By: Logan D Clark

Although the waves are lacking along the Ohio River, professors Dr. Shawn Apostel and Dr. Grant Smith have no problem heading south to catch them. From white boards to surfboards, these professors enjoy surfing. 

Apostel is an associate professor of instructional technology in the communication department, and this is his seventh year at Bellarmine. Smith is the chair of doctoral studies and a statistics professor in the Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education and is also in his seventh year at Bellarmine.

These surfers have never met, yet their surfing experiences are quite similar. Most notable is their love for Florida surfing.

Apostel grew up on a surfboard. His grandfather, Heinz Apostel, was a World War II airplane mechanic stationed in Hawaii who spent many of his mornings surfing. After the war, the family moved to San Francisco and then to Miami. Apostel’s dad, Steve Apostel, raised his family there, and Apostel said his first memory of being outside was the beach.

Apostel said: “I am definitely an East Coast surfer. The waves are sloppier, but the water is warm. The west coast is too cold. Hawaii, though, that is different. The water is warm with perfect waves.” 

Apostel said times have changed since he was younger. “I used to be able to surf the four- to six-foot waves, and now I’m riding the two – and four-foot waves,” he said. Paddling out is the hardest part, he said. 

Apostel said he has had many memorable experiences on the surfboard. He talked about the trip he and his wife took to Hawaii last spring to celebrate their 20th anniversary.

“It was a lot of fun. There were sea turtles everywhere.  I got my wife out on the board with me and we hung out with the sea turtles. It was very memorable,” he said, “I had a great time.” 

Apostel said he has gotten hurt many times while surfing. “The worst is when you wipe out in shallow water,” he said. “I’ve been scraped by coral a lot and hit by the board many times. There are a lot of ways to get hurt if you fall wrong.”

One thing Apostel said he loves most about surfing is being able to share the hobby with his father, Steve. “To be a surfer one must love the ocean and be a good swimmer. Shawn and I are very fortunate to share in this as I live a few hundred yards from the best waves in Florida,” Steve said. “I enjoy surfing with my son and have been impressed how well he surfs given the limited opportunities he has to practice. He tells me the surf is bad in Kentucky.” 

“My dad lives in Cocoa Beach, Florida, now, which is great for surfing,” Apostel said. “I’ve had many memorable experiences surfing with my dad.

“Surfing is definitely a hobby. Surfers put surfing above everything. They work jobs that get the most time off so they can surf and travel,” he said. 

Apostel said surfing gives him a great perspective on life. “You know there’s chances of danger but that doesn’t stop you. It isn’t a bad perspective on life knowing every time out on a board can be your last,” he said.

He said that surfing is a lot like life in many ways. “You can’t make waves. You have to wait for them to come. You get what life gives you. Then you can choose what you want to do with it,” he said. 

Apostel said he plans to go to Florida to see his dad in Cocoa Beach this summer, because he enjoys the summer waves. “They’re a good size,” he said. 

Apostel said if his children pick up surfing, it will be the fourth generation of surfers in his family. “That’s pretty cool to me,” he said. “They’ll be fine if they can get over the saltwater.”

Smith, like Apostel, has been surfing is whole life. He grew up on the west coast of Florida. “I can remember being seven and eight years old, tagging along with my older brother to go surfing,” Smith said.

Smith said waves on the west coast of Florida tend to be small. “Florida’s west coast is often mocked as a ‘surf destination,’” he said. “Florida surfers are kind of looked down on compared to the rest of the world.”

Smith said he prefers the “west-coast style” waves. “I don’t have the courage to surf the big waves. My daughter is going to school in California. She’s a surfer. That was the last time I’ve probably surfed legitimate waves was when we were there looking at colleges,” he said. 

Out of Smith’s four children – his youngest daughter – was the only one to take up surfing. “Some of my favorite memories were pushing my kids out on a surfboard into the waves. Especially my daughter. You get to the point where you’re fighting the wave and eventually, it just takes you. The joy on their face is the best.”

“I’m an old-school surfer. You go out and catch a wave and let the wave dictate where you go. I let the wave take me, which is a little different style,” he said.

Smith visits the beach quite often, hoping of catching some waves. “I have a house on Sunset Beach in Florida. So, six times a year, at least, I’m in the water hoping to surf,” Smith said. 

Dr. Grant Smith enjoys the view at his home in Sunset Beach, Florida. Photo courtesy of Smith.

Smith said he has had no significant injuries while surfing. “No broken ribs or anything like the guys that ride the big waves,” he said. “You can go down in funny ways and the board can come back into you. No concussions yet.”

Smith said the surfing he does isn’t only “old school, but old man” as well. “I have no interest in carving waves. It’s hard enough to getting up on the board.” 

Smith said surfing is more of a hobby than a sport for him. “It gives me a chance to get on the water and be aware of what’s around me,” Smith said. “It’s really kind of cool.”

“Surfing is a lot like life. There are so many opportunities available to you. Just get on and let the wave take you where it wants to. You don’t know where you will end up and it’s fun,” Smith said. 

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