and longtime surfer, explains the serenity of surfing. “There is something about just being in the garden or hiking or camping that really calms our soul and calms all the noise around us,” Bolaños said. “I think that’s what surfing does for a lot of people.”