E-surf's Up!

I stood on the cold, wet sand at 36th Street in Newport Beach on an overcast morning in a rented wetsuit, clutching a Bic brand surfboard. I faced the ocean alone and ignorant on the day that brought my first attempt at surfing.

In the next several years, I would suffer a concussion, come close to drowning and swallow vast amounts of salt water, all in the pursuit of a decent wave.

Imagine my frustration when I discovered, only recently, a way for new surfers to circumvent the physical and mental obstacles that I and so many other surfers had to go through to learn the ancient Hawaiian art: online surf lessons.

Yes, you can learn how to surf via the Internet. If only I had known!

Surfbetter.com offers a unique program somewhere between correspondence surgery courses and Nigerian spam that will "help you surf twice as well in half the time," according to the website. You'll also be able to "impress your friends," "develop an eye-pleasing style" and "surf more radically." Cowabunga!

In the Contest Surfing lesson "How to Carve Higher Scoring Turns," the website implores budding champs to remember, "if on that . . . bottom turn, you wanted to achieve a long projection across the face (because the wave was peeling off really fast), you'd have more of a 50/50 weight distribution on your feet." Got it? Sounds like you're ready for the X-Games, brah.

There are a few useful tips for the extreme beginner—say, someone visiting from Nebraska who has never seen the ocean and thinks Annette Funicello was way better than Sandra Dee (not true, by the way). The first lesson outlines such basics as avoiding crowds, not surfing alone, and reminds students that swimming is a necessary skill.

The experienced surfer looking to put his or her moves on the line can click on the Contest Surfing Section. It's unclear whether Surfbetter.com has produced any champs yet, but with the benefit of expert advice such as "Look where you want to go," prospective clients might as well go ahead and buy that trophy case they've had their eyes on.

Oddly enough, pro surfers who run in-person surf camps don't take the idea of e-surfing seriously. Jason Senn, former U.S. National Surf Team member and owner of Endless Summer Surf Camp in San Clemente—one of the first camps of its kind when it was founded in 1992—is one such skeptic. "I don't see how anyone could learn to surf by reading about it online," he says. "To get good, you really need to learn how to read the ocean, learn through trial and error. I'm sure there are a few people that can learn that way, but getting out there day after day and getting worked is the way to go."

In his youth, when Senn didn't make the surf team at San Clemente High School his junior year, he surfed the old-fashioned way "before and after school, probably about six hours a day," he says. If only he'd known about Surfbetter.com.

But if you don't subscribe to this old-school mindset, get online and bust out your credit card. There are 52 lessons for three skill levels, and you can even send in videos of yourself for monthly critiques. All 156 lessons run about $1,700, while 36 months of video critiques are a little more than $1,100, depending on the strength of the Australian dollar. Did I mention the company is based in Australia?

But hey, it's all guaranteed and run by Ross Phillips. He didn't return an e-mail seeking comment, but according to the website, Phillips has a "Diploma Teaching Physical Education" and a "Graduate Diploma in Outdoor Education," presumably from a University of Education.

In other news, Bic makes surfboards.


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