The leader was a teacher on summer break. His curriculum: the skimboard.
Largo does not have its own beach, but for the third summer in a row, the city's Recreation, Parks and Arts Department is putting on a skimboarding camp.
From Tuesday through Friday, nine boys and three girls met up with Zack Hill, a fifth-grade teacher from Lealman Avenue Elementary School, at the Largo Sports Complex. Each morning, they'd arrive by 8:30 sharp to climb on the bus. The campers would come with bathing suits on and towels draped around their necks.
They alternated between Sand Key Beach and Rockaway Beach.
"We'd try to hit different beaches and get to a place suitable for different levels,'' said Hill, 33. "Some skimboarders want a little bit of wave, while others want to practice on flat water.''
Jake Nicholas, 11, a second-year camper, started skimboarding at age 5.
"Even though I already knew how to skimboard, this camp helps me," he said. "Being with Zack is helping me with my trick, the 360-degree Shove It."
Once out on the beach, Hill would let the youngsters choose their own space to toss their skimboard in the water.
At Rockaway Beach, their runs had to be kept tight, to avoid the crowd. At Sand Key Park, they had choices, either the shoreline or giant freshwater puddles right on the beach, made from recent storms.
By 9 a.m., they'd be on the sand and focused on their sport. For Jake to do the shove-it, he'd drop his board in the water. As soon as he was balanced on top, he'd jump in the air while simultaneously kicking one foot forward and one foot backward. His board would spin around.
While Jake worked on his spins, Logan Starczewski, 14, wanted to aim his skimboard for the curls.
"I was here last summer, too, but Zack is teaching me on how to get into the waters in the curls more," he said.
But not all the campers are ready for jumps and spins.
"One of the things about skimboarding is that people can come together but work at their own level," Hill said. "It's a very self-directed sport."
And this is precisely why parents can breathe a sigh of relief - no matter what the sport looks like, broken bones, cuts and scrapes are minimal, according to Hill.
"The kids understand they need to not get too close to others," Hill said, "but at the same time they go out there and work at their own level and pace."
According to the Encyclopedia of Surfing by Matt Warshaw, the sport of skimboarding's popularity dates back to the 1920s in Laguna Beach, Calif., when lifeguards started skimming down the shoreline on large discs made of plywood. The first World Skimboard Championship, in 1976, also was in Laguna Beach.
"The first time I rode a skimboard, I was 15 on Redington Beach," Hill said. "I love being on the water, both surfing and skimboarding, but here on the west coast of Florida, you can do skimboarding on most days and, of course, surfing not as often."
For the beginning campers, he shared this advice:
- First, learn to land on the board with two feet at once. "If you land with one foot first, it's a lot easier to wipe out."
- Learn the sliding motion. "Don't pounce on the board. I compare it to doing a cha-cha motion."
- Lead with your forward shoulder. "The board will follow your forward shoulder. It just happens."
And when it comes to picking out optimum skimboarding locations, Hill recommends studying the local waters.
"You need to know that water changes often," he said. "The wave movement changes when the sandbars shift, so you need to keep up with what's happening in the water."
And does he recommend a favorite spot?
"Sand Key Park is a good place to go," he said. "Like this week, there were a couple different types of waters there. But for North Pinellas, generally speaking, I enjoy Indian Rocks Beach on a good, south swell."
Reach Piper Castillo at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163.
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Although there will not be another skimboard camp this summer, Largo's Recreation, Parks & Arts Department has openings in other half-day and full day camps. For a complete list, visit largo.com.
Brian Harter, Largo's athletic specialist at Highland Recreation Complex, has noticed many skimboard enthusiasts are also interested in skateboarding. There are limited openings available for Largo's Skateboard Camp, which starts Monday. It will run from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Largo Skate Park, Highland Recreation Complex, 400 Highland Ave., Largo. Cost: $50 for residents; $62.50 for nonresidents. Call (727) 518-3016.