If Soul Surfers is about anything, then it’s about partnership. Last October I received an unexpected email from a guy called Stephen who had been following the blog for several months. Funnily enough he first found out about us after enquiring about the possibility of hiring Davina the camper-van from the previous owner for his work with SU Scotland. It turned out that he had led SU’s ski and snowboard camps to Austria for several years and had the idea of developing a surf camp for teenagers. We arranged to meet up to explore things over some hot and spicy burritos. We got on like a house on fire and our conversation became fairly animated as we visualised the possibilities. Quickly we realised that between our respective contacts and passions we probably had the resources to give it a go…Why wouldn’t we want to try this thing?
It has been nothing short of a delight to discuss our idea with others and to witness friends from different circles of our lives share the enthusiasm. I love it when a plan comes together. This time we’ve even got the t-shirts to prove it.
So, a fortnight ago we launched our inaugural SUrf Camp. Ten teenagers from across Central Scotland had signed up and we had amassed a team of 11 leaders which included three family units who also brought their kids along. The aim of our week was to have a lot of fun and to explore the idea of living life to the full (John 10:10). After an evening of chilling and eating great food in a room decked out with inflatable palm trees, surf posters and Hawaiian lei it was time to introduce them to some of my personal surf heroes: Kelly Slater; Rob Machado; Cody Maverick, Chicken Joe and, of course, Big Z. Surf’s up! A fun DVD night seemed like the perfect way to round off our first evening at camp.
Sunday heralded in our first full day of activity. We were greeted by sunshine and couldn’t resist the lure of spending the morning on the beach which was a hop, skip and a jump from the camp. How beautiful to warm our feet in the sand, to gaze out to sea and to share some thoughts and songs on a secluded beach. Ruth then took us on a very creative and interactive tour as she re-told an ancient story and encouraged us to re-tread some ancient paths.
After lunch it was time to meet up with our friends at Coast 2 Coast Surf School for the teenagers’ first surf lesson.
The waves were a bit blown out and messy but they had a bit of punch to them. The team got stuck right into it and by the end of their first lesson, I was amazed to see most of the teenagers managing to get to their feet and catch waves. The stoke of shared experience rubbed off on the leaders too.
The next two days saw us greeted by bluebird skies and corduroy lines in the sea. We seemed to have scored the best of Scotland’s weather and waves. Another two great afternoons were spent under the watchful eye and encouragement of the team from Coast 2 Coast.
Our evenings were fairly chilled and we watched some great surf movies including: Surf’s Up; Soul Surfer; and Chasing Mavericks. All of those are films that surfers and non-surfers alike would enjoy and each tackle real life issues and raise interesting questions. Naturally, those also inspired some interesting conversation.
I have taken such encouragement from the willingness of other individuals and organisations to also get involved in SUrf Camp. Mid week we had a visit from local Surfers Against Sewage rep, Alasdair. He helpfully explained about the issues associated with marine litter and the notion of conSURFation. There were plenty of practical suggestions about how we can make a difference individually and collectively.
We followed that with a beach clean and were dumbfounded to have gathered 124.8 kg of litter in little more than an hour!
The waves had dropped a bit by Wednesday afternoon, the sky was more brooding and the water felt colder to begin with. The wind was offshore and there was such a commotion in the ocean as all of the group managed to ride waves back to land. The whooping, hollering, drumming on surfboards and general enthusiasm created such a good vibe in the sea. The smiles and waves shared were euphoric – so much so in fact that a couple of the surf instructors themselves commented on the attitude and camaraderie amongst the group and how infectious that was throughout the week.
On Wednesday night we were able to present a Scottish preview of up and coming surf film The Perfect Wave. A good friend of mine works for the film’s media distributor and they were keen to get some impartial feedback ahead of looking at how they roll out screenings later in the year. Popcorn and cake was munched as Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott, re-enacted a modern-day re-telling of Ian McCormack’s remarkable true life surfari story.
