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California Surfer – Character Education Lesson (Reading Response Article 007)

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  • printable article handout
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This informational text is about Character and how a California surfer breaks stereotypes just by being herself.

Mary Mills is a local California surfer who has written over 1,305 blog posts chronicling everything from her daily thoughts, her surf sessions and her titanium knee replacement.  

The take-away message is that everyone faces obstacles at some point in life. Sometimes, we don’t want to do something. Or, we’re confused, stuck or not sure what to do next. Or, maybe we tried, but it didn’t work out so we give up. 

Character is about having the grit, tenacity and perseverance to overcome obstacles. We build character when we try to find a way to not give up. 

5 Things you need to know:

  • Mary Mills, also known as Surf Sister, rides longboards and surf mats in California.
  • She has three degrees and would happily pursue another if she had the money.
  • She played ice hockey as a kid and played soccer after that. She blew out her knee playing soccer.
  • She learned to swim at 23 but only started surfing 3 months after she had her son. (“He’s 17 now and I’m 56 and fabulous.”Mary Mills interview, Aug 2019)
  • She had knee replacement surgery in 2009 and blogged about her recovery so that younger patients could find information that she couldn’t.

Watch the Video:

Watch this clip of surfing at the Cottons Mat Meet 2010 – youtube link.


5 Quotes to think about

Quote #1:

“I came to surfing and the ocean somewhat late in life… The blog has stories to tell about events in my life that are long forgotten.” 

SOURCE: Mary Mills aka Surf Sister – Interviewed by Ken McKnight for MatSurfers.com January 2014 

Quote #2:

“When I paddle out at a spot where people don’t know me, I’m met with stares, silent curiosity, whispering and, ultimately, smiles. Those reactions used to unnerve me when I first started surfing. Over the years, I’ve gotten to the place where I don’t always notice the reactions of others when I enter the water. Then I started riding a mat.” 

SOURCE: Mary Mills – surfer, skater, mommy
Mary Mills wrote Don’t Laugh at me and my mat for TheInertia.com  February 22, 2011

Quote #3:

“Surfing a board separates you from the ocean in some ways. Riding a mat allows you to feel that energy. The mat is molding itself to the wave beneath it and the person on top of it. Your fins and legs are in the water doing their best to help you steer.”

SOURCE: Mary Mills
Mary Mills blog post, Jaunary 26, 2013 Matting – You Need More of it in Your Life 

Quote #4:

“Mary Mills – Surfer, Mom, Stereotype Buster”

SOURCE: California Coastal Commission – Ad campaign featuring different people on the coast. The ads were on bus stations around California during tax season to ask people to donate to help protect the coastline.
California Coastal Commission Tweet – August 13, 2019

Quote #5:

Various titles of Mary Mill’s surf blog

“Surf and the fury

SOURCE: Jan 2006 snapshot from the Internet Archive Way Back Machine

“Intruder in the surf

SOURCE: May 2011 snapshot from the Internet Archive Way Back Machine

“Black people don’t surf – did I stutter?

SOURCE: July 2013 snapshot from the Internet Archive Way Back Machine
Present Day: https://surfandthefury.blogspot.com/

California Surfer – Character Mini-Lesson

Character is about having the grit, tenacity and perseverance to overcome obstacles. 

Here are some common obstacles we see in the classroom. Have you said any of these before?

  • I don’t want to.
  • I’m confused. I’m stuck. 
  • I’m not sure what to do.
  • I tried, but it didn’t work. I give up.

Everyone faces obstacles at some point in life. 

The real question is what do we do when things get tough? Do we give up? Do we complain? Do we feel embarrassed that it didn’t work? Do we just try harder even though it didn’t work the first time and hope for the best? 

Do we try a different way? Do we take a step back and try to figure out what went wrong? Do we pay attention to results and wonder about what worked or didn’t work?

Each challenge we face is an opportunity for us to work on our character. We build character when we try to find a way to not give up.

Character Education Discussion Questions

Based on this Character mini-lesson, how would you answer the following questions:  

  1. This article is called, “California Surfer.” What images come to mind when you read that?
  2. What year did Mary Mills start swimming? start surfing? start surfing on mats? have knee surgery?
  3. How old was Mary Mills when she started swimming? started surfing? started surfing on mats? had knee surgery?
  4. Mary Mills described herself as a “stereotype buster.” What stereotypes did she bust? Give an example of how some of those stereotypes are portrayed in commercials or movies. Explain how Mary Mills breaks those stereotypes.
  5. What obstacles did Mary Mills face? What does the text say explicitly, and what can we infer?
  6. Is this an example of good character? Why or why not?

Free California Surfer Character Lesson Slideshow

Link to resources used in this article:

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