She was 29 years old, living in Los Angeles, quickly falling out of love with the city and going through a breakup with her boyfriend of eight years. Looking to redefine herself outside of her previous relationship and not wanting to deal with the complications of determining who were his friends and who were hers, math teacher Katie Collins decided to learn how to surf at an all-women’s surf camp in Nicaragua.
“I just felt like I needed to learn something new to make new friends,” Collins said. “I got to go on vacation to this cool beautiful tropical place and learn to surf. [Learning to surf] was really hard, really really hard … [but] when you first stand up you’re pretty stoked.”
By the end of the camp, she was able to stand up a bit more consistently. However, achieving “consistency” in surfing, according to Collins, requires years and years of training. That is simply because the ocean has no real consistent pattern, making each wave a completely unique experience.
“Every wave is different, the ocean is always changing,” Collins said. “Learning to read waves and deciding which waves are bad and which waves are good, it takes a lot of practice.”
When she returned home, she continued surfing on the beaches of LA, only once or twice a week, but enough for her to make a couple of friends. That was also around the time that Collins was finishing up her work in LA, and decided to move up to Santa Cruz.
“I hadn’t really enjoyed living in LA for a few years. LA is a funny place — people either love or they hate it,” Collins said. “I loved it for a while and that love turned into pure hate. And especially after that breakup, I was asking myself, ‘Why am I still here?’”
Still living in LA, she began to apply to jobs in northern California because she loved the area, having grown up in Cupertino. According to Collins, MVHS was one of the only schools who was hiring that paid more than 50 cents an hour. Collins also had a personal connection to the school as she had attended MVHS herself. She got the job and moved to Santa Cruz, only a 45 minute drive from her childhood home in Cupertino.
The summer that she moved to Santa Cruz, Collins would leave her house extremely early in the morning to surf.
“I used to get up really early [at 3:30 A.M.] because I wanted to get up to the water early — one, because I wanted to have the rest of my day, and two, if you get in the water really early, sometimes it’s not too crowded yet so you get a chance to get a couple waves before the crowd gets crazy,” Collins said.
Surfing became an integral part of Collin’s life, a way for her to learn new things and meet new people. In fact, surfing is what brought her and her husband together.
Collins recalls the day when she first met him — she was checking the waves and he was checking the surf spot right next to her. Although she can’t remember who said what first, she distinctly remembers that they had a small conversation about the waves. In the coming weeks, Collins would repeatedly see him all over town. One day, in O’Neil’s surf shop, she was looking for supplies for her upcoming trip to El Salvador, when he offered her his own supplies at his house for free. When she went on the trip, she bought him some coffee as well as a card, in which she had written her phone number, as a thank you gift.
“He called me and we went to dinner and I don’t know … got married, pretty much,” Collins said.
Her husband has been a professional surfer since he was about 16 years old, and around a year after they got married, he encouraged her to sign up for a surfing contest. The main reason to compete was to be able to surf by herself, as there are only a limited number of contestants in the water.
“I was like real nervous and I didnt want to make a fool of myself and there’s not a lot of women that surf,” Collins said. “I actually did really well, but I had violated the rules of the first surf contest as you’re only supposed to catch six waves but [I] stood up on a seventh wave. And that was my first surf contest and so I got disqualified for not following the rules. It was fairly typical and fitting my personality I guess.”
Recently, Collins won a surfing contest in Half Moon Bay.
“[Surfing at Half Moon Bay] totally sucked, but it’s kind of cool because … typically you don’t … see a lot of women in the water,” Collins said. “We’re all hooting when one gets a wave, versus being really competitive. You know we’re all [at the competition] for fun…. When you go and free surf, ... you’re in a crowd and everyone’s just like being really selfish and acting like a bunch of jerks..”
That single decision to learn to surf that Collins made eight years ago has now changed her life in big and small ways. She’s learned about the science of surfing, made new friends, and found a way to be able to do something she loves.
“I’ve learned a lot about winds and tides and currents and the ocean, like details that I never thought I would understand,” Collins said. “It’s given me a new avenue to make friends … I think [surfing has] also taught me to be like forgiving of myself like when you make mistakes, because it’s like an impossible sport … It’s just a total different thing. Just being in the ocean too I mean I think that there’s no better place to feel centered with nature.”