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Cowabunga dudes: Charles City students learn river surfing basics

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It was all smiles and waves for Charles City High School students Friday.

Students in Rob Pittman’s Expeditions class had the chance to learn the basics of river surfing on the whitewater course in town. It is just one of many adventures students have with outdoor learning.

“Almost every single kid has told me ‘I want to do this again Mr. Pittman,’ and that’s what I wanted. I wanted people getting excited and wanting to come out here and do different things,” said Pittman.

Pittman and fellow teachers learned how to river surf this summer from local instructors. Those lessons taught him the basics. Gear is available to anyone from the Charles City Parks and Recreation Department.

CC Surf 1

A Charles City Expeditions student trying to river surf on the Cedar River on Friday.

When the school year started back up, he told his students about river surfing.

“It was kind of surprising, because it’s closer to fall so it seems really cold. I had never heard of river surfing before, only like surfing surfing,” said senior Tawny Ebel.

The Expeditions class, an elective credit, is designed to get students to turn off technology and turn toward nature for learning, according to Pittman. Other outdoor learning opportunities include exploring the local state park, rock climbing, and learning how to build shelters.

Twenty-four Expedition students had the chance to take part in river surfing, with half learning the basics one day and the other half the next. Those who chose to opt out and were still involved with the river, cleaning up litter along the banks and removing brush.

“Everyone in the class is participating in this in some way, shape or form,” Pittman said.

Charles City Parks and Recreation provided the equipment, a lifeguard was on duty, and several experienced river surfing community members were there to teach the kids.

CC Surf 2

Charles City teacher Rob Pittman helping one of his Expeditions students prepare for river surfing on Friday.

Students geared up in helmets and life jackets to enter the water with their boards. One by one, the beginner surfers would paddle out to try to catch the sweet spot where the water would carry them.

“To do surfing, you have to be able to swim, you have to go down the river correctly, you have to basically be able to go from your belly to your knees to standing up, and you have to know how to fall off the board,” said Pittman.

“It was like a waterslide, but one where you actually have to be in one place in the water and the slide just keeps on going,” said Ebel.

Students started to find their confidence on the board as time went on and tried surfing on their knees or standing. Fellow classmates and Pittman would cheer loudly when someone found success.

CC Surf 3

A Charles City Expeditions student trying to river surf on the Cedar River on Friday.

“I knew that because they did it, I knew that they had encouraging words. If they could do it, then everyone else could do it,” Ebel said.

Pittman hopes to see more use of the whitewater course by young members of the community and more river surfing on it. He has written three different grant applications for more surfing equipment to one day create a community event out of the activity. He hopes to receive $7,000 in grant funds.

“I have kids that are of a higher socioeconomic background all the way to kids that are in need of assistance. To be able to get those grants, I can make this an opportunity for everyone, and that’s my big goal. I want equity in sports,” said Pittman.

In addition to getting students outdoors, getting kids out of their comfort zone is another goal.

"With this experience, I would 100% do it again. I want Pittman to find more things for us to do, because I actually want to try and do this in my future as a hobby," Ebel said.

“Their safety net is what they can and can’t do,” said Pittman. “The more that you have little challenges, the better off they’re going to be. I just want to give them challenges in a controlled area that will help them grow as people.”

Abby covers education and entertainment for the Globe Gazette. Follow her on Twitter at @MkayAbby. Email her at Abby.Koch@GlobeGazette.com

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