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Conatus Surfing Services

Does Conatus Offer Surf Lessons In New York?

Dion Mattison
Dion MattisonPublished on July 07, 2022

Hey everyone! How about this epic image of I took of "surf lessons in New York?!" A lot going on right there. This is one of those monthly-weekly-free-everyone-gets-it newsletters that I do once in a blue moon. What better time to make such a post than peak beach season in the northern hemisphere? Amirite? I am going to be completely transparent with you. I am also writing this post as a kind of assignment for the owner and guru of SubKit, Bora Celik, as a tester for key words related to Google searches. Turns out the top search words are "Surf Lessons Rockaway" or "Surf Schools New York." At first I said to Bora, "No fucking way man. I won't write anything that has to do with surf schools and surf lessons. I don't give surf lessons. I do coaching." And then I realized how defensive that stance was. I also realized that all Bora was asking me to do was a literary, social, and business experiment. Then I did some more internal deliberating: "Am I not creative enough to write a fun post with some key words in it? I could write a negative post and it would still have all the key words. But why just write a negative post? Why not write an informative post that shows many sides and still hits all the key words?" It seems I had my answer. I told Bora as much in an email. Turns out at the same time he was writing me an email suggesting I do the same! We received one another's mirrored correspondence within minutes. He, however, got in the last word: "Jinx!" So let's get to it. What is a "surf school?" What are "surf lessons?" And accordingly is Conatus (Surf Club) a surf school that gives surf lessons?

First of all, let's talk legality. A surf school usually has a physical presence on the beach in the form of a tent or an umbrella with the words "surf school," "surf lessons," or "surf camp" written somewhere on it. There's usually some sort of table for sign ups. Normally surf schools get permits from city parks departments (or other relevant government bureaus) to have said tents and to run said lessons. Some operate rogue until they're called out by another, competing school. It's usually a bunch of drama. I think it happened a few years back in Montauk between Corey's Wave and some other Montauk school (Corey's Wave had permits and the other school was trying to kick Corey out and get a monopoly, but then it turned out that that school didn't have the permits)! I know there was some such issue between Locals Surf School and Skudin Surf Camps here in Rockaway. In popular places for learning to surf in California (Santa Cruz, San Diego, various places in Orange County) and Hawaii (Waikiki) which surf schools get the permits works on a lottery system. You enter your school's name in the lottery, pay a fee to be in it, and either you're drawn from the hat or not. If you are picked, it's usually for a time period -- 1-10 years or something like that. So on this purely legal level Conatus is not a surf school. I don't have a tent that I pay a permit to place in the sand. With sandbars, winds, and tides shifting as they do, I never want to be tied to one beach.

Beyond the legalities, the existence of a tent signifies a lot more about what a surf school is and does. It means there's a real, big operation afoot. Usually surf schools have a bevy of instructors and staff, signing beginners and campers up, or checking them in as the case may be, getting them their gear, and directing them towards certain locations on the beach to wait for or start their lessons. In this way the tent is like a "school building" that temporarily houses the instructors, administrators, and students engaged in the "educational process." It is possible that the owner of the surf school actually teaches day to day lessons, but it is not likely or guaranteed.

Usually surf school instructors have taken some kind of certification course through the ISA. In my opinion the ISA's standards are in the gutter, and their courses do not even ensure that an instructor knows how to surf, let alone that he or she knows how to teach others to surf. I wouldn't deign to have them certify me; rather, I think they'd need to do a lot of work to live up to my standards of what constitutes a well rounded surfing education. Usually surf instructors are young people in their teens and early twenties, working for the summer in an ocean environment, which keeps them fit and tanned. The pay is usually abysmal (I know because I was once one of these young people), the hours are long, and it's seasonal, usually confined to the summer months. Not only is it warmer in summer, but kids are off from school. Kids populate the popular camps both as beginners and instructors, depending on their ages and their time spent surfing. It is not uncommon for a kid who attended a camp through her pre-teens to end up teaching there in her teenage years. All this said, if having kids camps and hiring teen instructors is a hallmark of surf schools that's another point for Conatus not being a surf school. There are in fact no instructors. There's just me, Dion, the head coach and owner of the business. To be sure, I am engaging in a surf education process, but already we can see that it's really starting to look like I lack many of the hallmarks of a "Rockaway Surf School" (or any other surf school . . . gotta get those key words in!).

