Surf’s up


Ava McBride

Jr. Ryan White carefully watched the waves, awaiting the perfect moment to spring up from her crouched position. When the timing was right, she stood up above the waves. She was on top of the world. 

   Then she abruptly lost her balance. The board swayed with the disturbance of weight.  

Her face was the first to hit the water. Her nose and mouth filled with sand and water, burning her throat.

   Her body followed, tumbling awkwardly. Her feet touched her head like a scorpion below the churning lake, and a fin struck her. An ugly green bruise would remain on her thigh for days.

   She held the position for a moment beneath the waves, scolding herself for the error. She emerged from the lake to see her friend Lannie standing on the shoreline folded over with laughter.

Surfing is not always easy, even for those with years of experience like White. 

   White first expressed interest in surfing around 2013, the same time Disney’s Teen Beach Movie premiered. “Maya Mitchell’s role of female empowerment inspired me to start looking into surfing. She had a really good message, and I thought it was the greatest movie ever!” The film remains among White’s favorite movies because of where Mitchell led her. 

   Surfing is not only a good way to stay active, but a source of peace. “There isn’t anything in life that satisfies me more. There is a certain thrill that you don’t truly put into words unless you experience it. I feel energized and happy. It has given me more self-confidence, self-worth, and a newfound respect for the Earth we live on,” White said. The waves clear her mind and balance her emotions, a feeling that keeps her coming back to the water. 

  Sr. Grafton Ervine feels similarly despite using an alternative method- boats. “When I’m surfing I feel like nothing else matters and I can just have fun.” He started wake surfing on Walloon Lake in Northern Michigan at eight years old, when wake surf boats debuted. “Every time I go surfing it’s fun and memorable,” Ervine said. 

White surfs locally at Tunnel Park, although the break and sandbar inhibit ideal waves. “I go to Grand Haven State Park most often with Lannie, Derek, and Avery, my surfer friends who live in Grand Haven. Grand Haven has the best waves by far,” White said.

While Ervine enjoys wakesurfing in Michigan on Walloon Lake, he has also open-water surfed in Hawaii. 

   White would love to start a club with teens in West Michigan, as most surfers are older. “It would be great to have a big group to surf with,” she said. 

An ideal week has three to five sessions, but cold water proves challenging during and after surfing. “If you go out too much, you get sick,” White said.

   Surfing is at the center of White’s dreams for the future, and Michigan is not the ultimate surfing destination. She hopes to move near the ocean to surf whenever she has free time. “I plan to do classes online and live in a small surf town somewhere on the coast. I might go backpacking with my board and when I run out of money I’ll settle down,” White said. 

“I see surfing as the key component in my life. I’d love to give lessons and make a living off the ocean. To make friends that I can grow with and raise my children around surfing. I might have a bed and breakfast and offer lessons or a camp through my house. I might open a small surf shop and employ some board makers,” White said. Whatever the future holds, she will find space for surfing.

   The surf community is very welcoming. “Whenever you see a fellow surfer you chat them up, ask them about their board, how long they have been surfing, get their social media. You can meet a surfer and then go out with them the next week- without ever knowing them. The bond that surfers share is really universal,” White said. 

Despite their overly chill stereotype, several behaviors irritate surfers. Respecting local culture and the planet is imperative to them. Certain protocols are expected as well. 

   “I get annoyed when someone gets on my line because it’s really really dangerous. The freshies who don’t have this etiquette are Kooks,” White said. Yes, the term is actually used outside of Netflix’s Outer Banks. She refers to rude tourists renting boards or taking lessons who steal waves, litter, and don’t wait in the lineup. 

But for the most part, surfers get along swimmingly. “Surf is universal and even if you don’t speak the same language, surfing is very bonding. I went to Portugal and when I was surfing I connected to the other surfers there. It is a really tight-knit community in most places. We look out for each other,” White said.