02 November 2009
University of Iowa
24 Jun 2009. There should be more merchandise trailers dotting America's campuses. Something about making a credit card transaction out of doors makes one feel...primal. Excuse me while I hunt some fierce wild corn.
"Jesus is a lot like a surfboard."
This is the moment Peter diScala quickly learns, talking surfing to Iowans is like talking bobsled to Jamaicans. Even for a religious man, it takes a leap of faith to connect with students on such a level.
"The perfect wave is a holy moment. Experiencing God, in a way. And you can only partake in it when you are one with your surfboard."
When receiving their mission calls, surfin' Mennonites Peter diScala and Royal Bristlermartin were first hoping to be assigned together. Near the ocean was a close second. Royal lucked out. He got sent to Hamilton, Bermuda. Peter got Iowa City, Iowa. (Or simply, Iowa, Iowa.) Peter was disappointed at first, but soon was eager for the culture shock and the challenge.
"Okay, I see I will need some help here. Don't go anywhere, guys."
Peter's two dozen students, not much younger than him, complied out of curiosity. He returned twenty minutes later with his bold red striped surfboard, detained overnight in Quad Cities airport on suspicion of being a surfboard in Iowa. The five footer was a first for the entire class.
"That thing's pretty big," said one of the students.
Peter beat out the that's-what-she-said's with,
"That's nothing. I got an eight footer back home in Hawai'i." He flops it down on the ground.
"The thing about classrooms and teaching is it's all theory. You can only learn so much without active application."
He points to one of the many blondes. "What's your name?"
"Hi Julie. Come up here for a second. Come on guys, give her a hand. I'm going to need participation for this class to work for all of us."
A few people clap politely.
"Thank you. Julie, would you lay face down on the board? The rest of you, don't worry, you'll get to do this too. Now you're in the ocean, Julie. It's warm, the water is clear blue, clearer than anything in the Mississippi, you hear nothing but waves and birds. Perhaps a stray hawkeye. So you're paddling around...I said you're paddling around. That's you, Julie."
She starts flopping her arms kinda circular-like.
"Good! You see a swell coming up. You get yourself turned around so you are facing the beach. Now you start paddling like crazy! Fifth gear, let's go! All right!"
The class, still not sure what this is all about, cheers her on anyway. "Julie, go! Gooooo!"
Peter smiles and continues. "It's time to ride! Bring your right foot up to your left knee, toes facing right."
Her shoe catches a tailfin and rips it half off. Peter winces.
"Don't apologize, I'm not here, just you and the water. Grip the sides of the board. Keep your chest on the board and push your shoulders up. Now get ready, time to stand. In one smooth motion, bring your left foot up in front of your right. Feel shoulder length apart, toes facing right, head facing forward. Use your arms and core for balance. Yes!! You're up! You realize you're not alone any more - all the guys on the shore are admiring! Strike a pose, you've earned it. Okay. All right, that's hot doggin' it too much, now you fall off. Splash, wipeout. Saline in the face, pride in the water. Ouch. Thank you, Julie."
The students applaud her again. She takes her seat.
"Now how long would it take you to master that on the classroom floor? Two, three times maybe? But on the water, how long? I've done it two or three thousand times and I still don't have it all down. I want to to make sure we are applying what we are learning here with sincere effort. Plus I'll throw in some surfing lessons to mix it up."
"Where can you surf here?" asks a student.
"I'm sure there's some wave pools around, right?"
The class discusses and shakes their heads.
"There's one in Des Moines I think," offers another student.
"We'll think of something."
A converted baptismal font and a few high-powered water jets later, SURFIowa (Spiritual Understanding, Recreation, and Friendship) gets its primitive beginnings. By the end of Peter's time in Iowa, Iowa, SURFIowa becomes an integral part of the community, Mennonite and otherwise. It is the first of its kind in the state. It wins widespread praise from Peter's superiors in the church. His students all chip in for a custom-designed black and gold Iowa Hawkeye board as a going away gift. Still, he wonders what it would have been like if he had been dispatched to Bermuda at Royal's side.
He got the gist from the title page of the summary report. While Peter's was called Immersive Learning: How SURFIowa Got Off The Ground, Royal's dared readers to continue on with the title Wasps, Wasps Everywhere: The Debilitating Effects of Migratory Insect Patterns on Service Missions.