Learn to surf with ‘Snake’


Surfing coach Bruce "Snake" Gabrielson pushes student Mary Kerns into a wave in Ocean City, Md. (Judy Rolfe/For The Washington Post)
May 23, 2012

When you think of places to go when you want to learn how to surf, you think of Hawaii, Southern California, maybe Cocoa Beach, Fla.

Delmarva? Not at the top of the list. Unless, that is, you want to take lessons from pioneering surf coach Bruce “Snake” Gabrielson.

Few teachers are more qualified than Gabrielson, who got his start “snaking” under the pier in Huntington Beach, Calif., in the 1960s. He founded the first varsity high school surf team in the country at Huntington Beach High School and the surf team at California State University at Long Beach, and he co-founded the intercollegiate surfing association. He surfed in contests for many years, and now he judges them. He runs the only program certified by the National Surf School and Instructors Association in Maryland.

Gabrielson moved to Chesapeake Beach, Md., in 1981 and opened the Wave Trek Surfboard Shop. He still makes weekend trips to surf in Ocean City and at the Indian River Inlet and, on Saturdays, to teach private and small-group lessons to pros and newbies alike. So how does Maryland compare with Southern California?

“For one thing, the water is warmer,” he said. And in some ways, Gabrielson said, surfing in Ocean City can be even more challenging.

“Here, you have a break that breaks in fairly close, so you have to make a lot of your motions faster,” he said. “In the Pacific, you have long, rolling waves. Here, you don’t have a lot of time. You also don’t have a big paddle out.”

On the other hand, he said, the smaller waves are good for beginner and intermediate surfers, because “when you get a big swell, it’s not that bad.”

All of Gabrielson’s lessons are by appointment, and they take place early on Saturday mornings in Ocean City or in one of the Delaware state parks, depending on where the best waves are breaking that day. In Ocean City, surfing is prohibited from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., so most lessons will start between 7 and 8 a.m.

For an appointment, e-mail hbsnake1@netscape.net or call 240-464-3301. Lessons cost $150 for a private 90-minute class and $75 per person for a semiprivate group class. Coaching for advanced surfers is $50 per hour. All equipment is included. www.hbsnakesurf.com.

Fritz Hahn has written about bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. A product of Prince George's County public schools, Fritz majored in journalism at the University of Maryland and lives in the District.
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