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Surfing through spring break: A narrative

The author surfs off the coast of California

Shayna Dix
March 30, 2018

Toward the end of my college career, I spent a lot of my time overthinking my future goals. Junior year brought with it tumultuous nights filled with questioning my career path. By the time March rolled around, I was in desperate need of a mental reset. Spring break not only ensured that, but also a thousand memories and stories to stay with me long after.

The plan

For college students, spring break means friends, freedom and a whole host of unrealistic expectations. Every year we try to top the last. Some of us go home, some of us stay in town, and some of us seek the spring break ideal built up by Pinteresters and YouTubers alike.

Surf, sun and sand were abstract ideas to me by my junior year of college, thanks to my landlocked Colorado life — something my bank account also ensured. So when my roommate came home holding an Outdoor Pursuits (UNC's outdoor experiences program) trip brochure that promised a surfing trip in San Diego for a fraction of what it would otherwise cost, I didn’t take up time asking questions. Our forms were signed, our equipment checkout list was filed, and our bags were packed. I needed to get away from midterms and doubt about my career path, and this trip was the perfect way to do it.

The road

The blaring, remorseless alarm went off at 4 a.m., and we dragged our sluggish bodies out of bed. Thanks to some The Chainsmokers-induced prep work, our bags were in the car and ready to go. We launched into the trip with high spirits and more than a little snack food. By the time we had traversed the prairie lands of Wyoming and pulled into Zion National Park, we had had a full day of road trip games and beachy playlists.

The next morning we packed up bright and early, leaving behind the windy caverns in favor of a more tropical setting. As we passed Vegas and evergreens turned into palm trees, we belted out an inspiring rendition of California Gurls by Katy Perry, excited by the closeness of the flip-flopped and crop-topped lands of California. Soon we pulled into the Eli Howard Surf School, piled out to claim tents as our temporary homes, and met our hosts.

Camping, road tripping, fresh pineapple

The surf, sun and sand

Our first surf lesson went exactly as you might expect. As Colorado natives, none of us had ever set foot on a surfboard before. Our instructor, a surf bum through and through, started off by teaching us lingo for the board and maneuvers to use when we got out on the waves. Despite his very specific instructions of, “Push up, lunge, chill," when I got out on my board, I found myself becoming very close with the ocean floor — visiting it time and time again. I was in the ocean all of 10 minutes when my first big wave came rushing at me. I looked to the instructor yelling at me something I couldn’t comprehend.

“Turtle! Dude, Turtle!”

I looked back, hoping to catch a glimpse of the majestic creature, just in time to “get worked” by a monster wave. My board was ripped out of my hands and, as it remained on the surface heading towards shore, I remained below, spinning head over heels and along for the ride. When I returned to the surface a few seconds later, I found out that “turtle” was the maneuver you use to avoid larger waves by grabbing hold of your board and rolling onto your back...like a turtle. Hindsight’s twenty-twenty. I looked around and noticed that no one else was doing much better. We spent the better part of our first surf lesson rolling under the salty waves and loving every minute of it.

With each lesson we got better. On the third day, I lay on my board waiting for a set to roll in. My instructor prepped me, telling me to start paddling as the ocean began setting up. I felt the familiar pulse of water as the force began pushing my board toward the beach. I pushed up, planted my feet, and prepared for the fall that usually followed — but it never came. Instead, I felt a rush of euphoria as I caught my first big wave and rode it all the way in to shore. As the power of the water died out on the reef, I hopped off and whooped, high-fiving one of my tent-mates who also rode her wave in.

In catching that wave, I wasn’t thinking about the endless exams to come, or worrying about my future plans. I was totally engrossed in the painting that was my life in that moment.

Overall, the week was turning out to be exactly what I had imagined. The mornings were misty. The ocean’s static echoed off the cliff face as we took turns cooking warm breakfasts and hanging out in our wetsuits. We munched on fresh fruit, walked along our own private beach, and explored the town of Encinitas, California. Our surf guide took us hiking and to the local surf shops and a seal sanctuary. Every morning we had surfing lessons. Every afternoon was music and campfires. We lived in a bubble of surfing, relaxation and exploration. It was just what the doctor ordered.

Rip Curl shop, palms on the beach, surfboard and sunset

The end

The evening before we left, my roommate and I went in search of a way to take this experience back home with us to Colorado. What we found was a tattoo parlor. As the sun set on our last day, I did the most cliché thing I could possibly do — I got a tattoo. Waves turning into mountains symbolized the collision of my home with this brand new world I’d discovered. That night, the 11 of us celebrated the week we had had together. We exchanged numbers and took pictures and promised a reunion in the coming months. We packed our bags, kumbaya practically playing in the background, as the sun slipped peacefully down.

After two more days of driving and hiking on our way back to Greeley, Colorado, we arrived Sunday evening feeling refreshed, recharged and de-stressed. The trip taught us all that the future would come like a wave, bringing new worries and stresses but also new adventures and new friends.


is a senior majoring in Elementary Education at UNC. She’s working toward her licensure to teach in a third-grade classroom. In the meantime, she is studying leadership in the President’s Leadership Program and working with the Bear Hug Club and the Ambassadors for Student Leadership Club. She loved her 2017 Spring Break trip so much, she went on the same trip in 2018 — and got even better!