Riding the Wave: What Surfing Taught Us about Teaching and Learning

By Fish Tung, Assistant Communications Officer 

An extreme sport, a flow experience, the feeling of acceleration, the excitement and freedom from the speed and unknown, a sense of lifestyle. When most people think of surfing, these are a few of the things that come to mind for many people. 

But what about the connection between surfing and our lives at TAS? How is surfing like learning and teaching in school?   

There’s no better way to find out than by speaking with two of our community members who are also active surfers in their free time, Carl Lochrin and Dan Robinson. 

Taiwan is blessed with a unique natural environment and ocean culture, making it the perfect setting for sports like surfing. There are several well-known surfing locations within a 30-45 minute drive from our campus, and for those who are willing to explore the island more, Taiwan has hundreds of other incredible beaches for beginner, intermediate and advanced surfers alike.  

Although we don’t have a statistic to reference, many of our community members that are devoted to and passionate about surfing during their free time, and they mentioned that surfing not only allows them to see the beauty of this country, but also helps them plug into the community, both inside of the big TAS family as well as in the Taiwanese local community.  

Carl Lochrin, the K-12 Aquatics Specialist, has been in Taiwan for 24 years. He mentioned that there was a big surfing community in TAS around 10 years ago, with about 16 faculty members in a group who would stay in touch about where the best waves were.  

"Usually at 5 a.m. on Saturday mornings, we would text each other, and then we all gather to the same place to surf," Lochrin said. "We used to have a blog that about our surfing or any surfing-related things. We even designed a logo and printed the t-shirts!"    

Carl explained that the group wasn’t just a social group, either. They worked with a local surf shop here in downtown Taipei. 

"Originally, we were testing the surfboards for a board-making guy,” said Carl. “We were testing them all over the north coast, and we found a lot of places that people might not know," Lochrin said.  

Due to its close proximity to Tianmu, the Jinshan area of the north coast became a frequent spot for Carl and the rest of the TAS surfer group. 

"Jinshan already had people surfing at that point,” said Carl. “There were some local surfers but not many. The east coast like Wai'ao, Wu-Shi, already had some good surfers out there, but Jinshan had little. When Jinshan became popular, we then moved to another surfing spot, the place never even had a road in in those days."  

The process of exploring those surfing spots is enjoyable, just like how we try to find and plot the route to learning and knowledge. It can be nerve-wracking to paddle out into the unknown, but there's never a dull moment. Like Mr. Lochrin said, this "is all part of the fun and thrill!"  

Like the rest of our community members, Mr. Lochrin values health and balance, and seizes the opportunity to find peaceful moments in his busy life. 

He mentioned that surfing is something connected to his wellness. "The big thing is when you paddle way out in the morning, in the surf, you don't think about anything else, you forget, and everything else drops away. It's kind of like meditation."    

"It's about relaxation. Teaching can be challenging and stressful, it's a profession that we do with people, young people particularly. I always feel it's important to me to look after myself on the weekend, so then the following week I could be the best that I could be for the kids."   

Another TAS surfer legend is Dan Robinson, our Middle School Robotics Teacher. He came to Taiwan in 2004, fresh off the New Zealand longboard circuit. He was looking for some oversea experiences, saying, "I wanted to put myself in a situation that would be full of curiosity and interest."   

He was very excited that there were a lot more people here who were passionate about surfing. "There were all these people that surfed and for some reason, everybody goes “Hey let’s meet at this place!” And I thought "Woah, this is incredible!” I didn’t know I was moving into such a surf culture school," Robinson said.  

"I think surfing is an amazing sport because it’s the intersection of these two masses. You’ve got the land mass and you’ve got the water mass and you’ve got this incredible viscosity that transfers energy from water. And then when it interplays with the coast it just creates this incredible dynamism. It shifts every day. Every day is different. You’ve got different surf that comes in. And it’s just incredible. And we all love the grandeur of the creation of the world around us." 

Surfing to him already became a life practice, "surfing is just embedded into your life, or like your DNA, you don't really have to think about why or think too much about that, you just do it and then live it." Robinson added. 

As for teaching, he said a good teacher is just like a good surfer who can read the environment, the landscape, and different situations.  

"In a class, you've got a social landscape. You know you've got a theoretical and technical landscape or body that you're trying to get that social landscape to interact with. What does each class present? What's the makeup of this class? At the moment, I'm teaching 10 different classes and interacting with them all in different ways and on different days. The emotions and energy of the students change every moment. I think an artistic teacher reads that, and then responds," Robinson said. 

There are always a lot of unexpected things or elements that happen in the teaching spaces, and surfing too. Sometimes things go beyond your control. And sometimes we face failure too. Mr. Robinson thinks that "as teachers, it's important to have those days. You've got to be able to recognize that, if you're not going to recognize that you can't respond to it."  

On the other hand, the fact that each one of us has different roles inside or outside of the school, and we are constantly moving between the roles is something that can bring an impact on the students and ourselves.  

Robinson also mentioned that it's really amazing when working and interacting with different characters and seeing the world from their perspective.  

“I think I learn as much from my students as they're learning from engaging with the curriculum. To be an excellent teacher, you need to excel at learning, and you need to know when to switch from one role to the other.” 

Like surfing, learning and teaching can be a unique experience. Educators and students alike work to train the mental muscles that help us embrace challenges, ride out the ups and downs of our daily lives, and find the joy and excitement that come from finally ‘catching a wave’ in our teaching and learning.  

With courage and resilience, we know that our TAS community will “make it through the barrel” whether we are in the classroom or on a surfboard.