Camps and classes give divas and dudes of all ages sessions in surf therapy.

Posted: May 15, 2009

MARGATE - Sometimes, it's not just the economy that needs a stimulus. Sometimes, it's your spirits.

Stacey Marchel, 40, was living the basic Margate mom life on Quincy Avenue when she decided to follow her son into the nearby ocean and learn to surf with him.

Now, six years later and in the final stages of a divorce, Marchel says it is surfing that has remained by her side, giving her solace, perspective and distraction, plus a ready source of metaphor and wisdom to get through the day, any day, rough surf or calm.

And she wants you to get in on this also. Yes, you can. Surf. In New Jersey. And, at your age.

Marchel is headed into her second year of running a surf camp aimed initially at "moms and groms," then at just the moms (Beginner Betty and Shredding Betty), and, new this year, a special Wednesday evening class for "Divorced Divas and Dudes." (The better to nudge, or calm, that midlife crisis, perhaps.)

"I picked Wednesday because then we can all go to Tomatoes for half-price sushi," she says with a laugh.

Surfing is not the only sport at the Shore that adults of any age can try out for little or no money up front. The Viking Rowing Club in Ventnor, for example, offers walk-up novice classes that take you right out in a quad or an eight boat with an instructor on Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30 a.m. in the summer for as little as $5 or $10, depending on how many people show up.

Marchel, who grew up in Margate, lived in New York for a decade, then came back and made her peace as a local again. She also sells real estate with her mom, well-known agent Ronnie Alper.

Marchel wants everyone, divorced or not, to feel welcome and to get a glimpse of what it feels like, especially in difficult times like these, to simplify your life, to link your sense of self to the natural world around you, to be, as they say, stoked.

"That's what I'm trying to share with people," she says. "You get it with your first wave.

"The surfing has taught me so many skills that got me through," she says. "There are days I paddle out and it's hard getting out, and I get battered, and then I get out there, and it's calm, and I have a great ride. It gives you the confidence, being out there in the unknown."

Sponsored by Heritage Surf Shop, the classes, which typically cost $50 per person for two hours, though some are less, will take place at Pembroke Avenue with "classic moms and groms, dads and dudes/dudettes" lessons offered every Saturday morning and evening in July and August. The lessons include use of soft top surfboards, a free pink Stacey's Surf Camp shirt, and certified instructors.

"So much is metaphoric: Embrace life's waves," says Marchel. "You could have the toughest day ever and you take one great ride, and it can change everything."

And for Marchel, surfing has been life-changing. Perhaps not as much as divorce has been, but once her personal waters got rough, she says she hit the waves with even more intensity. And held on. "The feeling of being out there, scared to death to take a wave, then you push through, I think about that in life," she says.

After her marriage broke up, she says, "I lost my house, my car, my whole world was turned upside down. I had to go back to work. I was blindsided.

"I used to paddle out there and just cry, and be like, my life's a mess. And I would ride that wave, I just kind of forgot about it. At least I have this, it's natural, and it belongs to everybody."

It has also been a bonding experience with her son Spencer, 11, something she values even more as a single mom. (Spencer is still an avid surfer. Her younger son, Cameron, 10, is more of a bat and ball kind of guy.) Although sometimes, even the ocean can feel a bit claustrophobic.

Marchel remembers being out with a friend in the ocean saying how peaceful it was, no cell phone, no demands from kids or spouse, when out came Spencer paddling and complaining about something his brother did. "I thought, I'm going to have to take up sky diving," she said.

For information about the surf camp, go to or call 609-335-9891. For information about Viking Rowing Club, go to

Contact staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg at 609-823-0453 or

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