The History of Corky Carroll’s Surf School

Collin and Charley Walker Vintage at Playa Guiones

Everyone has a story to tell about how they found surfing.

My story involves BBQ, my dad, a local TV show, and one of the most iconic surfers of all-time. And it just so happened to also be the story of how our family barreled into the surf business.

Here’s the story of how Corky Carroll’s Surf School was started.

I Find Surfing

I was ten years old when I was converted to surfing. None of it was planned. It just happened.

One day out of the blue I was invited by my mother’s friend to join her son for a week of surf lessons. It wasn’t anything official. Not like today’s surf schools. Just a local school teacher named Rick showing a bunch of eager groms how to surf. I loved it. I don’t know if you could call me a surfer at that point, but I was certainly hooked.

On the last day, Rick arranged a surf-themed BBQ at the beach. All the parents were invited.

And that’s where my dad got hooked on surfing, too. Albeit reluctantly.

Enter Rick Walker

My dad, also named Rick — Rick Walker to be exact — worked in TV production. Or at least he had for the past twelve years, commuting from Orange County to Los Angeles every day to produce a television show called Life in Sports. The show featured interviews with professional athletes from past and present. His goal was to create a sports show that grabbed the interest of not only adults, but also kids. A sports show that families could watch together.

Life in Sports was not the success he anticipated. But another venture soon caught his attention while eating some ribs on the beach.

My Dad Gets Hooked

At the BBQ, my dad mentioned to the other Rick how he had tried surfing as a teenager. Other Rick suggested my dad take one of the many surfboards laying on the beach at the party for a ride. My dad declined. Other Rick insisted. My dad showed zero interest.

I was shocked.

I might have only found surfing five days prior, but that’s all it took to realize you’d have to be nuts to pass up a chance to get on a board. Ready to show off my new skills, I voiced up.

“Come on dad, let’s go get one.”

He couldn’t say no to that. So we paddled out.

We rode our first wave together, and it took just that one wave for my dad to get hooked.

By Monday of the coming week he had ordered a surfboard and was surfing every morning before work. He was fast on his way to learning to surf well. In that pursuit, it wasn’t long before he realized his hometown had no surf schools. San Clemente had one lone surf program, but there were no surf schools in Huntington Beach!

So my dad had an idea.

Enter Corky Carroll

In October of 1995, my dad Rick Walker walked into the WindAnSea surf shop on PCH in Huntington Beach. I was by his side. WindAnSea used to be located right at the corner of 6th St and PCH. It has since closed and today it’s nothing but an empty lot next to Sancho’s Tacos. But back then WindAnSea was a great place. One of those old school surf shops that are quickly becoming extinct. Bob Hurley got his start shaping boards for WindAnSea back in the 70s. By the time me and my dad walked through the doors, Hurley had since gone on to start one of the biggest surf brands in the world. Manning the shop those days in the mid-90s was another legend of surfing — Corky Carroll.

In case you’re not familiar, Corky Carroll is considered the first professional surfer.

Not only was Corky the first to receive sponsorships, paid endorsements and his own production model surfboard, but he was also the first surfer who ever came up with the idea to put “surfer” down as his profession on his tax returns.

But Corky wasn’t just a pro surfer.

He is one of the greatest pro surfers. Of all time.

He is a 5-time US Surfing Champion. He won over 100 surfing competitions. He was voted the “Best Surfer in the World” in 1968. And he was inducted into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame and Surfing Walk of Fame. Twice.

To say the least, Corky is an icon of the sport.

And there he was, behind the counter at WindAnSea, greeting us with a friendly smile.

A Surf School is Born

Over the years, my dad and Corky had gotten to know one another.

They first met when Corky  appeared on Life in Sports.

But in addition to managing WindAnSea Surf Shop, Corky had also been teaching tennis classes. My sister — Kelsey — was one of his students. (Yep, that’s the same Kelsey you talk to every time you book a stay with us. Next time ask her if Corky was a good tennis coach.)

So Corky Carroll knew who we were when we walked into the shop that day. But he had no idea what we were up to.

Rick approached Corky with a surf school concept, all ready to go. I don’t remember Corky’s exact words but his body language said it all. His arms stretched out wide, and his smile seemed to stretch even wider. He was obviously happy about what my dad had to say.

I didn’t know it yet, but my world was about to change.

The Initial Surge

Turned out, that wasn’t the first time Corky had heard my dad’s grand scheme.

A few months prior to our visit to WindAnSea, and unbeknownst to me, my dad had approached Corky after one of my sister’s tennis classes with the whole concept. Here’s the way Corky tells the story:

One night I had just finished with a group lesson for teens when this dude came up to me and asked me what I was doing teaching tennis.

