Tess Heilman: Surfing is a really nice escape from everything going on

March 8, 2021


Credit: Courtesy of Tess Heilman

During quarantine last spring, senior Tess Heilman took advantage of the extra time and learned how to surf. Although she had a board in middle school, she didn’t develop a strong interest until her junior year of high school. “I’m really blessed to be able to go out there and surf, and I think with [COVID-19], I was able to take advantage of such [an opportunity],” Heilman said.

During quarantine last spring, many students made it a priority to learn something new. For some, it meant juggling or playing the ukulele. One student in particular, however, went to even greater lengths to learn how to surf.

Senior Tess Heilman has spent her entire life in Newport, Rhode Island —a well-known surfing community—during the summers. Although she bought her first surfboard in seventh grade, Heilman never developed a real interest in the sport until the shutdown when she bought a winter wetsuit, gloves and a new board.

Many surfers go the route of receiving professional instruction, but COVID-19 forced Heilman to learn through a much different way: the internet.

“Honestly, I basically taught myself how to surf,” Heilman said. “I watched a lot of YouTube videos on [professional] surfers to learn tips from them, so when I would go out there it was just trial and error to see what worked for me.”

As Heilman gained more experience in the water over quarantine, her passion grew exponentially. She would find herself surfing more often and checking the weather routinely. What started out as just a summer hobby turned into a year-round passion.

“I used to only go in the summer, but now I have been going year-round,” Heilman said. “I have been trying to go as much as I can, even on the weekends, but I can only go when the waves are good.”

Heilman surfs in a wave with her new board. “Most of the time, I like to surf as long as the waves are three to four feet high,” Heilman said. (Credit: Courtesy of Tess Heilman )

The conditions, more specifically the size of the waves, play a crucial role in whether Heilman will spend a morning on the shores of Newport or not.

“I typically use the surf cams a lot [to see what the conditions are like],” Heilman said. “I’ll check them often the night before I go out just to see how the waves are. Most of the time, I like to surf as long as the waves are three to four feet high.”

After involving herself with the surfing community at the beach, it didn’t take long before Heilman realized how welcoming everybody was.

“The surfing community all around is just so positive and inviting that I’ve met so many people just sitting out there,” Heilman said. “You could just talk to somebody and they’d be really nice or even give me tips.”

Heilman suggests that surfing during the winter can be more beneficial for several reasons, but primarily because that’s when the more experienced surfers are on the water.

“The winter is definitely a lot more fun,” Heilman said. “That’s when there are just the really good surfers, so I get to meet new people and they can give me lots of advice. Plus, in the summer, you need to go really early in order to dodge the beach goers that come during the day.“

Looking back on her experience during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Heilman is really glad to have learned how to surf. She sees it as a clear and obvious silver lining during a dreary time.

“I’m really lucky to get to do it,” Heilman said. “I’m really blessed to be able to go out there and surf, and I think with [COVID-19], I was able to take advantage of such [an opportunity].”

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    Dan HeilmanMar 9, 2021 at 12:46 PM

    Tess is a young lady of many talents and much promise. She is a musician (drums), coxswain on a crew team, a fine artist, now an ardent surfer, and probably several other pursuits I am yet to discover. Mostly, she’s a wonderful person and I’m happy to be her grandfather.