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Entrepreneur draws energy from teaching surfing
Mary Setterholm invites a visitor into her "office," a large towel thrown down on a piece of beach on the south side of the Manhattan Beach Pier.She
excuses herself for a moment and takes a dip in the windblown surf of a late Friday morning.She
returns refreshed and plops on an old straw hat and holds forth on her
favorite subject: teaching surfing.
"There are several steps in the process to be able to stand on the board," she
says."And the second thing is, how is your paddling.And you may have the 'pop-up' down (pat), but what's ahead of the pop-up?"She
goes on to explain how to assess wanna-be surfers and supply them the information they need to stand erect on a moving board.Setterholm
teaching with "visual concepts," so that beginners can grasp the technicalities of the "pop-up" -- the moment when the surfer goes from horizontal to vertical.She
speaks of the "pier arms," doing the push-up necessary to propel the body erect as the board knifes into the wave.Setterholm
runs one of the largest surfing schools in the United States.
On a recent summer morning at Dockweiler beach, she
pondered the number of people taking lessons under her Surf Academy
and Beach Bus programs.At four different camps, in Santa Monica and Venice, Huntington Beach and Dockweiler, she
estimated there were 400 beginning surfers ranging in age from 7 to 17 for the beach camps, including about 50 adults learning in Santa Monica.
The entrepreneur says her Surf Academy
grossed more than $400,000 in 2003 and is on track to make $500,000 this year.
Early focus on womenSetterholm began teaching surfing for the Manhattan Beach Recreation and Parks Department in 1998.Two summers later, using money from a divorce and working full time as an athletic trainer, she started the Surf Academy, first concentrating on teaching women.
"I saw the boys dominating the girls and whatever, and some of the girls being pushed out," she
The beach camp phenomenon has exploded in the past five years, city and county officials say.In Manhattan Beach, county officials had to declare a moratorium on permitting large beach camps because lines of SUVs were causing congestion at pick-up and drop-off times for the camps.Setterholm
, who won the women's championship at the Huntington Beach Open in 1972 before going into the fashion business, got into the business at the right time.Driven by a simple urge to make the beach her
office, the Surf Academy
prospered, moving to Dockweiler beach.Setterholm
entrepreneurial drive to bear on the business of teaching people to surf.She
teaching system, trained instructors and set up a response plan to handle any emergencies during one of her
has hired many instructors who have gone through her
surf camps and have been taught with her
approached Huntington Beach officials and won a contract to supply surfing lessons and repeated the process to open a camp in Santa Monica.Huntington Beach Recreation Supervisor Dottie Hughes says the city picked the Surf Academy because of Setterholm.
Hughes said Setterholm
had a well-structured program that anticipated problems.
and instructors regularly practice for emergencies with local lifeguards.Setterholm
describes the growth of her
business as "organic" and guided by the mystic forces of the ocean.It also is the outgrowth of a personal desire, turned outward.
"It's a business model," she
said, "Built on a naive idea of how it should be."Setterholm
grew up in downtown Los Angeles and took to surfing at a time when few women were involved in the sport.She
used to ride her
bike down Venice Boulevard to escape to the beach.The ocean was her
solace from a rough family experience.She
says it gave her
something to focus her
intense energy on.She won the 1972 Huntington Beach Open and qualified as an alternate for the Women's National team.She
traveled to South Africa for the contest but the two top-rated women were eliminated early.
"I didn't get to surf," she
recalled, with a look that said she
could have done better.
Surfing shaped her
In the 1970s, she
attended the Fashion Institute of Technology
In New York and went to work as an independent label designer for Pierre Deux, "knocking-off" Paris designs.She
own line of "surf clothes for kids" in the early '80s.She
said it was "long hours and stressful."Setterholm worked briefly in sales at Sports Chalet and for several years in sales at Nordstrom.Then she was a trainer at the Spectrum Clubs.
married and had five children.Setterholm
was reluctant to talk about her
life and marriage in that period.She
was a severely abused wife who divorced her
husband in 1986, she
was arrested for battery in 1991, so the divorce didn't mean that I was safe."She
stayed twice in homes for battered women and her
husband had the children in 1992-93."I'm lucky to be alive," she
said.She had to go on welfare while working for Nordstrom, accepting Section 8 housing and aid for dependent families when the children came back.
"I used to do my grocery shopping at night, because I had really nice clothes that I won by working my butt off for Nordstrom
For one thing, Setterholm
believes girls should be taught separately from boys, because they learn differently.
