The location is a 1928 renovated warehouse in the heart of the city. A few steps away from the building on East Toole Avenue, trains rumble by at a frequent pace. A hot breeze blows over the brick-and-concrete landscape.
It's an ordinary afternoon in our urban, desert downtown, but I'm here to discuss a sport that takes place in a very different setting—one with cool winds, water and sand. In a matter of speaking, I'm about to go on a surfin' safari.
My host for this jaunt welcomes me into his downtown office. He is Alex Bieberstein, president of the Arizona Surfers club. Arizona Surfers was officially recognized as a student club at the UA in April 2004. Although based at the university, Bieberstein says the club is open to community members, too. Surfers and wannabe surfers in our burg are welcome to wax down their surfboards—but don't have to wait for June.
Bieberstein is in the planning stages for a trip in October to the YMCA Camp Surf at Imperial Beach, near San Diego. He says club members go there each year to teach kids how to surf.
"It's our biggest trip of the year. We've had more than 40 people show up for the first club meeting," he says. "After that, the club becomes smaller, with a core group of people who come on trips."
On their annual trip to YMCA Camp Surf, Bieberstein says the kids they teach range from 6- to 12-years-old. His teaching style is "get them out there" to get over the initial fear. But he says, "one of the first things we teach is when they are allowed to take a wave and when they shouldn't." Dropping in on someone might be something friendly to do socially, but it's bad form to "drop in" on a wave that someone else is already surfing.
Bieberstein's own path to learning how to surf is an unusual one. The 22-year-old UA senior grew up in Germany where he enjoyed skiing and snowboarding. He moved to the United States as a high school student straight to the hot streets of the Old Pueblo.
"My older brother suggested that we try surfing. I knew a girl in the Surf Club and she invited me to go on the YMCA trip," recalls Bieberstein. From there, he was hooked and yearned for what all surfers want—the perfect wave. "When it happens, it's magical," he says.
Bieberstein caught the perfect wave in Newcastle, Australia—the home of Australia's largest surfing festival. "There were hardly any other surfers. There were light winds, the sun was out and a perfect swell. All the elements came together. We were out there riding eight-foot waves getting barreled." Surfing lingo: Getting barreled is riding the inside of the tube-like part of the wave.
Back in Tucson, where our only wet tubes are in irrigation systems, Bieberstein is a few months shy of graduating from the UA. His future plan—other than catching waves—is clear. He's already working as the financial director of Crowd Audio (crowdaudio.com), a crowd sourced mixing platform connecting musicians and audio engineers. According to the site, Crowd Audio takes musicians' recorded music, posts it as a competition for their community of engineers who then create the best mix they can. After two rounds of competition, the musician selects the winning engineer, all at a reasonable cost to the artist.
"We started Crowd Audio a year ago as part the Entrepreneurship Program at the university," says Bieberstein. "In May, we decided we are doing this outside of school. ... We work with any type of music ... in all kinds of genres. We're connecting musicians with audio engineers around the world. (Recently) a band from Tucson connected with an engineer from Spain."
With an international background both personally and professionally, Bieberstein keeps it in country when surfing, although he would like to go to Mexico and Indonesia in the future. For now, he and other surfers in the club travel up and down the coast of the Golden State—Californ-I-A.
A favorite spot is Jalama Beach, about an hour from Santa Barbara. At this beach that's off the grid (Bieberstein says there's no phone service), he has camped out with surfer friends, tasty eats and waited for good waves. Sounds like a perfect surfin' safari to me.