For Rowan Byrne ’21, the first days of September mark not only the start of a new school year, but also the launch of a surf program he has been organizing since arriving at Bowdoin two years ago.
A passionate surfer, Byrne wanted to make the sport more accessible to a larger portion of campus. When his first attempts to create a surf club unaffiliated with an existing group failed, Byrne turned to the Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC).
“We moved to doing it through the BOC, and that’s actually worked out a lot better,” Byrne said. “They have resources that are really useful, mainly transportation, and their format for sending out trips is conducive to the style of how we want to get people to go surfing.”
Byrne’s main goal is to broaden interest in the sport by giving non-surfers the skills and gear necessary to hit the waves.
“We want to introduce the sport to everybody on campus so they can experience it,” Byrne said. “If they want to go further once the water gets colder after September, they can try to pursue it.”
Despite its benefits, the success of the new partnership with the BOC brings its own set of logistical problems.
“It’s a thrilling ride because we’ve been trying to make it happen for two years, and now, just [to] see it explode really quickly has been challenging, ” Byrne explained. “We’re trying to get people into leadership positions so that we can really get a formulated organizational structure going so that everything can fall into place.”
Twenty-three students were trained as surf instructors through a BOC-run-certification program. Byrne’s goal is to set up a morning trip from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and an afternoon trip from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday for the next four weeks.
“Every week we’re trying to fill 10 trips—with mornings and afternoons on weekdays and bigger trips on the weekend,” Byrne said.
Annecy Schiffer ’21 participated in the instructor training program and thinks the surf program will help fill a gap in BOC programming.
“Rowan wanted to get a bunch of instructors for the Outing Club certified to do it because they didn’t really have a program in place like they do with whitewater or other things,” Schiffer said. “He got on top of organizing [the training] and making it so that there are instructors who are qualified to [lead surfing trips], but also just giving people in general a community that’s excited to talk about this stuff.”
Schiffer was not an experienced surfer when she came to Bowdoin, but when she tried the sport while visiting a friend in Hawaii, she knew it was something she wanted to explore.
“It can definitely be intimidating,” Schiffer said. “Similar to skiing, I think surfing is a sport that has a lot of lingo behind it and a lot of talk about gear and technical terms.”
However, Schiffer said the training program was a productive first step towards spreading surfing knowledge to less experienced students and clarifying what can be unclear lingo.
“Water safety is a huge thing, but part of what I loved about [the training] was that Rowan also went over general surfing knowledge and how to maintain a wetsuit [and] a board,” Schiffer said.
In addition to spreading surfing knowledge, Byrne hopes that the resources and organizational structure offered by the BOC will break down some of the financial barriers surrounding surfing.
“It’s a global sport, but it’s still limited to those who can afford the equipment, which is why working with the BOC has been so helpful,” Byrne said. “They bought 12 boards for us and they have tons of wet suits, so taking advantage of those resources [helps with] accessibility.”
Schiffer encouraged new surfers to make the most of these resources and to tackle a new experience.
“I think it’s just such a cool way to experience Maine and Bowdoin, and it’s made my experience here so much cooler,” Schiffer said. “We’ll be out there at sunrise and sunset, and it’s just so beautiful.”
Byrne also assured potential surfers that the sport is not nearly as intimidating as it may appear.
“Surfing doesn’t have to be some big, grandiose, dangerous sport,” Byrne said. “It can just be you and a couple friends having fun [in] small waves at the beach where you can still stand on the sand under your feet and feel safe and comfortable.”
Trips will be open to BOC members starting next week.