Four other key signifiers of all surf schools, and Rockaway surf schools in particular, are: 1. Rashguards worn on the outsides of wetsuits by students and instructors alike; 2. Flotillas of soft top surfboards; 3. Large group lessons; 4. Students laying on their boards with their backs turned to the ocean waiting for the instructors to push them into waves. A fifth, which is endemic only to NY, as I have written before, is that students are instructed to drag their boards in the sand by the ends of their leashes. This is only practiced in NY! The only one of these that I dabble in is the use of a soft top board from time to time. I have come to realize that soft tops, and especially the top of the line ones, have their merits. One of them is that any beginning surfer is bound to struggle to control his equipment, and therefore it can be safer for him to use a board that will hurt himself and others less. It's not that a soft top can't hurt you (right Fialka?! . . . who got staples from a Mick Fanning landing on her head when she was practicing alone), but that the chances of concussion, death, and dismemberment are quite a bit lower. So yeah, soft tops are cool, but they're not the only tools that I use to educate people in surfing. "Real surfers" will all one day own a few (or very many) surfboards made from a variety of materials, and usually at least one from polyurethane foam and fiberglass cloth and resin (this is what is known as a standard "PU" board). PU boards sit "in" the water and usually have a more positive "glide" feel that jives better with advanced surfing. When I started my style of surf education I used strictly PU boards only. My rationale was that anyone training with me was going to own one in the end, so they may as well get used to handling one from the beginning. I still believe this essentially, but again, sometimes you're just in a place where you do need to crash a lot (or run people over if you're an expert surfer out on a crowded summer day) and the softer boards are better for that.

One thing all five of the hallmarks of surf schools have in common is that they draw enormous attention to the surf education operation. They take up loads of space in any given lineup or beach, and all participants are marked out as a part of that operation. There are upsides to this. You can see them so you can avoid them. It's kind of like the principle of putting a plaque on a student driver's car. That the instructor wears a rashgaurd is also important in case anyone needs help or wants to hold the school responsible for any adverse scenario. The downsides are obvious for the recreational surfer who just wants to go have a surf without an instructor hurling unwitting noobs into her line. Then again, if she is an expert she should know how to find the times and places where the schools are easily avoidable.

Large group lessons are something that I don't engage in. It simply takes up too much space and I find it rather an unwieldy way to teach surfing. When I ponder this, I think that more than anything the term "surf lessons" really connotes "large group lessons." Or as I like to call them, "tourist lessons." These are usually priced affordably, which makes some of the barriers to entry seem reasonable. Who wins here? Usually the surf schools. Due to the volume of students the schools can process in one day they (usually the owners) make a killing with them. The upshot of these group lessons has nothing to do with really learning to surf, but instead with providing people with an initial interaction with the ocean, surfboards, and waves. Some people do them to merely check "surfing" off of their bucket list, or because it's just a fun activity to do with family or friends while on vacation or on a particularly hot summer day (I should say that there are also rare cases where the lessons are taken on account of a professional journalistic assignment). It is also the case that most surf schools do offer 1-1 private instruction with their more advanced instructors. These start to look more like what I do, but more often than not fall pretty short of the mark, at least here in Rockaway. By "short of the mark" I mean a lot of things, but the most significant is probably that most (but not all) people who engage in surf education focus too much on the act of standing and not enough on ocean knowledge, wave judgment, paddling form, lineup etiquette, and board control. Furthermore, it is rare that the the practice is contextualized historically, psychologically, and culturally/socially.

For these reasons, I do not consider Conatus a Rockaway surf school, and that's why I've called it Conatus "Surf Club." This is still nebulous because it's not just a club, and I do practice surfing education, but I have long desired to distance myself from the branding "surf school." I prefer to call what I do "mentorship" or "coaching" rather than "surf instruction" or "surf lessons." I do give "lessons" in the broader grammatical sense of teaching someone a few tips that perhaps they did not know before. But these tips are always geared towards the individual whom I am coaching, his or her personal strengths, weaknesses, anxieties, and habits. I do engage in semi private coaching sessions, but these are not for entry level surfers. Instead I flip the surf school model and make sure that if you are to do these sorts of sessions with me you have already had the basic 1-1 training and initiation. Also as a coach for a variety of levels, I feel that "surf lessons" feels a touch patronizing to someone who desperately wants to raise their level, but who is also not a beginner. "Yeah, I get some coaching to help me with my cutbacks and top turns," sounds a lot better than, "I take surf lessons."

