Surfing in DC

The Sport That Loves Hurricanes

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Capitol Hill surfer Jessica McGlyn.

Surfing in DC? Really? As someone who used to live in Hawaii, I thought my friend Jess was joking. But, no, she was absolutely serious. In fact, there is an active and sizable group of surfers in the Washington metro area.

“I love the physical challenge of the sport as well as the surfing community,” said Jess, who has been surfing for about 20 years. “I love the car trips with friends and sharing the excitement of catching a wave.” The closest surfing beach is Assateague Island in Maryland, about 2.5 hours away.

Jessica McGlyn, who has lived in Washington, DC for 13 years and is a graduate of Yale’s master’s program in forest science, runs her own consulting business. As a sustainability consultant and a leadership coach who helps corporations with environmental issues, Jess fits easily into the high-achieving, highly intelligent Washington world of entrepreneurs. She weaves her way in and out of Washington political inner circles effortlessly. Surfing is her other passion.

“Surfing is the hardest sport I’ve ever done. It’s very difficult to catch a wave,”  she says. Jess grew up playing basketball in high school and college and competed in body building. “I like hiking, lifting weights, snowboarding, rock climbing and mountain biking, but I enjoy surfing more than any other sport. You have to present and focused.”

She explains. “You figure out which wave to try for, where to sit to catch the wave and how fast to paddle and how not to bump into other surfers. There’s an etiquette to surfing. When I travel I always get a surf instructor who is local to learn the rules.”

That mindfulness about which Jess speaks was the subject of an article in the New York Times last month. Amitha Kalaichandran wrote about surf therapy programs that are helping children with autism or anxiety as well as veterans or cancer survivors. There’s even an International Surf Therapy Organization which, according to Kalaichandran, who talked to Kris Primacio, the chief executive

of the organization, acts as an umbrella organization to bring together surf therapy programs and researchers. Primacio described surf therapy as a “structured method of surfing utilizing elements of ocean and using its therapeutic benefits for those in need.”

How to Get Started

The Surfrider Foundation has a local DC chapter which is one of the places that Jess says is a good place to meet others who also are passionate about surfing. It is a non-profit, grassroots organization and is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches. The Foundation has more than 50,000 members and 90 chapters worldwide.

On Assateague Island, beginners can find what they need to get started at its surf shop where you can rent boards and get lessons. They have foamy boards – soft-topped boards that are really long and are good for beginning surfers.

If you want to drive a little farther, Jess suggests the Outer Banks where there are several surf shops and a larger surf community.

Jess honed her surfing skills at surf camps. Chica Surf Adventures offers tropical getaways at surf camps and surf yoga retreats for women of all ages, from beginner to advanced surfers as well as solo travelers. It also has a special mother/daughter camp and family surf camps too.

Jess has surfed all up and down the east and west coasts. She’s surfed in Spain, Indonesia and Puerto Rico. She recently returned from Nicaragua where she traveled with a friend just to surf. She returned home at the beginning of hurricane season, when surf conditions here pick up. “Winter is the best time to surf on the east coast when the waves are better, but it’s too cold for me.”

On any given day, a quick look at her phone can tell Jess when the surf’s up at Assateague. She uses Surfline app, one of the several available, to keep herself up to date on surf conditions. “When the surf at Assateague is up we jump into a car and head to the beach. I have a flexible schedule so I can often go during the week. Surfing is very humbling and addicting. There is always going to be a wave that is more challenging than you are ready for, but that’s when you learn. I love it.”

Pattie Cinelli is a health/fitness professional who writes about subjects on the leading edge of health and fitness thought. She has been writing her column for more than 25 years and welcomes column suggestions and fitness questions.

Pattie is a certified functional aging specialist who works with baby boomers. She also can provide lectures, private sessions and group classes in stretch, yoga, Pilates and her specialty: Balance and Mobility, for your church, home or office. She is also producing a podcast that highlights choices we have in addition to traditional western medicine about staying well. You can contact Pattie at: fitmiss44@aol.com.