WESTERLY — If it's summer and a Saturday morning it's not hard to find Brian "Whitie" Allen. You can find him on the Misquamicut beach in front of Paddy's Beach Club, where for the past 23 years he has offered a free surfing camp.
The camp, which runs from 9 to 11 a.m. from early July to Labor Day, is open to anyone from age 6 and up; most of the participants are children. On a recent Saturday, Allen and a handful of adult volunteers worked with 35 kids, teaching them the basics, such as how to paddle and sit on a board, and the proper technique and foot positioning once they stand up.
"I love kids and love teaching the younger generation about surfing," Allen said.
The lessons also include vital information on how to recognize a riptide, a common occurrence in Misquamicut, and what swimmers should do if they are in one. Typically, Allen said, children are able to get up on a board and actually surf after about three weeks of lessons.
A coach in the Westerly Pee Wee Football League, Allen, 52, works as a paramedic and is a member of the Westerly Police Reserves. That position includes providing security during School Committee meetings and functioning as a backup to the municipal sergeant of arms for security coverage at meetings of the Town Council.
The camp started when Allen was teaching the children of the club's former owners how to surf, and other kids and their parents asked for tips. "I'm very grateful to the owners of Paddy's for letting me use their property," he said.
Allen, who lives in Westerly, said he has surfed in Florida but mostly stays in Rhode Island. "I don't like to fly," he explained.
Paul Doyle, who co-owns Paddy's, said he was happy to let Allen use the property. His daughter, Fiona, attended the camp last year and his son, Roan, is going this summer. "I never had the opportunity to learn how to surf when I was a kid," Doyle said.
The information Allen imparts about tides and currents is invaluable, Doyle said. "It's a big part of what he does. A lot of adults are afraid of the water because they were never taught, but if you know what to do you don't have to be afraid of the water," he said.
Mary Jane Sanders, 14, has been attending the camp this summer with a friend. "It's really fun and it really does teach you how to surf and it teaches you about rip currents too," Sanders said, adding that her experience as a dancer helped her balance on the board.
Joseph Brown, 14 of Westerly, said he learned about the camp from friends. "I just like the water and it's good to learn how to surf," he said.
A member of the Ocean Community YMCA swim team, Brown said he found surfing to be relatively easy.
Joe Trombino, 15, has been attending the camp for two years. His father, Bruno, volunteers as an instructor. Joe told his friend Laura Gilfert, 15, about the camp and she came down on a recent Saturday morning. "I've been surfing since I was 8 but it's nice to be here to help the younger kids if I can," Gilfert said.
Nyle Sockbeson of Westerly works as a lifeguard at Paddy's and has helped out at the camp for four years.
"I'm an avid surfer in the community and like to spread the word. Surfing should be for everyone," Sockbeson said.
The camp experienced a setback earlier this summer when 10 surfboards that Allen makes available to his students were stolen from the back of his truck. Allen and his friend Lisa Manning stared a GoFundMe page to raise money to replace the stolen boards and were thrilled by the response. Local media coverage of the theft brought about donations of a few boards from local businesses and one surf shop in California.
"It's been amazing. We couldn't believe the number of people who have reached out to help," Manning said.
Manning, an experienced surfer, met Allen earlier this year. "Nobody can believe that this is free. They all say, 'What's the catch?'" Manning said.
To donate toward replacing the stolen surfboards for Brian Allen's surf camp go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/whitie039s-surf-camp.