I know that because I do train beginners I will not ever fully be able to escape the fact that some people will continue to label me a surf school/surf instructor who "gives lessons." It's culturally ingrained. So yeah, in that sense, sure, I can accept that because it's not up to me. Even so, I like to take a leaf from the terminology of Chris Blotiau at the Surf Continuum in Montauk, and prefer call any individual coaching experience a "session," rather than a "lesson." Speaking of Chris, dude has a nifty little real estate/surf guiding deal going on this summer and fall out there for members of the CSC community:

I'm not planning on doing any instruction out there this summer or fall myself, but do get in touch with Chris if you're interested in his pad. Mention Dion @ Conatus to get his discounted rate on lodging, car, and instruction.

Conatus Is Also A Media Company

I have been thinking a lot about this fact lately. Much of what I do is to produce alternative surf media. For example, instead of pulling images from surf schools' sites, I walked the boardwalk with my Olympus and shot my own content. The intention was always to write this article for my SubKit, but I couldn't do it without my own, original media. Then there's the fact that I love to write these newsletters, to put out this alternative surf content. As John Woods once texted me (we share a hatred of the writing in the Surfer's Journal), "Your newsletters are like if the Surfer's Journal actually had decent writing. That should be your pitch: Cancel your subscription to SJ and subscribe to Dion at SubKit." Thanks John! I agree with you, except that I may not cover quite as much of the minutiae to do with certain histories of board design that SJ does. And Richard Kenvin's writing is more than bearable. I do love his brief introduction to Surf Craft: Design and the Culture of Board Riding (MIT Press, 2014). So maybe keep your subscription to SJ and subscribe to weekly or monthly Dion @ SubKit . . . Personally it takes me about five seconds before I'm bored with an SJ issue, but taste is subjective, and I have been in surfing culture long enough to become easily jaded by the machismo faux intellectual writing they promote. As weekly subscribers here know, I'm more into theory qua theory and applying it to surfing. That is because I identify strongly as a philosopher who happens to surf rather than a surfer who happens to dabble in philosophy. Philosophically my concerns go straight to the big questions: what is a human? What is consciousness? Do we need a concept of God to ground our metaphysics? And how does the way we position ourselves vis a vis these questions affect our relationships to surfing, specifically to the ways that we view surfing, place it in our lives, share (or not share) it with others, and with how we view bettering (or not bettering) our surfing more generally?

Through these media my goal is to provide fresh and deeper takes on the surfing experience. I use a bunch of different media equipment for both lifestyle and pedagogical purposes, and through this media I try to shape and reflect different angles of approaching surfing as a practice. My public videos live on my YouTube Channel. I post private tip videos here on SubKit once a week. These usually make it to YouTube about 3 weeks later, if they ever make it there at all. I've also started a community page on Facebook where people engaged with CSC can meet up, chat surfing, sell gear, post vids, etc. Get over there!

Weekly/Monthly Tip Video: Mid-Length Mastery Pt 3: The Big Board Duck Dive

Thankfully the SubKit engineers have fixed the video upload issue! Remember that if you EVER have trouble viewing SubKit vids in your email to head directly to your SubKit page to view them. Here's Pt 3 of my Mid-Length Mastery series, which only weekly subscribers and clubhouse members have been receiving. This one is a big deal because most people struggle so much with duck diving a larger board. The key? It's the same key as with the rest of surfing: TAIL CONTROL. Sink that baby in a controlled manner with both knees. You can pivot to one foot or one knee if you like, but if the board is larger, you're gonna need all the weight your booty and thighs can muster to sink it. You don't want the motion to be rapid or frantic. Remember, it's about CONTROL. Controlled submersion of the tail by the legs with guidance from the arms. Cuz let's be real, most of you, including me, will never be able to duck dive like John John. Eff the Stab! content and get over here and learn skills that apply to average, everyday surfers. Throw your Pyzels in the trash, unless you're getting a mid-length Pyzel. If I see another Pyzel ridden poorly in the lineup in Rockaway with this summer my eyes may literally start bleeding. If you can't do anything I'm doing in that video on a similar shape board (that's a 7'6") then you need to rethink your quiver. If you're still a beginner don't worry. You're not supposed to know how to do that stuff yet. Taking off with ease, getting head dips, and smashing end sections is achieveable. Get on it. Non-weekly subscribers, the first two Mid-Length Mastery vids will go live on YouTube this week.

