The Thrill of Big-Wave Surfing
Subject: Language Arts
Grade Level: 4-6

In this lesson students will learn about big-wave surfing from a variety of perspectives. After watching the NATURE production CONDITION BLACK students will participate in activities that focus on the ways that human beings respond to nature and challenge.


Learning Objectives

1. Students will learn to read for information and evaluate a variety of sources.

2. Students will learn how to summarize content knowledge from varied resources in creating a presentation.

3. Students will learn about the relationships between human beings and their environment as they reflect upon the challenges of big-wave surfing.

4. Students will critically analyze factual information and prepare a written essay that incorporates this knowledge into a descriptive paragraph.

Bookmark the following sites:


Language Arts
Understands different messages conveyed through visual media (e.g., main ideas and supporting details; facts and opinions; main characters, setting, and sequence of events in visual narratives)
Understands a variety of messages conveyed by visual media (e.g., main concept, details, themes or lessons, viewpoints)
Uses strategies (e.g., adapts focus, organization, point of view; determines knowledge and interests of audience) to write for different audiences (e.g., self, peers, teachers, adults)
Uses descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas (e.g., establishes tone and mood, uses figurative language, uses sensory images and comparisons, uses a thesaurus to choose effective wording)
Gathers and uses information for research purposes
Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand
Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts (e.g., textbooks, biographical sketches, letters, diaries, directions, procedures, magazines)

Life Skills
Contributes to the overall effort of a group


Background Activities

Activity One

1. Read the following excerpt from CONDITION BLACK to the students:
The relationship of the ocean is just one that is, well, balance in my life. It gives me balance. Without the ocean, I probably wouldn't have balance. The ocean feeds me, consoles me, it relaxes me, a place of work, a place of pleasure. It's my life's blood. Our ancestors have taught us to read the elements; to read the wind, to read the earth, to read the ocean, the waves, the water, the reefs, the fish, the marine life. There's so many different signs that the ocean, the skies, will communicate to you -- if you know what you are looking for.

- Brian Keaulana -- Hawaiian Water Patrol
Ask students to discuss their relationship with the ocean. Invite them share with the class any experiences they have had with surfing, body boarding, or body surfing.

2. Use classroom and library resources to share books and poetry written about the ocean. Some Internet resources include the following:
"I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide,
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume and the seagulls crying.
I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over."

By John Masefield
Share the lyrics (or music if possible) to the Beach Boys song "Surfin' U.S.A."

3. Ask each student to respond briefly to the following question in his or her writing journal:
  • Why is the ocean important in the lives of human beings?
4. Ask for student volunteers to share their thoughts with the class.

Activity Two

1. Provide the students with drawing materials. Read the following excerpt aloud. Ask the students to create a drawing of the way they imagine this event might have looked.
On the island of Tahiti, in 1777 -- British Navigator Captain James Cook described how a Tahitian caught waves with his outrigger canoe just for the fun of it: "On walking one day about Matavai Point, where our tents were erected, I saw a man paddling in a small canoe so quickly and looking about him with such eagerness of each side, as to command all my attention ... He went out from the shore till he was near the place where the swell begins to take its rise and, watching its first motion very attentively, paddled before it with great quickness, till he found that it overlooked him, and had acquired sufficient force to carry his canoe before it without passing underneath. He then sat motionless and was carried along at the same swift rate as the wave, till it landed him upon the beach. Then he started out, emptied his canoe, and went in search of another swell. I could not help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure while he was driven on so fast and so smoothly by the sea ..."
2. Post students' art in the classroom to share.

Activity Three

1. Send the students on a "Wave Scavenger Hunt" on the Internet. As a class, collect at least 30 facts on this topic. Some good Web sites to begin researching include the following:

2. Post the students' facts on a chart in the classroom. As they continue the lesson activities, encourage them to add information they have learned.


Activity One

The purpose of this activity is to encourage students to gain a concrete understanding of the size of the waves depicted in CONDITION BLACK as compared to their own height, and to use this knowledge to create an original essay.

1. Bring the students outdoors. Ask them to estimate an area that is 50 feet. Then use a tape measure and mark a space that is exactly 50 feet.

2. Divide students into pairs, and provide them with chalk. Have one student lie down, and ask the other to trace his or her silhouette. Ask each student to then draw a surfboard under his or her silhouette.

3. After the students are finished, ask them to stand on their surfboard drawings. Read the following excerpt from the program aloud:
It was Hawaii's perfect storm. This is known as one of the two largest swell events we've ever had in Hawaii, that is, ever meaning the last century, over which records have been kept. We had a storm with winds of 65 knots blowing for 36 hours over a 1,000 mile fetch, directly at us. The buoys showed a period of 25 seconds, and wave heights over the open ocean of 28 feet. Now, the National Weather Service, through a formula that they've developed with the data, calculated that the waves at the beach would be 44 feet. Wave heights of 44 feet would produce wave faces in excess of 80 feet, which were almost completely unheard of.
Divide the students into pairs. Ask each student to discuss how he or she imagines it might feel to be surfing on waves similar to those described in the excerpt.

4. Return to the classroom and ask the students to write an imaginary first-person account describing their "Big-Wave Ride." Ask for volunteers to share their work with the class.

5. Create a wave mural made up of students' stories and artwork.

Activity Two

The purpose of this activity is to give students opportunities to explore waves from a variety of perspectives.

1. Ask the students to generate a list of as many phrases as possible that include the word "wave."


-wave goodbye
-surf the wave
-the 'wave' at sports stadiums
-wavy hair
-heat wave
-light wave
-sound wave
Lead a discussion on what the student-generated phrases have in common.

2. Tell the students that they are going to work in groups to conduct research on waves from a variety of different perspectives. Each group will be asked to create a presentation that represents what it has learned about waves. Present the following options to the students, and allow them to choose what groups they would like to work in.

Group One: A scientist

This group should focus on learning about waves from a scientific perspective. Members may choose any area of science that interests them. Some areas that may be of interest include oceanography, meteorology, and physics.

Group Two: A poet or a painter

This group may choose to create a poem or a drawing that depicts waves.

Group Three: A mathematician

This group should create a representation that incorporates shapes and measurements regarding waves.

Group Four: A musician

This group may choose to focus on sound waves, or the creation of music.

Extension Activities

Activity One

1. Ask the students to conduct further research on weather and storm conditions. Use the following Web site as a beginning research source:

Activity Two

1. Ask the students to conduct further research on the life of legendary surfer Eddie Aikau and the competition that honors his memory. Some good Web sites to use include the following:

Activity Three

1. Ask the students to write a Haiku poem about CONDITION BLACK.

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