OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Surf Club’s Surf into Integrity program wrapped up its fall 2018 sessions this week and its simple messages of respect, integrity and making good choices are perhaps more poignant than ever in society’s current climate.
Started by the Ocean City Surf Club in 2015, Surf into Integrity is a nine-week program taught to students at Stephen Decatur Middle School that combines classroom sessions that teach formative life lessons such as respect, perseverance, empathy for others and self-esteem among others with surfing sessions on the beach that carry to same lessons over to respect for the ocean. The program was the brainchild of local attorney and Ocean City Surf Club member Richard Brueckner, who teamed up with the Stephen Decatur Middle School’s after-school academy run by Terry Torpey, to create a comprehensive program to each life’s essential lessons to students.
In the current climate in society, the Surf into Integrity’s lessons are perhaps more important than ever. The course, now overseen by Ocean City Surf Club President Tommy Vach, is open to seventh- and eighth-graders at Stephen Decatur Middle. The classroom sessions were held every Wednesday throughout the late summer and early fall from 3-4:30 p.m. and then the outdoor surfing sessions were held every Sunday afternoon on the beach at 36th Street.
During the classroom sessions, Vach and the 14 Ocean City Surf Club instructors, all volunteers, taught lessons founded in the simple “give respect, get respect” mantra and drawn largely from world surfing champion Shaun Thomson’s book “Surfer’s Code: 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life.” The book is essentially a personal commitment based on those 12 lessons that offer practical advice on how to act in the surf zone, and who those same 12 lessons have meaning for other areas of life.
During the classroom course work each Wednesday, the participating students were required to read two chapters from the book and were prepared to answer questions on those chapters and discuss how they lessons they teach can be applied in everyday life. On the following Sunday after each classroom session, the students, instructors and parents circled up on the beach and reviewed the information learned during the previous classroom session. The Sunday beach sessions culminated with surfing lessons with the club’s instructors, bringing the whole respect issue full circle.
The nine-week course attempts to teach life lessons and determine what integrity means to each student, typically with great success. Mutual respect is a basic tenet of the program and while the lessons often spark opinions on different topics, the students learn to respect the opinions of their peers and of the instructors, regardless of how different they might be from their own opinions, again, a refreshing lesson in a society increasingly fraught with anger, disrespect and intolerance.
“We try to instill in these kids to use proper manners, be respectful, do the right thing and make the right choices because these basic human elements can open doors and opportunities and help share a bright future,” Vach said. “So, it’s very rewarding for us to see students from previous years come up to us and greet us properly, showing respect and applying the lessons learned in the class to the outside world.”
By and large, the lessons taught in the classroom and in the ocean are well received and stay with the students long after they have finished the program.
“Every year, the Surf Club receives letters and feedback from parents who tell us this course changed their child’s life and in some cases dramatically, and at the very least steered them in the right direction,” said Vach. “That is very gratifying for all of the instructors who donate their time and energy in an effort to make a meaningful difference in the lives of these children.”
While the lessons learned during the program were steeped in respect and responsibility and, as the name implies, integrity, it was not serious all of the time. Vach said no less important than those weighty life lessons was the surfing element and the joy that brought to the students and, in some cases, their parents.
“Any surfer who teaches children and even adults will tell you there is no finer feeling than seeing the smile and the enthusiasm on the face of someone who just rode a wave for the very first time,” he said. “That smile will make your day.”