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Surf's up

Becky Vargo • Sep 9, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Zoe McGregor said it was really cool to get out of school Thursday to enjoy some time at the beach.

The Grand Haven High School senior had to be reminded that she was actually there as part of a class — the school’s outdoor education class.

McGregor detached the leash from her surfboard and smiled as some of her new friends carried their boards up the beach.

“I feel like there’s bonding in a different way here than there is in the classroom,” she said.

Mason Harloff said he took the class on recommendations from friends.

“It’s awesome shredding the gnar out here,” the GHHS senior said.

Harloff said he expects the surfing to be the best part, but there’s a lot more to experience in the 18-week class.

Instructor Derek Warner said the teens start in Lake Michigan but finish the year in the snow at Mulligan’s Hollow. In between, they will do high ropes, rock climbing, canoeing and kayaking, adventure racing, and  complete a hunting safety course.

They’ll also participate in service projects such as beach cleanup. Warner said they do that because “this class would never happen without the huge community support.”

One of the community partners, MacKite, has helped them get enough equipment so that everyone has their own boards, Warner said, looking at the 35 teenagers attempting to ride the small waves on Thursday.

“It’s really helped with the learning curve,” he said. “In a couple of minutes, I’ve seen a dozen kids get to their feet.”

Warner said the weather was perfect — the waves were small enough for beginners and there was no current.

Despite the day’s heat and humidity, all of the students wore wetsuits for safety reasons, including flotation, Warner noted.

Thursday was the first day the students really tried to surf, the teacher said. The first day in the classroom was spent going over water safety, rip currents, longshore currents and watching out for each other. On Wednesday, students tested wetsuits and their boards in the water.

“We cover it all in the classroom,” Warner said. “When you’re out in the water, it’s a different story.”

Grand Haven High School has two outdoor education classes, each consisting of 35 students. Warner’s wife, Colleen, also teaches a section for Central High School students. They all share the equipment.

The outdoor education program started more than a dozen years ago at GHHS. This is Warner’s 11th year with the class.

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