CANADIAN PRESS ARTICLE ON LEUCADIA SURF SCHOOL
Oksena Dotsenko finally stands up on her board at surf school with instructor Gerry Kantor keeping a close watch in Leucadia, Calif. With the brilliant blue water of the warm Pacific Ocean crashing on the white sandy beach, Leucadia contines to be a beacon for those gnarly types who have dreamt of hanging 10.
Wannabe surfers flock to California town
Published Saturday June 23rd, 2007
Appeared on page G2
LEUCADIA, Calif. (CP) — It’s a Zen thing, dude.
What else would you expect from this small town, located north of San Diego, that was once a haven for both hippies and surfers?
With the brilliant blue water of the warm Pacific Ocean crashing on the white sandy beach, Leucadia continues to be a beacon for those gnarly types who have dreamt of hanging 10.
A handful of hardy souls generally show up in February to test their mettle, and the numbers swell through the end of summer. Surfing is an industry in Leucadia. The town, population 6,250, is made up of small trendy restaurants, antique stores and surf shops.
Gerry Kantor has been showing beginners the basics for the past four years at his Leucadia Surf School, one of several outfits giving lessons here. The onetime writer and lifelong surfer has been catching waves for 45 years. He declined to give his age, saying he prefers the term “ageless.” Unshaven with thick grey hair, a baseball cap and a wetsuit, Kantor looks the part — and even sounds like a surfer but is a little too old to comfortably use the word gnarly.
“I won’t wear surf clothing,” said Kantor as he prepared for surf school recently. “A lot of these guys — it’s just a real fashion show out here.”
Most of Kantor’s students are from out of state, with several coming from Canada during spring break. He understands their desire to master the board.
“You can feel your rails moving into the edge of the water. You can look down ahead of you and see the wall of water. I guess it’s like an amusement park ride,” he said with a faraway look in his eyes.
“People get a lot of religion out of this. It’s a Zen thing. When you’re riding you can’t really hear anything, you don’t think about anything. It really is a form of Zen. You could go up to the mountains of Tibet and do the same thing, but surfing does it for you a little bit faster,” he said with a laugh.
Laura Getfasets and her friend Oksena Dotsenko were the only two students on this day.
Instruction included how to balance the board and carry it on their heads, how to walk through the surf without stepping on a sting ray, and how to stand up on the board. Kantor found a stretch of white water for his clients to try and led them out to the ocean.
At the end of the two-hour lesson neither was going to win any contests but they each had a moment or two where they were standing and surfing.
“It was really hard but it’s fun. I’ve been living here for almost five years and always wanted to learn how to surf,” said Getfasets, who moved to California from Ukraine four years ago. “Finally my friend got here to visit me and we decided to take a little surf lesson. For me the hardest part was just to keep your balance and stand on the board and just get up.”
Dotsenko, visiting from Russia, has snowboarded and skied but had a desire to take to the water.
“We’re from the mountains but we don’t have waves. We have mountain skiing and snowboarding.”
“I just feel passionate about the ocean. I like it. We don’t have it in Russia so it’s good,” added Dotsenko.
This is just the beginning of the busy season for Kantor’s surf school. Once August rolls around as many as 20 students a day show up for instruction. The cost of a two-hour group lesson is US$50, private lessons run to $100 and a five-day camp costs $300.
Students have been as young as five and into their 60s, but there are some body types that have a distinct advantage.
“If you’re short and light you’re going to do better. If you’re 14, 15, or 16 you’re going to do better,” said Kantor. “If you’re really heavy you’re going to do worse, if you’re really tall you’re going to do worse and if you’re 55 you’re going to do worse.”
“A lot of the pro surfers are built like horse jockeys. They’re really short and they’re really light.”
The teacher was pleased with his students’ progress on this day.
“They’ve never been in the ocean, they’re from Russia and here they are out there and they’re actually riding waves — catching them and riding them and surfing,” he smiled. “No frills here. We just tell them to get up and do it.”
Spending up to four hours a day in the pounding waves does take its toll physically on Kantor, who doesn’t actually surf as much as he used to. But he clearly appreciates the fact that work is always “another day at the beach.”
“I’ve surfed since I was a little kid,” he chuckled. “It amazes me I can finally exploit being a slacker all my life and capitalize on it.”
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