Pure joy, a smidge of terror and a whole lot of laughter and smiles—that is how you sum up your son’s first surf lesson with legendary board man Tony Silvagni.
Now I’ve met a few surfers in my travels. I have friends from grad school that once went to Chile from California, surfing the beaches as they drove south. I’ve met the “enforcers” of Oahu’s North Shore and seen plenty of people wipe out. I have never seen a surfer get as excited about teaching a 5 year old as Tony though.
Before my oldest son Dek started his very first surf lesson in Carolina Beach, NC, Tony and I chatted, we filled out forms and I helped figure out what size wetsuit and booties Dek should wear. After that I let Dek take over. This was his moment. He was going to learn how to surf.
Dek is a board sport kid. It didn’t take us long to realize this. He was on skis by the time he was three, but he was asking for a snowboard after his first lesson. His parents are snowboarders, and well, snowboarding is “cool” to the toddler crowd (apparently).
By the time he was four, Dek was asking us for a skateboard. This kid had no idea how to ride. Then again, those of us growing up in the eighties didn’t know how to ride either, so we taught ourselves. I was lucky enough to find a fantastic skateboard program at All Together Skatepark in Seattle that held lessons on Sundays for kids 11 and under.
Dek did five weeks of lessons and was hooked. I knew that he had learned about safety and responsibility when it comes to a board. On his last day of class I got him his first deck. Soon after stickers from our travels began to cover the bottom.
Naturally when we were heading to the beach and I knew I’d be interviewing Tony about teaching little guys and gals to surf, Dek wanted to give it a go. Tony was up for it, so I figured why not.
Tony got Dek suited up and onto a beach showing a few promising waves just Dek’s size. Ty, Dek’s 3-year-old brother, was curious about the board, but thankfully he did not insist on trying it out too. Tony did include Ty in all of his sand-based instructions though. The boys each got to wax the board, they learned the anatomy of a board and how to stand up on a board.
Finally it was time to get in the water.
I’ve never taken a surf lesson. To be perfectly honest the ocean freaks me out. You never know what will eat you out there. It’s a silly fear, but there you have it. Now, given the fact that I have never taken a surfing lesson, I’m not sure how other surf schools do it. I do know that Tony’s approach is one of the best for kids, at least through the eyes of this parent.
When Dek tried to stand up, fell and got knocked over by his board, he wasn’t really sure he wanted to do it again. Tony saw Dek shutting down. He didn’t want Dek to lose his enthusiasm, so he turned to me and said to sit tight for a minute, he was getting his bigger board. Dek and Tony were going to ride the wave together.
I’m not sure Dek knew what he was in for, but after they caught their first wave he was screaming a play by play for me from the water’s edge as he ran up to explode with joy over riding his first wave. Tony had popped Dek on his longer board, taken him out to catch a wave. When the wave came Tony stood up and then pulled Dek up in front of him. Dek was hanging onto Tony’s hand, leg, head, you name it, that boy was not going to let go, but he also wasn’t going to stop laughing and having fun.
Before the end of his lesson Dek had ridden on Tony’s shoulders AND let go of Tony to find his own balance and ride a wave. Dek was so proud of himself, but let’s be honest, this really showed off what an amazing surfer Tony is. Not many surfers could ride a wave with a 50-pound kid clinging to their leg, throwing them off balance every other moment.
Tony saw that my kid wanted to surf. He also saw that Dek’s fear of that first wave could have put a stop to Dek’s surfing career for the rest of his life. Tony found a way to make Dek comfortable, reignite his excitement for the sport, and show him that even if you fall down, you just pick yourself back up and enjoy the ride. Dek came off Carolina Beach shivering from the cold, but excited to get back out there to try it again. He was singing Tony’s praises for the next three days. Dek couldn’t wait to tell his dad all about his new best friend Tony.
If you haven’t guessed already, Tony Silvagni is an incredible surf instructor. Tony has toured the world surfing some of the best waves our planets offer. He helped bring home the gold with the USA Olympic Surf Team, something that hadn’t been accomplished in 13 years at the time. Tony has been teaching kids and adults to surf for over 10 years and will continue to do so as long as there are waves to ride. He is passionate about teaching the next generation of surf enthusiasts and no matter your skill level will always make you feel like you have accomplished something on a board that day.
Know before you go
- Tony Silvagni Surf School
- Tony Silvagni Surf School Shop, 308 S Lake Park Blvd, Carolina Beach, NC 28428, 910-232-1592
- Tony Silvagni Tiki Trailer, 100 Hamlet Avenue, Carolina Beach, NC 28428, 910-713-3800
- Lessons: Private and Group surf lessons are available as well as stand up paddle boarding lessons and SUP Yoga lessons. Advance surf lessons are available (pricing upon request).You can even book online.
- What’s provided: Wetsuits, booties and boards are provided if you do not have your own.
- Cost: Surf lessons can be expensive. Tony’s rates are extremely reasonable, given his skills and passion for the sport, and can fit most budgets. He also offers surf camps in the summer that are a steal.
- Rentals: If you already know how to surf or SUP you can grab rentals from the shop while vacationing.
Many thanks to Wilmington, NC for hosting my family for four days to explore the city and its gorgeous beaches. As always, my opinions are my own; when they aren’t you will be the first to know.