Sterne Students & Surfing: A Metaphor

At Sterne, I’m a teacher.  But when I surf, I’m a student of the waves.

Surfing is one of the oldest practiced sports on the planet. The first written account of surfing was recorded in 1777 by Captain James Cook on a voyage to Tahiti when he wrote “I could not help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure being pushed along effortlessly by the sea.” From Duke Kahanamoku, to Jack London, to the movie Gidget (1959), to legendary pro-surfers Tom Blake, Nat Young, and Kelly Slater, surfing has a rich history that has evolved into a culture and lifestyle all its own. 

Today, surfers catch waves on every ride-able coastline on the planet.  Catching a wave means getting ahead of it: you have to figure out how fast it’s traveling, then paddle twice that fast so that it doesn’t pass under you.  It’s not easy; it takes serious effort up front.  I often think that being a student at school – at Sterne – is very much the same.  If your class or your teacher is going at a pace you can’t match (or exceed), the subject will pass you by; you’ll never drop into it.  It will never catch your attention, catch your interest, catch your excitement.  So if you feel that the wave is passing under you, the first thing you need to do is paddle harder – pay closer attention, put forth more effort (or ask for help to keep up) – so that you can successfully catch that wave, and ride it to the best of your ability.  

Let’s look at what it takes to ride a wave. First you have to have the will and drive to surf.  Then, you have to figure out what you’re up against. Surfers don’t just “go surf”. They study. They utilize a vast range of tangible and online resources to find out where the best waves are breaking daily, or during specific times of the year on distant coasts around the globe. They train, in and out of the water. Once at the beach, most surfers don’t run directly out to the breakers. They take pause; they stand on the beach to assess the waves, the currents, the sets. But once their feet touch the water all land-born worries, desires, thoughts disappear.  

Now let’s take a look at what it takes to become immersed in a subject. First, you need to understand the subject you are studying, and grasp the big concepts. Then, you can think about those concepts in relationship to other concepts: you can start making connections. As you learn and progress – by paying attention, studying, doing homework – your abilities augment and evolve both in and outside the classroom. You are making connections between what you learn in class, and what the world presents to you. At Sterne, we strive to give each student endless resources to get the most out of every class, allowing them to be the best student possible according to their ability, allowing them to make those connections.

Remember: to catch the wave you have to paddle twice as fast as the wave is moving. Once you feel the awesome power of the wave take you – be the wave overhead or knee-high – you must pop up to your feet and drop into the transitional face of the wave. At the bottom of the transition you perform a bottom turn that sets you up to ride the wave down the line as it breaks left or right.  

This is the time to shine: the moment where your board becomes the brush, painting the tracks of what you’ve learned upon the wave. But waves are constantly moving and changing, so simultaneously you are adapting, learning, pushing your limits.   Walking into a classroom has the potential to feel the same way: an opportunity to become immersed in a new world, whether it’s Mathematics, Spanish, English, Literature, Science, Music, or Art. Every day that you come to class at Sterne is a chance to try new things, push your limits, and evolve your thinking with the help of your teachers, peers, and resources. If you are a student, you are a surfer: You are painting your own canvas, writing your own story!  

Last but not least: no matter how much you surf a specific spot or wave there will always be the element of the unknown. On a good day surfers are in pure harmony and rhythm with the sea. That should be the goal of the Sterne student and teacher on a daily basis. Every class you walk into gives you the opportunity to paddle hard, make the drop, perform your bottom turn and shine.  Sometimes you will take a tumble, but you can always rise up and try again. You have endless opportunities at Sterne to exhibit and produce results to the best of your ability in any given class. So drop into your class and make it happen! Paint your picture. Converse in Spanish. Solve that math problem. It’s your time to shine! Go catch your wave.

Submitted by: Brian Benson, Sterne High School Spanish Teacher