A Surfing Escape in Sandbridge Beach, Virginia - My Family Travels

No matter how much you love the beach, a crowded one is not fun; it can be overkill. Screaming children, nagging moms and dads… sometimes you just need space. And space I found on a recent trip to Virginia Beach when my cousin Allison and I managed to escape the crowds by taking a short, 15 mile ride south to Sandbridge Beach.

Secluded and mainly residential, Sandbridge was the perfect spot to enjoy a quiet day at the beach. It’s five miles of uninterrupted coastline and the best part is that you will probably not find too many tourists because it’s all locals. And although the rolling sand dunes and tanning opportunities were amazing, the main reason we came to Sandbridge was to surf!

Meeting up with our instructor, Eric Coulson, my cousin and I head to Ocean Rentals on Sandbridge Road for our first ever lesson in the art of “hanging ten.” We arrive a little early with mixed emotions; part of us completely thrilled to finally have the opportunity to stand on water and attempt to catch a few waves. The other part terrified at how difficult it was going to be and how uncoordinated we would be. Plus, we totally did not want to wipe out!

From the Ocean Rentals office, Eric drives ahead of us for a few miles down Sandpiper Road so we can reach the far end of Sandbridge Beach. From there he unloads three huge surf boards from the back of his van. According to Eric, they are soft style, so they are perfect for beginners like us and the longer and wider, the better.

We carry our boards on our heads to Ocean Rentals’ tent on the beach and trust me surf boards are not as light as they look. But once we get going, it turns out that hauling the board will be the easy part. We set our boards in the sand and Eric begins instructing us on how to position our body on the board, how to paddle, approach a wave and finally jump up to surf. I am barely able to make the jump on sand, so I know I am in for some trouble. Eric, excited to get us (his “rockstar surfers,” as he calls us) into the water, wastes no time and after only 10 minutes of instruction on land, we hit the surf.

We paddle out with much effort, but luckily Ocean Rentals picks a spot that is relatively calm but still has decent waves. Eric, the most encouraging and optimistic teacher that I have ever encountered, is patient and informative. He does most of the work for us in the beginning as he lines us up with the waves and gives us a good push so we can catch them.

My cousin is a natural and is standing on her board, gliding over the surf within her first few attempts. Meanwhile, I (having basically lost all courage and confidence) am using the surf board as boogie board instead. Eric doesn’t get down on me though and instead, just tells me to take it slow and try. What’s the worst that can happen? I fall… it is only water right?

So I do it. Slow at first, just as encouraging Eric suggests and I manage to get up on my knees and ride the wave that way. Then with each attempt in the remainder of our two hour lesson, I get closer to standing (while my cousin is in the middle of getting a Billabong sponsorship).

Then I do it! I am standing on the surfboard and gilding over water and it is exhilarating; you feel free and weightless and like the strongest person in the entire world. Of course, the feeling only lasts about five seconds, because before I know it, there is the beach and I need to end my encounter with glory and jump off the board.

I should have ended my lesson there, at the height of my surfing career, but Eric wants me to come back out. I am exhausted; surfing knocks everything you have out of you. Paddling, then wading in the water for a wave and climbing on and off the board—it is A LOT of work (and you will feel it in your arms and chest the next day and possibly the day after that). But I head back out and Eric lines me up with my final wave; I attempt to get up one more time and I almost do until the nose of my board goes splicing through the water and I wipe out! The recovery was quick and I am up and out of the water unharmed (except for my salt water consumption) within seconds as a concerned Eric makes sure I am okay. As I soon as I confirm that I am he wants me back out for one more try. He is the most personable and motivating instructor, but despite his pleas, I tell him that I am done for the day.

We run the boards back up to the beach and say farewell to Eric. He makes sure we know the way back and tells us he is going to hang around for a while because he wants to catch some waves of his own and boy he does. Allison and I watch for a while and he casually stands on his board and maneuvers himself over the ocean waves with the pole. From a distance it actually looks as though he is walking on the water.

Ocean Rentals and another company located at the same location, Surf & Adventure Co. not only offer surf lessons like the one I got, but they have surf camps that last for 2-3 days. Also, they both offer a wide variety of kayaking tours on both the Atlantic Ocean and through the Back Bay National Wild Life Refuge, an 8,000 acre isolated fresh water conservatory. Surfing and Kayaking are only available from April 1st to October 31st.

Surf’s up!

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1 Reply to “A Surfing Escape in Sandbridge Beach, Virginia”

  • This is so great to hear how encouraging the teachers are. I tried to learn to surf once in Brazil and it was just useless, trying to jump up on the board when we practised on the beach. I felt like such a beached whale.