Published on August 14th, 2013 | by Kathy Browning0
Shea Lopez: Culture vs. Competition
Standing beside pro surfer and U.S. Open Champion, Shea Lopez, made me feel like a fish out of water. All I knew about surfing was it involved standing on a board while riding a wave. Lopez quickly rectified that and by the time our interview concluded I was ready to sign up for his surf camp.
Little did I know Shea Lopez is literally a living legend. It was not until after we talked that I came to understand his outstanding life accomplishments. His father, Pete Lopez, began teaching Shea how to catch waves at the age of three. Those years of practice propelled him into a lifestyle most surfers only dream about.
Lopez headed for California the day he graduated from high school. His years as a professional surfer netted a U.S. Open Surfing Championship and two gold medals at the ESPN X-Games, along with garnering a reputation as one of the top athletes in the world.
Although Lopez competed on the world tour for over a decade and traveled around the globe with the top 34 competitive surfers, he has not let fame go to his head. Instead, he is spending his days doing what his dad did for him – teaching kids to have fun while learning lifelong skills.
Lopez founded the Shea Lopez Surf Camp to provide professional surfing instruction and ocean skills to people of all ages. During the summer months, he focuses on teaching students how to surf with a strong emphasis on ocean safety.
“We invite the parents to participate so they can learn about the waves, rip currents and ocean environment,” states Lopez.
“That’s a very important part of our program because parents will be spending way more time with their kids at the beach than we do.”
As we stood at the shoreline talking, Lopez stayed focused on the young students as they paddled out to catch the next wave.
“I let the kids know exactly what is going on in the water at all times,” states Lopez.
“We teach students how to recognize rip currents and the way the water moves. This knowledge helps people get out of trouble when conditions become dangerous.”
The Shea Lopez Surf Camp also prepares kids for the day they are ready to push their limits. Students learn how to surf at the Ponce Inlet jetty; a premier surfing spot along Florida’s Central East Coast. However, these waves are small in comparison to areas such as California and Hawaii.
“The desire to ride bigger waves happens to every surfer,” declares Lopez. “Once puberty hits, they want to explore new territory and test their skills. The aim of our surf program is to ensure they are prepared on every level.”
Although Shea spent nearly two decades as a competitive surfer, his camp doesn’t focus on competition.
“We teach kids how to enjoy their time and be safe at the beach, along with the surfing lifestyle,” states Lopez. “When children receive good ocean knowledge their parents can relax and stop worrying so much.”
Lopez has taught kids from all over the country; many of which have never been to the beach. “In the beginning, a lot of our students are terrified of the ocean because of their fear of the unknown,” claims Lopez.
“We teach them how to get comfortable in the water, how to read waves, and get them familiar with sea life. Within a few days, they overcome their fears and are eager to dive in.”
Camp is held Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon, though Lopez admits they often stay an extra hour or so. Students receive plenty of water, snacks and sunscreen. Each Friday, the camp hosts a pizza party, complete with Smoothie King and cupcakes.
Students of Shea Lopez Surf Camp receive six weeks of training, combined with lots of fun in the water. “There’s no competitive basis to this camp at all,” says Lopez. “It’s strictly for fun and to learn about the ocean; how to ride waves; and spending time with others kids in the ocean.”
Not only does the camp teach lifelong skills, it also develops lifelong friendships.
“Most of our students become friends who end up hanging out together and having sleepovers or traveling to other places to surf,” says Lopez.
“It’s a great way to meet other kids who have similar interests and enjoy the surfing lifestyle.”
This year, camp ended on July 19th so Lopez could head to the Vans U.S. Open in California. Although he retired from professional surfing at age 35, Lopez is still heavily involved in the sport.
Along with being a sponsored athlete by Vans, he is an announcer for the tour and does all their broadcasts and webcasts. He is one of the few professional surfers who have transitioned to broadcasting.
When Lopez isn’t traveling the world and instructing students at his surf camp, he offers private lessons and coaching. When asked about his favorite surfing spot, Lopez flashed his bright smile and proclaimed, “Right here!”
* Feature photo was taken by: Patrick “TUPAT” Eichstaedt
* All photos below were taken by: Kelsey Arnold