By Arlene Castro
The murky green waters of Talofofo Bay swelled underneath me. One hand clutched the side of my surfboard and the other waded in the water as I sat upright, casually waiting. To my left were boogie-boarders, kicking flippers to keep their spot while waiting patiently. We were holding our breath to catch the same thing—that one big one.
The feel of water surging you forward at extraordinary speeds is quite a rush even if it actually only lasts for seconds. The rush gives you such a burst of energy you find yourself returning for more, braving the pounding white washes as you make your way back out.
I eye the deep blue of the horizon which has almost disappeared. It is soon replaced by a rising wall of water signaling to me that in a matter of seconds, there will be a nice set rolling in. The first swell passes, then the second. The boogie-boarders don’t take it. They are gunning for the bigger waves. A few more, then there it is… My wave. I pivot my board in the opposite direction, tip it down and begin paddling. I claim it, catching it first, and I take the exhilarating ride ripping past the boogie-boarders all the way to the end. They watch stunned to see a girl make such an aggressive move on their turf. I do it a few more times until my surfing partner paddles over to me and calls me a “kook,” a surfing term for someone who doesn’t quite know surfing etiquette. I remember scanning the line-up. Long-board or body-board, one thing was obvious: all boys, bronze-tanned locals and bleach blond-maned Caucasians, mostly in their teens, dominated the waters.
Twenty-four years later, I’m back at Talofofo Bay and the waters are packed like never before, but the sight is completely different from the ’90s. Not only has the beach been almost completely eroded, but taking on the waters are surfers who prefer to sport two-piece swimsuits instead of board shorts, and pony tails instead of the popular shaggy-tussled surfer look. Yes, what was once a sport dominated by males, today is being picked up by young girls, and the same couldn’t be truer with the scene on Guam.
The movie Soul Surfer may have been a huge influence for these young girls, and around the same time, surfing lessons were being offered at a local waterpark. Parents sent their children safely into the water. With a built-in wave-making machine, many of these girls first started out there. But perhaps a more compelling factor may be that most of them are second, even third generation surfers.
There is an apparent surge of females taking up surfing on-island and the favorite spot is Talofofo Bay. The Bay is fairly safe with long shallow areas where white washes roll through a sea-floor composed of soft black sediments coming from volcanic-rich soil flowing out of a nearby estuary. Girls as young as nine years old are being personally trained by a seasoned surfer parent.
Advice from Mama and Papa Surf
The Piers have been a visible part of Guam’s surfing scene for several decades. Michelle Pier started surfing at the age of 13, and on and off since then. Her dad, Ken Pier, has surfed for over 50 years on Guam, and her brother Shane, for the past 30 years, since the age of six. Both father and son have competed in many contests on and off-island.
Michelle can be seen riding the Talofofo Bay white washes alongside her sons. Every (age 9) and Kenny (age 7) have been surfing since they were about four and five years old.
“They played around on a body board a lot at the beach then we started taking them to the Hui Nalu Ocean Club surf class, where they really got the hang of surfing and swimming well,” says Michelle. “We’d then take them out to surf spots on mellow days. Both boys have entered many kids’ contests on-island, and Every competed in two kids’ contests in Hawaii with his best surf buddy Noa Mendiola.”
The advice she gives to her boys stresses on the importance of monitoring the water conditions before going in, to learn about the currents, and to be able to swim well and stay calm in the water.
“Awareness and education are key to water safety, and I don’t take it lightly with my kids,” says Michelle. “That said, the best way to learn is to experience it, so we are in the water a lot, and I let them challenge themselves. To mothers, I’d advise to always keep an eye on your kids (any kids for that matter) in the water, even if they are great swimmers. Let them experience what it feels like to be in small waves, to challenge their skills, and to always know their limits. The ocean is meant to be respected, not feared. I would’t try to scare them into compliance, that could backfire, as I want them to love and enjoy the ocean.”
Surfing has absolutely had a positive effect on her sons, “increasing their confidence in the water, they build strength and endurance, and most of all, it is really fun! The looks on their faces when they get a good wave, is priceless. It can be a very therapeutic activity, and great exercise.”
To ensure the young girl catches a wave every time, her father positions her board and waits for a wave to roll in then shoves it forward before letting go leaving the girl to do the rest. At nine years old, she has learned to skillfully pump the board to keep the momentum going. One father who is assigned to the Search and Rescue Division of the Guam Fire Department recalls how his daughter has always been drawn to the ocean, and decided to take her out a few times.
“I’m comfortable taking her to Talofofo Bay. It has a soft bottom and for most people starting out that’s the spot of choice.” He also added, “Consider location and ocean conditions. I don’t take her on days bigger than waist high.”
Surfing can be an enjoyable family activity whether it be a long-board, body-board or stand-up paddle-board. Just as experienced parents and surfers commonly advise, learn about the sport, be aware, and practice safety measures. Surfing is also enjoyable to watch. Many families set up tailgate barbecues to pass the time as their children and others surf. Tourists passing by, stop and take pictures. Don’t let the small surfing scene on-island fool you into thinking that the rides end there. In the next article, we’ll explore how one family’s love for the water has taken them on an adventurous and unforgettable journey.