Where to drop in for a swell time
ABOVE THE horizon, thin white clouds are layered between slices of pale blue sky. Below it, 10 figures in black and red wetsuits are wrestling with pink boards and white crests, as waves roll into Belhaven Bay. Yells of delight can be heard as some of them manage to prone surf (lying front-down on their boards) for a few seconds.
"That was amazing," says Rory Turvill, an S2 pupil at Knox Academy in Haddington. Any parent or teacher of a 13-year-old boy will know that to get an "amazing" is no mean feat.
Rory is one of the 11 to 14-year-olds taking a basic Learn to Surf course at Coast to Coast surf school in Dunbar, as part of East Lothian Council's summer activities programme. Instructor Sam Chris-topherson set up the school three years ago and is expanding his work with schools and youth groups, teaching children aged seven upwards.
But surfing is not the only beneficiary, as Mr Christopherson recalls: "One girl, who was slightly overweight and didn't take part in PE, came with her friends. She put on her wetsuit, got involved, and since then has been coming to a badminton club. She's more confident; she tries a lot more."
Paul Huish, sport and physical activity co-ordinator at Dunbar Grammar, one of the participating schools, says: "Part of our role is to target non participants and work with children who aren't getting the required level of exercise."
Several schools have been for half-day courses followed by a barbecue, including North Berwick High, Knox Academy, Ross High in Tranent and Dollar Academy. Dunbar chose a much more structured course, spread over four weeks, making it the first school in Scotland to adopt surfing as part of its extra curricular syllabus.
Depending on finances and on interest, the school runs two or three blocks a year at the beginning of the first term, before Easter and during the summer term when it is still light after school. A block is four lessons, once a week, though six weeks are set aside in case of adverse weather or poor waves. Each course is limited to 10 pupils, and the school offers blocks consecutively to S1-2, S3-4 and S5-6. Girls and boys have shown equal interest. There are two instructors per class, plus a staff volunteer. The school charges each child pound;5 for every two-hour lesson, meeting the remaining pound;10 from school and council funds.
"We've had the whole range of pupils from different backgrounds, from non participants in PE to sporty kids who are out doing different extra-curricular activities every day," says Mr Huish. "Every group has worked well together and built up a rapport. Surfing's new to them all, so everybody's starting on an even keel.
"It's tremendous to see the kids who don't normally take part in PE enjoying themselves but, for me, the best thing has been seeing the kids that don't take part gelling with the kids that do. It has triggered non-participants to come along and try other sports. It's about raising their self-esteem and making exercise part of their lifestyle."
Mr Huish is one of six sport and physical activity co-ordinators a new position piloted in East Lothian two years ago: "Part of our role is to develop alternative extra- curricular sports opportunities for pupils who are not into the norm team sports; to offer things like a Tai chi, tae kwon do or Pilates class or mountain biking or surfing."
Mr Huish is now looking into introducing surfing for P6 and 7 pupils in the cluster. "Again it comes back to available funding."
Mr Christopherson goes through safety first, warning the children about currents, jellyfish, weever fish (which sting with poisonous spines), how to paddle and hold their boards and never to go if there is somebody in front of them. He shows them various arm signals, including an emergency signal, meaning stop immediately and come into shore.
There is a maximum of 10 children to one instructor. "When the surf's big, we try to keep the ratio down to five to one," he says.
"They're learning how to catch waves lying down, how to stand up, how to steer and turn."
He teaches the children two ways to stand on their board; they can choose whichever comes most naturally to them. Four manage a brief spell standing by the end of the two-hour lesson.
So much of it, Mr Christopher-son says, is about water confidence. "It's getting them out in the water, developing skills from a young age. It would be a dream to get local kids that could win national titles the waves are good enough."