A class of seven kids sat inside the park office at Island Beach State Park to learn about surfing recently.
They had signed up for the park's WILDCHILD "Surfing Safari," one of a number of WILDCHILD summer programs offered in cooperation with Conserve Wildlife New Jersey.
The program includes a half hour of classroom instruction and an hour and a half of surfing in the ocean for children 8 to 14 years old.
Tom Segear, a park naturalist, is the instructor for the Surfing Safari.
“We teach the kids about the ecosystem and the coastal morphology or the area,” Segear said. “We explain why waves break, surfing techniques and safety in the water.”
The goal of the WILDCHILD programs is to educate beachgoers about local habitats and the organisms that live there, said project specialist Becky Laboy.
“All of our interpretive programs are educational, but designed for kids to also have fun,” Laboy said. “Tom has really helped develop the Surfing Safari class. We are very fortunate to have him this year.”
Sunday’s class consisted of seven kids, Segear, and three lifeguards.
“We keep the ratio of kids to instructors at 2 to 1, sometimes 3 to 1," Segear said. "We limit class sizes so we can keep the kids safe and be able to watch everybody.”
The two-hour class began at 3 p.m. inside the park office where Segear had a laptop connected to a projector and introduced the class to different types of waves, breaks and safety on the water.
He engaged the kids and got them excited about surfing. As the presentation ended, the kids grabbed the boards and headed out towards the beach.
When they reached the surfing portion of the beach, Segear had the kids place the boards off to the sides and had them draw boards in the sand.
The kids and lifeguards practiced techniques on how to “pop-up” and maintain balance on the surfboard in the water.
Once the kids got the techniques down, they grabbed their boards and headed out to the water.
As they started to take on the waves, the kids got the hang of surfing. By the time the class ended, all the kids that went out into the water had surfed in at least one wave.
“This was a lot of fun,” John Gibbs of Hamilton said. John was a first-timer in the class and picked up the technique relatively quickly in the water.
Jayne Gradel of Westfield, said the class was a great experience.
“It was fun being able to get on the board," she said.
The WILDCHILD Surfing Safari costs $10. The program is not designed to make money, Laboy said.
“We are out to educate the people that come to Island Beach, not make money,” she said. “As of this summer, all of our classes have sold out.”
For more information about the WILDCHILD programs, please visit www.conservewildlifenj.org/education/programs/islandbeach/ or call the park office at 732-793-0506.