Grauer is a different type of person and a different type of school. Grauer the person goes by the first name Stuart. Stuart Grauer is a dedicated educator and surfer who understands that there is no better teacher than the ocean.
Like Grauer the person, Grauer the school is located in Encinitas, just 2 miles east of the beach. Grauer the person considers the mighty Pacific to be the best of teachers.
He realizes that it is there a student will learn that they are at the mercy of something far bigger and more powerful than themselves.
For where else can you paddle out to play with friendly dolphins or paddle in when a predator inhabits the field? Where else can true equality be taught, for a big wave is no respecter of persons, regardless of economic status, gender or race.
It’s been nearly 30 years since I first became involved with the Grauer School. My first position was as a mentor of youth. While I enjoyed that role immensely, my second job as a surf PE instructor was even more rewarding.
Even so, I never quite felt worthy of the title, coach, since there were several students who surfed circles (360s in surf terminology) around me.
Still, I did my best to instruct kids on things that only time, and saltwater, can teach.
I taught them to be generous with things that were never theirs, in this case the waves that freely pour onto our shoreline. I taught them patience, since after more than half a century in the ocean I have discovered that there will always be another wave.
I tried to teach them something I am still working on — that even when it seems you will never surface, all waves eventually run out of gas and allow you to come to the surface.
They taught me that there are countless ways of approaching a wave and that stoke is not the property of any single generation.
They taught me that age is not about the number of candles on the cake, but the way the cake is savored, and that stoke can be yours until the last candle is blown out.
I have ridden a lot of waves with Grauer students, some waves more memorable than others. One of the most memorable was not a wave, but an experience.
The surf was flat when I launched a remote-controlled, battery-operated shark fin in the shallows. We laughed knowingly as tourists gathered, trying to identify the menacing creature.
One man confidently tagged it a juvenile Great White.
That was good for a chuckle until the following week when our silliness turned to sorrow after a swimmer was tragically killed by a shark in Solana Beach. I learned that not everything is a laughing matter.
The ocean is a playground, but it is also a solemn place where life can hang on one wrong turn. As someone who has nearly drowned on several occasions, I have learned to never mock anyone’s fears of the misnamed Pacific.
Around five years ago, I taught what I figured was my last session as a Grauer surf instructor.
Then, like a substitute quarterback called into a game, my services were required again. I am both stoked and a little nervous about being with the kids again.
I am old, slow to my feet and don’t paddle as fast as I once did. I doubt that I can teach anyone much about riding waves.
Maybe, however, I can illustrate something about a timeless thing called stoke, an undefinable feeling that lingers on the senses like a wave caught more than half a century ago.