Surfing With My Family

Words and Photos by Olivia Schroeder

The house is full of sand. If it weren’t for the highly effective outdoor shower, I’d be sliding in a layer of it. We’ve been at the beach all day, yet neither my hubby nor I have gotten to surf. I am the happiest I’ve ever been and probably ever will be. I feel like my whole life on this coast has been leading up to this moment…

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All those years in high school of driving west, getting salty no matter what the conditions, just because we could. Those early years in Newport of working as a park ranger so I could be on the ocean at all times. All the days and nights spent on the beach, in the water, around campfires, getting to know the community that has lived and surfed here forever. Ceaselessly getting schooled by the veterans on what craft I’m using, how to use it better, and how to follow the unspoken guidelines of the lineup. All the beatings, the waves ridden, the lessons learned…leading up to this consequential moment, this blissful opportunity of sharing surfing with my children.
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No doubt about it, being a beginning surfer on the Oregon Coast is brutal, no matter what age you are. But what if it’s all you’ve ever known? The first time we took Layla on a surfboard (far enough out to catch a nice ride) she was 2 years old. It was a quick experience, which included an elated ride and a swift, earth shattering wipeout. Needless to say, after the brain freeze and total immersion she experienced the first time around, it was a couple years before she got back in the waves. For the next attempt, I took her for a ride on an SUP. She perched on the nose of the board, and we paddled out to some small waves in the cove at Otter Rock.  I kept it to myself, but I was terrified. A stand up paddle board is a lot to handle in the waves by myself, let alone with my 4 year old on board with me. But she had obliged to go, we were in our wet suits at the water’s edge, and I had carried that heavy board down the stairs! There was no going back. The first wave we caught, she screamed with joy the whole way. It was a green wave, we got a few turns in and rode it all the way to shore, ending up in the channel poised to paddle out for another. SHE WAS STOKED. I think she decided there and then that if this is what was surfing was like, she was doing it. “I want to get 5 waves, Mom!”  So that became our goal for the session. We had almost filled our quota when I paddled for what I thought would be our last wave. We didn’t make it, and were a bit inside from the try, when a set came in. We couldn’t get outside quick enough, and took the first wave of the set on the head. Layla got separated from me and the board, and when I emerged from underwater I could see she was out of my reach. Another wave was upon us and we got dunked again. Although she had her pink shark-fin life jacket on, and was already a strong swimmer, I was scared to death. Thankfully, after those two waves, we were able to swim to one another and get back up on the board in time to take the next wave in. We both knew we weren’t going to get our fifth wave that day, but we didn’t care. We washed up on the shore, and I held her in my arms as she sobbed and sobbed for what felt like forever. When the crying was over, I assured her that she didn’t have to do that again if she didn’t want to. To my surprise, she told me she DID want to do it again. “Just not again today”, she said.
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Since then, and more often with each passing year, when the ocean permits, Layla is usually up for a surf. She doesn’t want to be in the white water; She wants to catch a clean green wave. She doesn’t want to ride a longboard; She wants to ride the Biscuit. For a while her goal was to get barreled, but now it’s to get a nice shoulder and make some turns. Paired with her participation in swim team, surfing has helped immensely in her strength, courage, persistence, and development of a unique sense of self. We haven’t pushed our son, Sol, to surf like we did with Layla, but recently at almost 5, he has developed his own stoke for it.
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Spending days at the beach with my family is the sweetest experience I’ve known. Even though it means more time putting on and peeling off wetsuits than ever before, more time standing, pushing, and swimming in the waves rather than riding them, and more time encouraging and nurturing my kids’ relationship with the ocean than my own, I wouldn’t have it any other way. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘We all have to decide whether we will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. Life’s most persistent and nagging questions is, what are you doing for others?’. I’d like to think I’m giving my kids the gift of a childhood spent on the beach and in the waves…and perhaps, one day, in the barrel.
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