I told him that I had been serious about tennis for over 20 years and really enjoyed the job. He looked at me funny and commented, “Well, you should be teaching surfing.”

I kinda laughed and said, “If you can show me how to make a living doing that I would be happy to listen.” 

It was then that Rick proposed starting a surf school. Not giving much weight to the idea, Corky replied, “sure, why not.”

Truth be told, even though he agreed to team up, Corky figured the whole surf school idea would never actually come to fruition. Just another dude with another surf idea that would end up like the rest of them.

Jump back ahead to when we walked through the doors of WindAnSea, and there was Rick with everything ready to go — a location, boards, permits, insurance and a start date. Corky Carroll’s Surf School was all set to open on an uncrowded stretch of beach in Bolsa Chica State Beach that upcoming June 15th, 1996.

One thing’s for sure.

When my dad gets an idea, he runs with it.

Corky Carroll’s Surf School Opens

In the beginning, my dad ran the business and Corky taught the lessons.

If you ever wondered why they chose the name Corky Carroll’s Surf School, all you’d have to do is watch Corky surf. I had never seen someone glide across the surface of the ocean like he did. He didn’t miss a wave. I thought to myself, “this is why the surf school is called Corky Carroll’s and not Rick Walker’s. This guy makes it look easy.”

Throw in Corky’s professional surfing accomplishments and the fact he was a Huntington Beach surfing legend, and the name was a no brainer.

While giving lessons, Corky pulled from his years of experience to come up with the “9 Steps of Surfing” teaching system. (It’s so good that we still use his system today.)  One of Corky’s best students was none other than my dad. He was a quick learner, and eventually took over teaching lessons. He then hired some more instructors, and soon after expanded into Summer surf camps for kids.

Before long Corky Carroll’s Surf School was booming. Word got out: This is where you went to learn to surf.

Hola Costa

One day a tico from Costa Rica rolled up for a lesson. Impressed with the setup and how my dad ran things, he suggested Rick visit Costa Rica to surf a little known spot at the time called Playa Guiones. The tico even offered to be a guide.

At that same time my dad had gotten friendly with a bunch of regular surfers who hung out at Lifeguard Tower 18, where the school was located. Rick asked the group of surfers if they wanted to go on a surf trip to find the spot the tico spoke of.

It took them all of one second to say yes.

Only problem was that right before they were all set to depart the tico was nowhere to be found. Left in a pickle, Rick told his friends, “Hey, I know nothing about this place. I have no idea where we’re going. I don’t know if it even exists. You want to go anyway?”

It took them all of one second to say yes.

So they went on a surf safari to Costa Rica.

Surf Trips and Beyond

Suffice to say they found Playa Guiones, and it was everything they had hoped it would be and more. They immediately fell in love with the country, especially Playa Guiones surf spot. The waves were perfect, empty and consistent. The village was friendly, welcoming and fun. So they made their surf trip to Nosara a regular thing.

It didn’t take long for my dad to buy some property in Costa Rica and open up a surf ‘n’ stay offshoot there of Corky Carroll’s Surf School.

Like I said, when he gets an idea, he runs with it.

For his retreat, Rick chose a spot in the sleepy beachside area of Nosara, where Playa Guiones is located. It was idyllic. A surfer’s dream. Surrounded by jungle, tropical beaches and glassy waves. Ever since surfing began, surfers had travelled the globe to exotic locales in search of hidden surf spots and the best waves. When they’d found one they’d set up a surf camp to eat, sleep, drink and live around their favorite break.

And now we had, too.

That was 1998 when our resort first opened. We’re still in that same spot today, holding the honor of being the first ever, and longest operating, surf school in all of Costa Rica.

Our Surf School’s Family Legacy

With our surfing school and resort, my parents, Rick and Karen, took a risk and adventured into a new career path. We were not a typical surfing family, we were just a family, working together.

Just as families grow and change, so has Corky Carroll’s Surf School.

Most notably for me.

I met my wife Yaya while working at the resort in Costa Rica. She was born and raised in Nosara by one of the oldest families in the area and who had been one of the original pioneers of the town.

At the end of the Summer of 2014, Rick Walker announced his retirement from surf schooling. That November, Kelsey and I took over, and remain today the owners of Corky Carroll’s Surf School, joined by Yaya and Kelsey’s husband Keith.

Kelsey and Keith are based out of Huntington Beach, running what remains the longest operating surf school in Southern California. While here in Nosara, Yaya and I (and our three groms Charley, Weylen and William, along with the rest of our surf family) welcome old friends and make new ones at our resort.

Sometimes I still can’t believe how it all came to be.

An idea started from our parents (and some beachside BBQ), now a dream come true for me.

It’s my greatest pleasure to share that dream with you.