On a muggy afternoon last week, a group of young campers rested on the grainy shore at Short Sand Beach, their hair streaked with salt water after their morning surf session at one of Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District’s Learn to Surf day camps.

During the break, they talked about their experience surfing in the cold Pacific Ocean water atop the gentle waves at Short Sand.

“The feeling of catching your first wave is amazing,” said Lindsey, a local middle school student who was back for a second time July 11 after attending the first session June 27. “It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I did this.’”

Her friend Abbie agreed: “It’s like riding a skateboard down the biggest hill you’ve ever been on.”

She described the intense focus and effort she feels motivated to maintain when out in the water.

The annual Learn to Surf Camp — which has four more sessions scheduled for July 25 and Aug. 8, 22, and 29 — transports campers to the serenity and unaffected beauty of Short Sand Beach in Oswald West State Park.

“It connects them with nature,” camp leader Mike Kadi, the district’s aquatic coordinator and swim coach, said.

The experience spurs people to get outdoors into the fresh air and wilderness, helping them detach from television screens, smartphones and other distractions.

Jesse Parker, who works as a lifeguard in Cannon Beach and assists the recreation district with several aquatic programs, added, “You kind of can’t think of anything else when you’re out there.”

Mike Kadi, a retired U.S. Coast Guard member who currently oversees the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District’s swim teams, heads into th…

The six one-day summer surf camps are designed for beginners. The day starts with a safety lecture and dry land instruction to help teach the campers the fundamentals. Once armed with a base knowledge and skillset, they are led into the ocean for further water instruction that emphasizes paddling, turning the board around, turtle diving through the waves, and standing up on the surfboard. From there, they get to spend the next couple hours practicing and having fun.

The magic of the ocean

For many campers, Kadi said, the accomplishment of riding their first wave is addictive.

“Once they get up, it’s over,” he added. “They just keep coming back.”

The camp is open to individuals of all ages, as long as they can swim. Campers can choose to attend a single day camp or multiple.

Lindsey said she was uncertain about surfing the first time around, having been encouraged to attend the camp by her friend. Now, she’s happy she did it.

“It’s kind of cool to pass the torch,” said Kadi, who has run the camp since joining the district in 2014 and instructed more than 100 young people in the process. “I’m getting older, and I’m happy I can teach these kids the skill of surfing.”

Originally, the camp was held at Indian Beach in Ecola State Park, but then Kadi moved it to Short Sand, as it is “one of the best learning beaches” and provides a safer, comfortable environment for beginners. Parked added that when his mother visited from Arkansas, she was able to catch a wave even as a newbie.

Additionally, at Short Sand Beach, campers get an opportunity after their lunch break to go explore the tide pools and waterfall and climb among exquisite rock formations surrounding the water.

“There’s something magical about the ocean,” Parker said. “It’s like it’s got a life force of its own.”

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