Local surfing instructor specializes in teaching women to catch waves

Michelle Sommers, executive director of the Eastern Surfing Association and a long-time resident of Fenwick Island, has been recognized for years as a surfing instructor, offering customized surf lessons for women of all ages.

Special to the Coastal Point • De Vita Photography: Michelle Sommers, executive director of the Eastern Surfing Association offers customized surf lessons for women of all ages. Here Sommers teaches some young ladies on the beach at Fenwick Island. Below Sommers prepares to catch a wave.Special to the Coastal Point • De Vita Photography: Michelle Sommers, executive director of the Eastern Surfing Association offers customized surf lessons for women of all ages. Here Sommers prepares to catch a wave.Through her “women-specific” camps and private or small group lessons, hundreds of women throughout the coastal region and beyond have discovered the sport of surfing in what is designed to be a fun, safe environment, while making many new friends along the way.

“Women often are intimidated when it comes to surfing, as it has been viewed as a male-dominated sport for years,” said Sommers. “Many people would love to be able to surf, but mistakenly believe that surfing is too difficult to learn — and even if they are interested, they don’t know how or where to begin. For women, learning the basics from another woman takes away the intimidation factor.”

Sommers did not begin surfing until she was in her late 20s.

“I always wanted to learn but didn’t feel comfortable paddling out alone. When I started surfing over 12 years ago, there were very few female surfers to learn from or with. From my six years of teaching surfing to women, I have learned that they enjoy doing new things together, and this mutual support makes the experience memorable and fun.

“Women who are learning to surf feel comfortable with me. As a woman, I understand their fears and frustrations,” said Sommers. “There were not any women surf instructors that I knew of when I began the sport, so I had to learn techniques by watching and surfing with men surfers.” Women who are new to surfing are encouraged even more today by seeing so many other women in the surf, she said.

Ocean City, Md., resident Hilary Trader discovered surfing last summer. She said, “Michelle is a natural teacher and coach. She makes you feel relaxed and confident while pushing you to a new level of your own abilities. Not only is she incredibly skilled in her talents, but she truly finds so much joy in watching each and every one of her students get up on the surfboard for the first time. I feel so incredibly lucky to have found Michelle, as she made me feel safe and taught me a new sport that I have grown to love.”

“The best part of my job now,” added Sommers, “is that I have met hundreds of amazing women who have taken my classes. I have been able to pass on my love and skills in surfing, and I have maintained close friendships with many gals who I continue to teach and surf with.” Through Sommers’ role as the executive director of the Eastern Surfing Association, the nation’s largest amateur surfing organization, she said, she knows how rewarding surfing can be at every level.

Sommers’ surf camps are offered on several weekends throughout the summer, as well as “refresher” camps for students who haven’t been in the water since last season.

“There is a lot of information that surfers must be aware of including safety, etiquette and proper technique. It’s always important to be reminded of this prior to paddling out,” said Sommers. Lessons are offered seven days a week throughout the summer, dependent on surfing conditions and the weather.

Sommers works with local photographer Sarah Schwind of De Vita Photography by Sarah Schwind to offer Sommers’ surf camp participants keepsakes and memories of their first surfing adventure.

“Sarah is so talented in capturing the enthusiasm of the camp participants. Everyone wants one good photo of themselves riding waves, and Sarah offers this — and so much more,” added Sommers. “Even the Assateague ponies come and pose for her photos.”

Schwind will be offering group surf photo sessions throughout the summer for those who want to capture their surfing style and want beach portraits.

Sommers has taught surfing lessons for women into their 60s, as well as lessons for children and men. She said, “I enjoy teaching entire families to surf. This is very rewarding, as it’s something they will be able to do together forever.” Sommers’ husband, Jay, also surfs and owns several bicycle shops in the beach area, while their two young sons, Kai and Kade, enjoy catching waves, as well. Sommers explained, “Our family time is spent at the beach in the ocean. There’s nothing better than that!”

For more information or to schedule a lesson, visit her website at www.sommerssurf.com.