Peter Melhado has been surfing since age nine, riding waves all over the world, from Costa Rica to Portugal. Now, the former College of Charleston student who still calls downtown home has started his own surf school catering to wave seekers who flock to Folly Beach for an authentic experience. What happens when your passion also becomes your business?
"There is nothing better than working for yourself,” Melhado said. "It has been a smooth transition and really rewarding. I love meeting new people everyday and getting people excited about what we're doing."
When I arrived to the washout for my lesson this past weekend, the day felt more like summer than the approaching autumn. The waves were smooth, the water was glassy, and Peter had been waiting patiently with two nine foot, soft top surfboards.
His instruction was brief but thorough. While I was somewhat anxious, Peter seemed anything but. The core of his teaching comes down to this: stay calm and stay centered, which, at the fear of sounding off into surf clichés, ended up being completely true.
Once we were in the water and I started catching my first waves, the feeling was akin to connecting with the sweet spot of a baseball or hitting the perfect drive on the golf course. This was the feeling that sportsmen crave and constantly chase: the moments when everything seems to line up just right and something—call it time, space, or a general perception of reality—is suspended, and suddenly I realized why guys like Peter often spend eight hours a day on the water.
The day didn’t start out that way, though. This again, had everything to do with me—specifically my general athletic anxiety. I’ve always been adequate, but not great at these things. For example, I shot a basketball flat-footed until the age of seventeen when a friend of mine pointed out, “They call it a jump shot because you are supposed to jump.” I was an above average JV lacrosse goalie, but I realize now that by the very definition of my body mass, I took up 80% of the goal. Last but not least, anyone who has borne witness to my trying new things knows that I am bad at them, earning me one trip to the urgent care. Yes, there is video evidence of this.
However, Peter is a great teacher with over eight years of teaching experience, so with a friendly push and his guidance, I was up on the board in seemingly no time with just his simple instructions of “paddle, paddle” and “get up!"
"A good teacher is patient and determined to create the best experience possible,” Melhado later said. "You have to be a knowledgeable surfer, but also need to be able to translate that knowledge into meaningful direction for first time surfers."
In addition to giving private lessons, Isla Surf School also offers semi-private lessons, group lessons, an eight week after school program that provides transportation to and from the beach, an instructor ratio of no more than 3:1, and an education component that teaches students about surf etiquette, water safety, winds, and tides. Isla Surf School instructors are all CPR and First Aid certified and have at least four years experience teaching surfing.
It’s never too late to start learning, and while more dedicated surfers ride year-round, the summer months are the best time to for beginners when the weather is warmer and the ocean a little more friendly.