Catching surf know-how

Camp teaches children how to read lifeguard tower flags, surfing in low versus high tides.

April 06, 2010|By Tom Ragan

Some Newport-Mesa Unified School District students on spring break have been looking for the perfect breaks this week at Erik Nelsen’s Quiksilver and Roxy Surf Camp. There they’re learning about ocean safety, rip tides, high tides, low tides and just about everything in between.

For more than 25 years, Nelsen, a Laguna Beach native, has been teaching kids how to surf on long boards, short boards, hard boards and soft boards.

It’s a trade he picked up at age 15, when he stepped in one day to help his father, Jeff Nelsen, who was pulled away from his own surf camp. Erik Nelsen hasn’t looked back since.


Right now, he’s gearing up for the summer months, the busiest time of year, where lessons go for between $400 and $500 for five days a week, depending on whether you register before or after May 5. Although the surf camp is his own business, Nelsen works through the Newport Beach Recreation Department, where all participants must first register.

“Surfing is such a great experience,” said Nelsen, 38, as he kept an eye on the ocean and the children Tuesday. “Like they say, there’s nothing a great day of surfing can’t cure. Even if you’re having a lousy day, you can bet that after you’ve surfed you’re going to feel better.

“It’s a great way of clearing your head.”

At Nelsen’s surf camp, the students learn just about everything — from the colors of the flags to look for on the nearby life guard towers to the science behind the swells to the differences in surfing during high and low tides.

If the flag is red, for example, that means “no surfing” and “no swimming” because the waves are probably treacherous and the rip tides are just as dangerous.

Yellow connotes “caution” — or surf very carefully, if you must.

And, of course, green means “go.” No problemo.

“Think of it as a traffic signal,” Nelsen said.

There are all sorts of factoids to be had at Nelsen’s Surf Camp.

For example, did you know that all waves are pretty much the result of some storm some place far, far away?

Tuesday’s waves just off Balboa Peninsula, for example, originated from the Aleutian Islands off Alaska.

Every day is something different at the surf camp, which is basically a classroom outdoors.

“I love my office,” Nelsen said. “I love my job. I love giving back and teaching kids. I feel blessed to have the job I have.”

Mondays are generally set aside for ocean safety, Tuesdays are all about tides, Wednesdays are all about waves, Thursdays are about ecology, and Fridays are reserved for parents and pizza on the beach.

“Fridays are a time when parents can come and see what their children have been learning,” Nelsen said.

“It’s so much fun,” said Danielle Brodeur, 13, who’s learning how to surf. “Right now, I’m learning how to stand up and ride through a wave. This definitely beats going to school.”

More Info

For more information on how join Nelsen’s surf camp, call (949) 464-0077.

Or call the Newport Beach Recreation Department at (949) 270-8100.

Or go to

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