In 2000 Jason Wilson and Corey Mahoney started Alley-Oop Skim Camp to teach kids the art of skimboarding. The partners—friends since they were 4—were fresh out of Cape Henlopen High School, and they were on a mission.
“There was a generation older than us and there was our generation, but there didn’t seem to be a skim crew coming after us,” Mahoney says.
They named their business Alley-Oop, a basketball move that involves throwing the ball to a teammate, who catches it in midair and dunks it in the basket. “We’re passing on the knowledge that we’ve based our lives on,” Wilson says.
They’ve done just that. Today there are lots of little skimmers on the beach. Alley-Oop’s camp has experienced significant increases in enrollment every year, jumping from 180 in 2007 to 230 in 2008. The camps helped pay for Mahoney and Wilson’s college education, and a retail shop. Alley-Oop, in Dewey Beach, opened in 2007. Last year, Alley-Oop began guided tours to skim-happy locations such as Cabo and Laguna Beach, California, for enthusiasts ages 13 to 18.
Alley-Oop is not the only business that’s caught the wave. Dewey Beach Surf Shop has offered camps since 1999. “We have many repeat campers from season to season,” says Steve Wheeler, the current owner.
What is skimming or skimboarding? It’s not surfing. “It’s a completely different sport,” Wheeler days. Skimboards are thinner and shorter than surfboards, and they have no fins.
Skimmers start on the beach, not in the water. Like a sprinter, they hurtle toward the surf until they reach a sandy area with a watery film. Then they drop the board and jump on it in one seemingly seamless move. They plane—or skim—over that film of water and into the surf before banking on an incoming wave to ride back to the beach—or they flip backward over a wave, crouch and curl under the frothy surf, or skip across the water like a speedboat on a choppy day.
Skimmers don’t need big waves to get stoked. Delaware’s consistent shore break makes it a stellar spot for skimming nearly every day in summer. While the skimmer’s code is never to “skim and tell,” the beaches just south of Rehoboth are the primo places, Wheeler says. He needn’t worry. The secret is clearly out. The South Side Shootout, a regular event organized by Skim USA, is held in May on Dewey Beach. The East Coast Skim Championships, founded by Jason’s father, Harry Wilson, hits Dewey August 15-16.
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Some say skimboarding began in Hawaii, where kids would skim along the surf’s edge with broken surfboards. Others point to the 1920s, when Laguna Beach lifeguards used pieces of wood for skimming. Most agree that skimboarding gained initial fame in the 1960s in the Laguna Beach area, which is still a hotbed for skimming. By the 1980s, skimming had caught on.
Wilson grew up around surfboards in Dewey Beach Surf Shop, which his father owned until 2000. “He was a longtime surfer who realized that the East Coast waves are better for skimboarding,” Wilson says. “He realized there was a market.” Harry Wilson began making skimboards, and it was only natural that Wilson would take up the sport. Mahoney joined him. The two now compete professionally.
To learn, you need a board, some wax and a wetsuit, depending on the water temperature. Boards range from $65 to $575 and up, Wheeler says. Low-end boards are made of pressed epoxy, while high-end boards are made with carbon fiber. Cutting-edge boards are designed to be light and buoyant. Some shops, including Alley-Oop, will rent boards. Consult the store staff to get the right size for your height, which makes all the difference. As kids grow, they’ll need new boards.
You can learn by watching others, but it helps to get tips from someone who knows the sport, says Wilson. He’s so good, he has a pro model made by Zap Skimboards, which also sponsors him in competitions.
Learning the drop is the first step. “If you don’t throw it down properly, you can run over the board,” Mahoney says. The board might catch the wave, but you’ll be watching from the beach. Camps or lessons also teach skimmers how to catch a wave and do tricks.
Not surprisingly, the younger you are the better. “Kids develop the early fundamentals better than adults,” Wheeler says. And since they’re closer to the ground, they don’t fall as far. But any age can learn. Dewey Beach Surf Shop offers camps for ages 5 through adult. Private lessons are also an option. “The most important part is the determination and the willingness to learn to skim,” Wheeler says. “It takes time and effort, as with any sport, to get good at it.”
Falls—either in the water or on the beach—are part of the sport. So are bruises. Loose boards become weapons of shin destruction when they careen toward shore. “We call them shiners,” Wilson says. “Nothing serious.” (Get too many, however, and you’ll wind up with permanent indentations like Mahoney’s.)
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As with any sport, accidents happen. The good news is that since skimmers are never too far from shore, anxious parents can easily keep an eye out for injuries. If there is an accident, the skimmer is easily reached. Fortunately, “There aren’t too many ‘Baywatch’ situations happening,” Mahoney says.
Come chilly weather, Wilson heads to warmer climates to surf and skim. Skimmers who can’t escape the cold can stay in shape by snowboarding or skateboarding. “Most skimmers are very, very good athletes and excel in other sports, especially crossover board sports,” Wheeler says.
He credits the balance, speed and strength that skimming helps develop. “Stay away from the Xbox, PS3 and TV, and get out and exercise,” he says.
In other words, just hang loose, dude.