Despite Carmel High’s close proximity to the beach, a lasting surf culture at CHS seems to be fading.
Many CHS students claim to be surfers, but few are brave enough to test the icy waters of the Pacific Ocean on a daily basis. The true and diehard surfers at CHS are hard to come by nowadays, but it hasn’t always been this way.
“There were quite a few surfers in my class…in the school in general,” says David Gleason, who graduated from Carmel High in 1976. “It was the ‘70s. It was cool to have long hair and be a surfer-type dude.”
“Surfing’s always been a counterculture hippy thing,” says Dru Jensen, another graduate of CHS’ Class of 1976. “But there was a total surfer scene when I was in high school. There were about a dozen in my class alone.”
Today there are only about six or seven diehard surfers in the whole school, perhaps due in part to the challenging nature of the sport.
“I think the hardest part about surfing here is just getting into a wetsuit,” says sophomore Bryce Bishop, who has been surfing since age seven and is now living in Spain.
Hollywood may covet the classic California surfer with bleach-blonde hair and pseudo-tanned abs, but this image—at least in Carmel—is pretty far from the reality.
“Surfing is kind of taken for granted to be some easy thing, but it’s really not,” comments junior Kevin Nolan, who was inspired to start surfing by his father, uncles and cousins.
Indeed, the frigid temperatures are enough to turn many would-be surfers away.
“If you want to surf around here you really have to want it,” junior Ethan Crane says. “There are people that surf, and then there are a lot of people that try to surf.”
Their shared passion and the feeling that surfing is the most challenging sport around has helped to create a bond among the six or so diehards at CHS.
“There is somewhat of a camaraderie between myself and the other surfers,” Nolan comments. “But there aren’t that many people at our school who can actually surf.”
Bishop says,“You know who everyone [who surfs] is. There’s an unspoken bond because you see them out in the water.”
But despite this bond, surfing is much less popular than it was in the past.
In fact, surfing was popular enough in the ‘70s that a class was created by then-P.E. teacher Bob Walthour for the sport.
“The surfers were skipping P.E. to go surf, so they started failing the class…. They were getting exercise, but they weren’t getting any credit for it,” says Todd Roberts, Class of 1980 alumnus. “Surf class was the administration’s way of keeping the surfers in school.”
According to Roberts, Walthour basically handpicked his students for the class and also offered a course on lifesaving as a prerequisite to surfing.
“We mostly did a lot of running back and forth on Carmel Beach,” Roberts comments. “There wasn’t much water time because the surf isn’t dependable.”
Besides providing a healthy dose of exercise—not to mention class credit for doing something they love—Walthour’s surf class gave students a chance to fit in.
Nowadays, Bishop comments, “We do our thing and everyone else does theirs.”
But in the past, relations weren’t so cordial.
“There were rivalries back in the day,” Gleason says. “The surfer types and cowboy types wouldn’t get along.”
“When I was in high school…it was dominated by cowboys and jocks,” Roberts notes. “Surf class made surfing feel more legitimate because a respected coach had an appreciation for our sport. This definitely gave me more confidence in school and socially. In that class we were top dogs for the first time.”
Roberts attributes the fact that he is still surfing today in part because of Walthour’s class. “Surf class was one of the many factors that contributed to a life of surfing. It was a bit of a turning point in that regard.”
But no matter how or when they got started, past and current surfers at CHS share similar reasons for participating in the sport.
“It’s addictive and a great workout,” Gleason says. “There’s no other feeling like sliding down the face of a wave in the ocean.”
Nolan adds, “I surf because it has become my passion and basically a lifestyle for me.”
Perhaps Roberts sums it up best: “The reason I’m still in the water today is because of a love for nature, the power of waves and an insatiable need to progress while tasting a little fear and adrenalin along the way.”