Hangin’ Ten in Hawaii

At the Goofy Foot Surf School in Lahaina, we discover “goofy” is the key word.

“Everybody’s gone surfin’, surfin’ U.S.-ayyyyyyy!”
Tumbling head-first off my 10-foot longboard into the warm waters off Lahaina temporarily pushed the Pause button on the classic Beach Boys tune that was playing in my head. But I’m here to tell you that that fall did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm over the fact that I’d just managed to catch my first wave.

After years spent watching the surfers lined up at many of the same southern California surf breaks the Beach Boys sang about, I’d decided it was about time I give this popular pastime a try. But, while I was interested in learning the mechanics of the sport, what I really wanted was to understand what it was about surfing that inspired so much passion in so many people.

To find out I decided to go to the place where the sport of surfing was born. The people of the Hawaiian Islands have been riding waves for more than 1,000 years, and it’s an activity that still has enormous cultural and spiritual significance even today.

For my guide on this quest to unlock the secrets of surf culture I chose Tim Sherer, the laid-back founder of Lahaina’s Goofy Foot Surf School. Over the past 13 years Sherer has personally helped more than 30,000 newbies—including that prototypical beach bum Jimmy Buffett—to catch their first waves. Within minutes of meeting this soulful entrepreneur I knew I’d made the right choice.

Sherer’s well thought-out program starts on the sand at the same beach just outside Lahaina harbor where King Kamehameha III once surfed. Tim provided a short course in the history of the sport while guiding me through stretching exercises, followed by a review of surfing fundamentals and a few important safety pointers.

Then it was on to a handful of drills in knee-deep water that take the quasi-mystical act of surfing and break it down into a handful of easy-to-remember—if not quite as simple to execute—steps designed to guide even the lamest Gidget movie rejects to catching their first waves in less than an hour on the water. In fact, the school is so confident in its program that they guarantee you’ll ride your first wave within that first two-hour lesson or it’s free.

As our morning on the water progressed Sherer gave my board a shove as I madly paddled to catch one wave after another, calling advice and atta-boys after me as I went. No matter whether I actually rode the wave or ate it before I could even stand up, Sherer’s patient and encouraging manner made me eager to paddle out and give it another go.
When we finally called it quits just before lunch, I’d managed to ride a nice little collection of ankle-slappers. Total surfing time: Oh, say, about three minutes. But after feeling the wave rise up beneath my board and carry me along in the last few yards of its 2,000-mile journey toward this beach, I now have a much better understanding of the visceral connection with the ocean that is surfing’s real attraction.

Xtrordinary Xtra
The term “goofy foot” refers to surfers who ride their boards with their right foot forward, the opposite of what’s considered “normal.” The way we hear it, the name dates back to an old Disney cartoon where—yep, you guessed it—Goofy himself adopted this stance.

Xtrordinary Xtra
If you think your foam-cored longboard is heavy, just be glad you don’t have to lug one of the 15-foot, 150-pound solid hardwood planks used by ancient Hawaiian royalty down to the waterline.

The Facts
Name: Goofy Foot Surf School
Location: 505 Front Street, Lahaina, Maui.
Phone: 808-244-9283
Website: www.goofyfootsurfschool.com

My Advice

  • While it’s not necessary to be a natural athlete to participate in the school’s programs, being in shape definitely helps. I hit the gym five or six days a week and still found the experience to be a lot more physically demanding than I expected.
  • If you’re not a natural athlete and can afford it, I’d also suggest signing up for the school’s private lessons that enable your instructor to give you their full attention.
  • Finally, I’d also strongly suggest signing up for the photo package the school offers. Their professional equipment and experience will give you the kind of cool pictures of your first ride that Aunt Marge and her point-and-shoot camera just won’t be able to capture from the beach.