When Ty Gurney left his five year post manning head surf instruction for Hans Hedemann, he swore off mass surf lessons and companies that get too big, too fast. It was time to get back to the core reason he taught surf in the first place. It was time he reached back to the roots of where he found the Aloha Spirit.
"I moved here 10 years ago, and the Aloha Spirit was really strong," said Gurney. "It doesn't seem as prevalent these days, but if you go out looking for it, it's around." Whether Gurney realizes it or not, the fact is that he has become a bastion for the cause.
With a stand-alone beachfront setup on a small swath of brown Waikiki sand that looks more like a Hollywood set than the famed stretch of resorts, Gurney has an underground office between the Sheraton Waikiki and the Halekulani. From here, he offers one of the most unique surf instruction services in Hawaii: Lessons to match any skill level, and expert cameramen who capture first and best wave rides on top notch digital video equipment. In the past 5 months since he launched his business, guests at both hotels -- and those further down the beach whom have heard the buzz -- have been paddling out with Ty.
"It's great. I don't push or make anyone feel like they have to buy the videos," Gurney admits. "But when people are in the water with me, I am always smiling and having a good time. And it loosens people up. Before they know it, they are standing on their first wave, and one of my guys captures the whole experience on camera. That's something a lot of people want to take home with them."
Through a partnership with another Hedemann ex-pat and fellow former monster wave rider, Greg Rose, Gurney has the ability to offer a program unmatchable on the island. Rose's Waterlogged Productions routinely film events like the Pipeline Masters and the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Tournament, from jet-ski and helicopter. Through these efforts, they have a relationship with operators like Paradise Helicopters, who operate out of Turtle Bay. Occasionally, the choppers will buzz Pops (the surf break where Gurney takes people out for lessons in Waikiki) with Rose in tow, who will shoot aerials of people wave riding. Inevitably, these shots are a shoe in for the 7-minute DVD that clients can purchase for $100 (a CD of still images is available for $35). The entire operation is a study in Aloha Spirit; one hand feeding the other, everyone "hooking up" everyone else, just to enhance the visitor experience.
On April 1, 2006, Gurney walked from Hedemann and launched his own Web site offering "the real surf safari excursion." Armed with a minivan and a quiver of boards, it didn't take Gurney's top clients to follow. Before he could even purchase his own soft tops, visitors from around the country -- including many celebrities -- were calling him up and asking for personal surf instruction. Although Adam Sandler, Ray Liotta and Cameron Diaz called with frequency, it wasn't in Gurney's game plan to do a few lessons here and there, and charge a fortune.
"I've never really had a lot of money, so I just simply can not charge a lot of money. It's just not in me," said Gurney.
When asked about the association of slipping Aloha Spirit and surf aggression, Gurney had the following to say:
"A lot of the surf attitude comes from people not being very comfortable with who they are. They have to prove something to themselves, which they ultimately can't. They either surf too big and get hurt, or get real vocal -- be it in the lineup at Pipe, at Diamond Head, or at Foodland. We've all seen them. That's not what surfing is about," Gurney said. "For me, it's all about making people feel good about themselves. A guy gets up on his first wave and rides it a 100 yards -- he could be 50 or 5 -- and I feel like I'm riding for the first time. It's an amazing experience for both of us."
"I'm all about customer service. I treat people well, and they do the same to me. I'm not here to yell at people to paddle, or even push people in to waves. I'm here to teach people about surf culture," Gurney added.
Promoting surf culture, it turns out, is not only a pastime; Gurney has worked his passion in to the program. A full day "North Shore Surf Culture Tour" package includes a morning drive up the Pali or Like Like highway, with a chat about the mountains and the history that surrounds them. He'll stop at the heiau above Waimea, to explain the ancestral culture of Hawaii; then onward to the world's surf mecca town of Haleiwa, and then in to the water.
His passion for surf culture and lessons with a smile has earned him invites to clients' weddings in California and Fiji. He's on David Spade and Cameron Diaz's speed-dial, and is the subject of a romance novel written by successful author Jane Porter -- a story that may be seen on the silver screen as early as next year.
But none of it gets to Gurney's head.
"I recently brought a friend's daughter up to the Menehune Contest at Haleiwa Beach Park. She's 8 years old; the same age I was when I surfed my first contest -- in the same place. It was the most incredible feeling. To get her involved and riding, in the same place I did decades ago and it's still my life. The smiles on both our faces were priceless," concluded Gurney.
Ty Gurney Surf School charges $50 per person per hour, for group lessons, which are restricted to 4 people. Private lessons are $85 per. Gurney's North Shore Tour run $125 per person. A new Halekulani Surf and Safari Package will run at $215. His "Keiki Surf Camp" at the Kahala includes land and safety lessons.
He's on David Spade and Cameron Diaz's speed-dial, and is the subject of a romance novel written by successful author Jane Porter – a story that may be seen on the silver screen as early as next year.