"Girls have a slow learning curve, but it's solid.Boys, they're just throwing themselves against the wall and it's like, I have to keep them off to the side and then they get it."She
struck off on her
own in 2000, launching the Surf Academy
One of her managers, Emma Roll, 20, of El Segundo remembers the early days when Setterholm
drove a troubled Volkswagen Vanagon.
The Vanagon, which Setterholm
still drives, was the least of her
"I have made every mistake that can be," Setterholm
hired an incompetent business manager and tried to do too much herself.
"We grew too fast and I'd get home at night too tired and I couldn't handle the phone calls," she
said."I got beat up left and right and the only thing that kept me up was the passion for what I'm doing."
did right was market the business through the same recreation departments from which she
had sought a job.Although Manhattan Beach
began contracting with another company, Pure Surfing Experience
, in 2000, Setterholm
was able to capitalize on her
connections and experience in setting up Surf Academy
.The business blossomed.Setterholm
found herself attracting families."I get a mother whose husband has been talking about surfing and she
wants him to go," she
said."I see her
there and say 'how about you?' but she's
the caretaker and 'oh no.' "Setterholm
persisted in encouraging the mom until "she's
out there having a blast."
business sprang from her
simple desire to do business on the sand and bring her
sense of "stoke" to others.Stoke is a slang as old as surfing that means excitement, usually over the clean lines of well-formed waves.
"I don't have to go to Indonesia to get the stoke," she
Surf Academy | FAQs for Surf and Beach Kids Camps - Surf Academy
Mary Setterholm, the founder, began the program after and unsupervised young girl with minimal swim skills drowned many summers ago.
It as obvious that not enough instruction was being offered to children below the Junior Lifeguard level.
A need was seen and filled by Surf Academy providing all swim levels with safe ocean fun.
Surf Academy | ABOUT - Surf Academy
Marion Clark and Jamie Shindle, the managing partners, are the protégé of Mary Setterholm, US Surfing Champion and Hermosa Beach Walk of Fame Honoree.
Mary founded Surf Academy in 2000 and pledged to pass on her stoke when the next generation was ready.
and Jamie and their crew of quality surf instructors have taken the ball and run with it, expanding the core principles of Surf Academy
with new and programs that spread the stoke and love of surfing.
Marion is a Managing Partner and Beach Programs Director for Surf Academy and The Surf Bus Foundation, and is the daughter of both programs' founder, Mary Setterholm.
learned to surf 15 years ago at our first Wild Woman Waterday!
She is a founding member of Surf Academy's Surf Team: The Foxy Bangers.
Since getting up one knee, her
surfing journey has taken her
up and down the coast of California: from the big winter waves of Santa Cruz to the summer swells down at Cardiff-by-the-Sea.
favorite place to surf are the Islands of Oahu and Kauai, not only because the waves are amazing, but so is the weather!
takes both a holistic and step-by-step approach to the sport.
has a knack for relating surfing to something that her
students already love - she
helps to gives them a way to connect with an otherwise foreign idea: balancing on a board on water!
Marion is also a yoga and pilates teacher at various studios around the South Bay.
You can find her
at Harmony Yoga in Redondo Beach, YogaLoft in Manhattan Beach, and Ofie's Elite Physiques in Palos Verdes.
intimate knowledge of the human body helps to inform her
teaching style out in the water.
believes that immersion in surf culture (and the ocean!) is one of the fastest ways to get STOKED and stay that way!
students a copy of The Surfer Code and, if they want it, homework to help maximize their next surfing experience.
Marion is a versatile teacher, and appreciates all manner of student: from groms and grommettes to Silver Surfers.
is available for year-round surf lessons at all three of our locations: Huntington Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Santa Monica
Surf Academy | FAQs for School Teams - Surf Academy
You must fill out the school forms for your child, get their signature, get Head Coach Marion Clark's information, and turn the forms into the appropriate administrators at your child's school.
If you want to rent equipment for your child, Head Coach Marion needs to know at least 24 hours in advance to have it ready and available.
will not be bringing extra equipment to practices if she
is not asked for it by parents.
If you are interested in this option, please check the site and then email Marion
with your requests.
For morning practices, Marion
must be notified by 6pm the evening prior to make staff adjustments.
For afternoon practices, Marion
must be notified by 9am the day-of.
Surf Academy | Ohana Nalu Exclusive: Thanksgiving Private Lesson SALE! - Surf Academy
Lessons taken in Santa Monica are taught by Marion Clark only.
Lessons surfed in Manhattan Beach or Huntington Beach may be taught by other instructors pending preferences and availability.
Any prospective student must fill out a surfer profile at www.surfacademy.com before buying lessons.
Please contact Marion
: 424.903.9500 or firstname.lastname@example.org for questions!