SHOREWOOD - Shorewood students are now able to catch waves for course credit.
Atwater Beach in Shorewood may not have the same surfing stature as California's Huntington Beach but surfing culture has been on the rise for several years in Shorewood. The Milwaukee Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation held its first Surf Atwater event in 2013, and has brought families down to the beach for surf lessons and surfing documentaries every year since. Last year, Jake and Alaina Bresette moved from Madison to Shorewood to open the Milwaukee area's first surfing shop at 1926 E. Capitol Drive.
The building surfing sensation in the community and among local teenagers prompted Shorewood High School teachers to incorporate surfing lessons into their Watershed Wisdom curriculum. The interdisciplinary course, now in its 19th year, has always required students to experience outdoor adventures, but surfing is new to the curriculum this year. Lake Effect rents the surfboards and wet suits for the surfing lessons, which took place on April 30 and May 7.
Watershed Wisdom is team-taught by three Shorewood High School teachers: Eric Gietzen, Mike Gregornik, and Eric Mathews. Gietzen, who just happens to be the chairman of the Milwaukee branch of the Surfrider Foundation, has been surfing in Lake Michigan since 1986. He said the team of teachers wanted to add a local, freshwater-based adventure to their curriculum, so surfing was a natural fit.
“Surfing in the Great Lakes is nothing new, but a lot of local people are beginning to look to the lake for a unique experience, an adventure, and the camaraderie one finds ,” Gietzen says.
In addition to learning how to surf, Gietzen also hopes the experience will give students a greater respect for Lake Michigan
“We want students to understand the profound value of Lake Michigan, not only as a place for adventure, but also as a resource and ecosystem their generation will have to protect," he said. "For some of these students, this experience will crystallize their understanding of what it means to love a place so much you want to protect it."
In June, the Watershed Wisdom class will embark on an 11-day camping expedition. The students will bike more than 100 miles to the headwaters of the Milwaukee River, learn canoe rescue skills at Mauthe Lake and then paddle downstream to the harbor. Students will also have to create and prepare their own meals. Along the way, students will conduct labs in environmental science, compose narratives and poems about their experience, and engage in academic and philosophical discussions around the campfire.
The surfing lessons and the 11-day camping expedition are examples of an educational approach called authentic learning, which allows students to learn through hands-on, real-world experiences.
“Our community understands the value of authentic learning, the power of a watershed education, and the unique educational opportunities provided by our proximity to the world’s greatest source of surface freshwater," Gietzen said. "Surfing, like so many other things we teach, is simply an extension of these values.”