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Sports Outdoors and Recreation

Surfer moms are catching the wave more and more

Beth Schub started surfing with one of her uncles on Long Island when she was 13, but she went off to college in Pennsylvania and later settled there after getting married, she thought she was pretty much done with the sport.

It took a move to Emerald Isle, N.C., with her husband Greg and their two young sons to get Schub back into surfing.

"When they were young I stopped surfing altogether, there were too many things to carry besides the surfboard," Schub, now 62, recalled last week. "When they started surfing in competition, I would sit on the beach and I thought, 'If they're going to be all day competing why shouldn't I?'"

Schub is a pioneer of sorts, part of a growing number of mothers who have have literally caught the wave.

Some like Schub have returned to the sport after thinking they had put their boards away for good. Others discovered surfing after years of doing other sports in and out of the water.

Michelle Sommers, who grew up on Kent Island, first started surfing after meeting her future husband, Jay, more than a decade ago. She was quickly hooked and four years ago she started teaching it off Assateague Island and Ocean City, where she is also now the director of the Eastern Surfing Association.

"Surfing has made me a better mom, a better wife and a better person," said Sommers, 37, the mother of boys ages 8 and 6. "It's wonderful. You go in the ocean so stressed out and everything just falls away."

Sommers jokes that the only argument she and the other surfing moms get into with their spouses is "who's going to get to surf and who's going to watch the kids."

Bethany Lentz, who was in Sommers' first surfing class for moms, has run in half-marathons and other shorter races, but "the rush you get when you catch that first wave is like nothing else I've experienced."

There are about 700 women in the ESA, the largest amateur surfing organization in the country.

Schub has been in Ocean City this week, winning the women's longboard competition at the Mid-Atlantic regionals after winning the shortboard event a year ago. Schub believes she is a "better surfer now" than ever before.

"That's what I love about competition, I honestly don't have the goal to be a national champion, but I I love the push, the drive to get better," Schub said.

Along with the fact that sons Justin, 33, and Erik, 30, are still competing — "They rip, they're good," said their proud mother — Schub believes her surfing has improved since she and her husband built a winter home in Puerto Rico four years ago.

"Spending my winters in Puerto Rico has definitely stepped up my game," she said.

It has allowed Schub to ditch the wet suit that keeps surfers from getting too cold when the ocean waters are frigid and adds some 15 pounds when saturated. It has also introduced Schub to a new group of female friends who are as serious about the sport as she is.

"But at the end of the day we're all going for dinner and drinks,' Schub said of a sport that definitely has its social agenda.

Erik Schub said that when his parents turned surfing into a family activity, he thought it was the norm given where they lived.

"I didn't think it was out of the ordinary," recalled Schub, who along with his brother and father work for a Baltimore-based tugboat company along the Outer Banks in North Carolina. "We lived near the ocean, and I thought everybody surfed."

As he progressed through middle school and high school, Erik Schub said he began to realize that "we were sort of this oddball family where everyone surfed. It was rare for me to see anyone's parents surfing."

But it quickly became a source of pride, especially that his mother was — and still is — surfing.

"I'm as proud as I can possibly be," Erik Schub said. "I think it's awesome."

While Beth Schub sees more women surfing than when she was younger, there are still not that many competing. There were only two in the competition at Ocean City, which she thought "was very disappointing".

Schub and others attribute the lack of competitive older female surfers to "the economy and that surfing is not at the top of their agenda." The physical demands — and the possibility of getting hurt — are also greater than other sports such as tennis and golf.

"It's a physically demanding type of sport. You have to have upper body strength, and women don't have that all the time," said Schub, who also believes her training as a swim instructor helped her surfing. "With the traditional roles women play, there are too many other obligations. It's not like tennis, where you can pick up a racket and hit the ball. In surfing it takes a whole lot more time, a whole lot more effort to catch the wave."

Schub said she has avoided any serious injuries — "Knock on wood," she said — and aside from swimming regularly, she doesn't do much in terms of training.

"If you're asking if I have any specific physical regimen, I'm embarrassed to say no," she said.

That the first major East Coast surfing competition often ends on Mother's Day, as it will this year, has also been a bit of a deterrent.

"It never bothered me, every now and then I hear some grumbles," Schub said. "Maybe it keeps some good athletes away."

But Schub keeps coming back. Her win in Ocean City on Thursday helped her qualify for the ESA's year-end championships in North Carolina in September.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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