OCEAN CITY — With its simple messages of respect, integrity and making good choices perhaps more important than ever in society’s current climate, the Ocean City Surf Club’s Surf Into Integrity program is close to wrapping up one of its best sessions ever this fall.
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 teach life’s essential lessons to students.
In the current society’s often abrasive and confrontational climate, the Surf into Integrity’s lessons are perhaps more important than ever for the young participants. 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 are held every Wednesday throughout the late summer and early fall from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and then the outdoor surfing sessions are held every Sunday afternoon on the beach at 36th Street.
The last classroom session for the 2019 program was held on Wednesday and the last surf session is set for this Sunday. The 2019 program culminates with graduation at Stephen Decatur Middle next Wednesday.
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 how those same 12 lessons have meaning for other areas of life.
Vach said this week since the program’s inception four years ago, its has grown by leaps and bounds with more and more middle-schoolers turned away because of program’s size limitations.
“This year, the program was more popular than ever,” he said. “We had over 60 seventh- and eighth-graders from Stephen Decatur Middle School wanting to get in this year, but we could only accommodate 24 students because of classroom size and ocean safety. We have a list started already for entry into next year’s class for 2020. Each year, this successful program is growing because of the tremendous positive impact it has on the students, the parents and, in turn, the community.”
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.
Vach said the lessons taught during the Surf into Integrity program prepares the students for a life of respect for others and tolerance, lessons perhaps more important these days than ever. He said what is perhaps most gratifying is the way in which former participants continue to grasp the concepts long after they have left the Surfing into Integrity program.
“What we really notice now at this stage is all of the past graduated students from the previous four years coming out to help us with this year’s class,” he said. “They help us on Sundays with the beach and surf sessions. They all use the manners and show the respect they were taught when they were part of the program, so that is very rewarding for the instructors, knowing that this course is making an impact and it is helping these children make the right choices and stay on track.”