And that wasn’t the only surprise. Hans Hedemann stocky, five
foot eleven and relentlessly energetic turned out to be 44, about
20 years older than his brochure photo. The man is a legend in
Hawaii: a surfer’s guru and a professional with a wall full of
awards. A second generation islander, Hedemann began surfing when
he was 7 years old. By the time he was 18, he was ranked among the
world’s top 10 surfers. The next year he went pro, competing on
surfing’s World Tour for the next 17 years.
“Then what?” I asked.
“Most top surfers move to California and start businesses making
boards or clothes,” he said. “But I wanted to stay in Hawaii.”
Over the years, Hedemann developed an approach that separates
surfing’s basic moves into steps that are simple to practice and
easy to remember. His instructors teach the same concepts with
“To begin with, you need the right location,” he explained as we
parked near Malaekahana. “You’re not going to learn tennis in a
parking lot, and you won’t learn to surf at the wrong beach.”
Look for a beach with long regular waves, three to six feet
high, he said, which will allow beginners time to get the feel of
the board and to make mistakes and recover. Equally important,
however, is the board.
“I like an 11- or 12-foot soft-top board,” Hedemann said.
“They’re easier on your knees and ankles and lighter to carry.
They’re more stable. They’re more fun, too, because they catch the
wave earlier and ride longer.”
As for a short board, Hedemann said there’s no need unless
you’re a hot-dogger riding the big 20- and 30-footers, where a
seven- or eight-foot board is more maneuverable.
Before we got our feet wet, Hedemann had us set our boards on
the sand and demonstrated the moves. First, you lie in the lower
center of the board, grip the sides and rise up on your elbows.
Next, push up with straight arms and look ahead to duck oncoming
waves. Then in one smooth move, pull your legs up into a kneeling
position. Last, stand up, move your feet apart, bend your knees in
a crouch and hold out both arms for balance. The trick is
remembering the steps once in the water.
“And look forward,” Hedemann said. “Never look down.”
The toughest part was catching a wave. For that, we had Hedemann
and his cohort Toonz, who towed us out into deep water (paddling is
harder than it looks), turned us around, pushed us into waves and
followed us back to shore. Let me tell you, in two hours you can
get a lot of practice.
We all took to the water differently. Six-year-old Dillon, who
surfed tandem with an instructor, wouldn’t quit: Wave after wave he
climbed to his feet for a short ride, plunged into the water, came
up spluttering and ready for more. While 42-year-old Paul forgot to
bend his knees, he still managed to stay up the longest.
For me, just being there, watching the ocean roll to the shore,
jumping in the waves and feeling the warm Hawaiian sun was half the
fun. But only half: I’m looking forward to surfing again next
Hans Hedemann Surf School offers lessons at
major beaches around Oahu. The company employs 40 instructors
during high season. One-hour lessons cost $50 per person; two hours
are $75. To surf with Hedemann, reservations are required; a
two-hour lesson will run clients $400. Lessons include surfing lore
and maybe a stop for a plate lunch (everyone goes Dutch).