With the waves all but disappearing on Thursday, the guys from Coast 2 Coast took the team on a whole new adventure…coasteering. That basically involved them jumping from greater and greater heights off the rocks and into the sea. Whilst I had personally retreated into the sanctuary of Davina the camper-van for the afternoon to prepare my thoughts for an evening talk, I was once again heartened by the stories of the fun that had been shared and the way the teenagers had all helped one another to overcome their fears.
The week wasn’t just about surfing. We had plenty of chill time and the most amazing food and cake prepared by Suzi. It even included four birthday cakes, one of which was a replica of Davina the camper-van.
It was a joy to be able to let others experience Davina first hand. We let the teenagers use Davina as a space to meet in as small groups and to have some quiet time. We also rotated who got to travel in her to the beach each day and to tell of her own story and how we came to hold the keys. You can read about that here.
We embarked upon a host of other fun activities during the week too. These included: obstacle courses; zip wires; beach frisbee; nuke ‘em ball; flume races in the local swimming pool; BMX races and fun on a giant inflatable structure.
In addition to the various surf movies we enjoyed during the week, we also used the On The Rocks series of surf DVD resources produced by CS South Africa/SonSurf to explore issues of faith. Those provided a natural springboard to chat at whatever level the teenagers wanted to.
No camp would be complete without a campfire and sing-song on the last night. So, after an awards ceremony, what started off in tranquility morphed into a riotous medley of songs old and new accompanied by enthusiastic dancing and a glow stick party.
As the fire began to die thoughts were gathered, ukuleles and percussion dug out and a reflective chorus arose as we enjoyed a few moments of late night reflection.
I turned to see this on the sand…
Friday morning involved sleepy heads and messy bedrooms needing to be tidied up. We still found time for a quick jaunt to the beach where we discovered the smoldering relics of the previous night’s fire. With a little prodding and blowing, the embers caught light again and we sang one last song and shared short thoughts and prayers as the week drew to its natural close.
As I pause to reflect upon things, I realise afresh that this is not something we deliberately set out to do. Let’s face it – we wouldn’t have had a clue how to run a surf camp. As has so often been the case with our stories, a conversation was started and an idea ignited that became an opportunity worth pursuing. I am so grateful to Stephen for having made contact last October and I’m somewhat blown away by how far we have come in such a short space of time. SU have over 70 years experience of running activity camps. They had the know-how, the resources, the procedures, protocol and insurance to ensure that we could concentrate on making it happen and trying to make it as much fun as possible. Stephen is a hugely gifted leader with a sharp sense of humour and a great means of creating a very relaxed atmosphere and chilled-out vibe without neglecting all that needs to happen behind the scenes. He quickly established great relationships with the campers and fellow leaders alike. His input into the daily sessions and quiet times was invaluable and he is a very natural and engaging communicator. It has been a privilege to get to know him and his family these past few months and to assist him in running SUrf Camp.
All in all, it was an amazing week. I want to give a huge shout out to the teenagers that came and made it so much fun. I have found myself inspired by their willingness to throw themselves into a week dedicated to a pursuit which most of them had never tried before. It’s made me wonder whether there could be the possibility of running shorter SUrf camp weekends in the future too? A huge debt is owed to all of the leaders who sacrificed a week of annual leave and paid their way to help make this happen. Their willingness to do so much behind the scenes demonstrated servanthood. Also, a big “thank you” to Scripture Union for having the faith to let us try this out and to Christian Surfers UK for supporting us and donating a Surfers’ Bible to each of the teenagers. Thanks also to Central for endorsing the camp. We hope that we have honoured you all in the camp we have delivered. Last, but by no means least, a huge thanks to Coast 2 Coast for bringing all of their expertise and investing in the teenagers and encouraging them. We literally couldn’t have done it without you guys and we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. The evaluation forms and feedback from the campers have been a joy to read. What a blast!
Wanna do it all over again next year?