Weekly/Monthly Challenge: (Same As Last Week) Join the FB Community Page and Post Something!

I think the links I shared last time were faulty. That one above should do the trick. Here it is again just in case:

Post anything! A pic of you surfing. A YouTube vid of your favorite surf song to get you amped. A board you're selling. A link to a product you love. A testimonial about how fun my surf trips are. ANYTHING! Let's see it! Get involved.

Book Club: Dune Books II and III August 13th

Book club? Dune? Oh hell yes. Caveat: CSC Book Club is only for Conatus Everything Plan subscribers and higher, so just be aware of that. We have read some awesome shit in the past year. This summer I'm offering to cook you a vegan lunch for our once a month meetings, which will be followed by a community BBQ at the clubhouse. We just had our first one last Saturday. It was hot as hell, but it was a total blast.

Roger and I dug deep into Book I. So deep in fact, that I realized that I need to start recording our meetings. We had some fantastic thoughts about what Herbert means by the term "race consciousness" and "jihad." I had interpreted this as a "pull towards orthodoxy," which most of us are confronted with in all of our moral positions. Just consider the ways that you've been pulled towards a kind of orthodoxy in anything. There is no facet of human life that escapes this pull. No, not even surfing. And Dune books explore this? Oh eff yes they do. To the Nth degree. We'll finish up to Book III for our next meeting Saturday, August 13th, at 1p, to be followed by a club-wide BBQ at 330p. Event details will be on the Facebook page. Oh and Roger, check out this podcast about the new Dune movie and decolonialism. The one interlocutor who hasn't read the books is super annoying, but some of their remarks about the Fremen are spot on.

Last Lines

Ooooo the 4th had some fun ones!

In conclusion, I reiterate, for the sake of the holy Google search, Conatus only kinda gives "surf lessons in NY" and for the most part is not a surf school, if by surf school we mean many of the things I said above. It's a community, a media outlet, and a source of surf coaching, education, and mentorship, run by me, solo entrepreneur extraordinaire, Dr. Dion Mattison, PhD.

It's also kind of a travel agency for super rad surf trips, one of which I'm about to embark upon this coming Wednesday, July 13th. Five CSC crew and I are headed to Oaxaca, Mexico to surf the famed break of Salina Cruz for seven days straight. Then I'm headed to Mexico City for some culture and vegan tacos for five days, followed by a week in Sayulita with four more stoked CSCers, where we'll be armchair philosophizing about how to solve all the world's problems, surfing, videoing surfing, getting better at surfing, and trying to stay hydrated. I'll be back in NYC on August 2nd for the rest of the foreseeable summer. I do have to make some kind of trip to Costa Rica to sign some very important property documents this fall. Haven't decided on dates yet. May try to rope some coaching into the mix. On the CR front, I'm getting closer to solidifying winter retreat dates and prices. Looks like one over the Christmas break and first two weeks of January and another in March and/or April. I plan to avoid Easter and the hippy festival from hell that is known as Envision Festival. As ever, premium newsletter subscribers will hear about retreat dates first. For those that are already on the list, you have first dibs.

If you like what you're consuming here, and aren't getting enough, check out the other plans:

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If you already subscribe and want to upgrade, it's a piece of cake. Just pick a new plan and it will upgrade you. SubKit will not charge you for two plans at once. Also, don't forget that there is a referral link, so if you have a friend who subscribes, please ask them to refer you so that you save money. And if you know someone who would like these use the link!

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Weekly peeps, I'll be hitting you up with Mexico trip updates, highlights, and thoughts in seven days. Muah, muah, muah.

Ever your philosophical coachy poo,


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