Surfin' Safari

    By Diane Lacey Allen

    Hiring a surf instructor gets you on your way to catching waves on Florida's Space Coast.

    Forget the Gidget movies. Surfing isn't just for teenagers. Or daredevils. Or people who have an ocean in their back yard. If you're prone to playing the Beach Boys at full volume, maybe it is time you finally caught that wave.

    Florida's Space Coast is just the place to grab a board, enjoy a day with sand between your toes and pretend to be a hard-core beach bum. Stare out at the surf off A1A and you'll understand how the soaring Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach became a landmark for tourists as well as students of the sport. They come here to search for a T-shirt and wind up with a history lesson at the Cocoa Beach Surf Museum.

    Hit the water and you'll understand what all the fuss is about.

    But before you throw your body to the whim of the waves, use your head and call on the experts. A surfing instructor can mean the difference between hanging ten and wiping out.

    Under the calm and reassuring tutelage of an instructor, anxiety will begin washing away before you even reach for the pull-tab that zips your wetsuit. Experienced instructors manage to pass along to the timid the kind of confidence that enables them to tackle the monster waves from Cocoa Beach to Costa Rica.

    Instructors literally launch you and your soft-textured board onto a wave surging towards shore. Your job is to leap up from a push-up like position and - with knees bent - surf. Standing up isn't as hard as you might think. Getting your feet and balance correct is a little trickier, especially since the better you do it the longer you get to ride.

    Stand too stiff and you'll find yourself back in the water, with a surfboard pulling at the leash attached to your ankle. Don't stand up at all and you'll stay crouched on a board and waving at the crowd that inevitably will swim towards you and your obvious failure.

    Success, however, is awesome. And addictive. A few good rides will make you want more and bigger waves. And something to eat. Surfing, after all, is hard work.

    Surfers have a way of attracting a crowd and you'll notice tourists and those who simply long to catch a wave checking out the action.

    Across from Patrick Air Force Base, the parking lot to the beach fills with young men in board shorts peeking over sea grape hedges for a look at the surf. It is a sight mimicked all along the highway at places with practical names like Second Light Beach.

    If you want something with a little more parking and amenities, check out Jetty Park near Port Canaveral. Jetty Park has a trifecta of options: a place to surf, work on your tan or watch giant cruise ships come in to port with dolphins leading the way.

    If you can't get enough surfing action - but need a break - visit the Cocoa Beach Pier. From your perch at a window seat at Marlins Good Times Bar and Grill, you can grab something to eat and still feel like you're balancing on a board.

    Cruise downtown and check out the shops that offer everything from antiques to wet suits. There's even authentic Cuban food at Roberto's Little Havana restaurant.

    If you've had a particularly good surfing day, stop by Coconuts on the Beach. A crowd regularly gathers on the deck and listens to bands nightly. Find a kindred spirit and share a few stories.

    The East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in Cocoa Beach

    The East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in Cocoa Beach

    - Len Kaufman

    Coconuts on the Beach on Cocoa Beach Pier.

    Coconuts on the Beach on Cocoa Beach Pier.

    - Len Kaufman