If you are looking for Katie Draeger, you might want to check the beach.
The recreation, parks and tourism administration junior is an avid surfer and the main instructor at Sandbar Surf, a Billabong surf camp based out of Pismo Beach.
Draeger has been surfing since she was 12, and brought her love of the beach to Cal Poly from her very first day.
“Freshman year, everybody called me ‘Blue Crush,’ because I was always walking around with my board,” she said.
Teaching others how to get out in the waves is a huge passion of hers, she said. She has worked at Sandbar since last June, teaching individual and group lessons. For her, an average day starts out with stretching and safety, and a game of tag for any kids involved.
“The ocean is so dynamic; each day in the water’s different,” Draeger said. “For most people there’s this initial fear factor, but they get over that and start to see ‘Oh wait, this is a fun thing.’”
And though every day in the water is unique, there are a few things she can count on.
“Actually, almost every time, my participants stand up and catch a wave,” Draeger said. “I love being able to be a part of their excitement. At the end, you can always tell they feel differently about themselves. They’re always stoked.”
Robert Dyer is the co-founder of Sandbar Surf and director of Surf Camps. The business, just over a year old, is located in Pismo Beach, nestled along Central California’s coastline. Sandbar offers private and group lessons, Billabong surf camps, competitive coaching and equipment rentals. Dyer said the spot is the perfect midway point for beginners to start learning. The water is warmer than in Northern California and far less crowded than Southern California with medium-sized waves.
“It’s not just about getting people out there and getting them to stand on the board,” Dyer said. “We give you the tools you need to go out there and recreate the experience.”
He also likes to instill knowledge of surf culture in his students, from the sport’s Hawaiian origins to the importance of interacting positively with nature.
“Surfing is about environment and surroundings — those are major aspects,” Dyer said. “I like to have all my students walk around the beach for 10 to 15 minutes and pick up trash. You pack it in, you pack it out.”
Most of the students looking to learn are from California, but they’ve had international tourists from as far as China and Croatia looking to explore the Pismo surf.
While the season slows down in winter, in the summer, Dyer sees hundreds of eager beginners ready to paddle out.
Beginning surfers are often nervous about the possibility of running into a shark out on a board, but while Dyer acknowledges their presence, his classes stress safety and responsibility.
“We’re in waist-to-chest deep water,” Dyer said. “The sharks you have to worry about, the big Great Whites, they rely on an element of surprise, attacking from underneath. We’re too shallow.”
Shark sightings are fairly rare, but they do occur. Last August, swimmers at Pismo Beach reported four shark sightings in five days, according to an August Mustang Daily article. And in 2003, a woman was attacked and killed by a great white shark while swimming with sea lions near Avila Beach. And just this month, a kayaker reported encountering a 14-foot great white shark off the coast of Cambria.
“They’re always out there; it’s a matter of the love of the game,” Dyer said. “You have to stay calm and collected about it, and get out of the water. If it’s a bigger shark, you’ll be able to spot it.”
Sharks aside, surfing Pismo Beach is a popular recreation for tourists and locals alike.
Beth Stewart is a visitor host at the Pismo Beach Information Center.
“In a given week, maybe one or two people call about surfing,” Stewart said. “Surfers that come here already have their own boards and know stuff for the most part. But we do get calls about gear rentals.”