Trinity-Pawling alumni and student surfers

Christian Strader ’21 began surfing when he was just seven years old. “You could say it’s a family thing,” he shared. “My father has surfed for 55 years and he introduced me to the sport.” Now sixteen years old, Strader continues to spend his summers in the waves, teaching surf camps and clinics along the south shore of Long Island with Skudin Surf, a company based in Long Beach, New York. It’s his passion for the sport — and the lessons he has learned with Skudin Surf — that inspired his Winter Project this past year.

Wanting to dive deeper into the history and environmental impact of surfing, Strader designed his own 2019 Winter Project. He set out to learn more about the water in which he surfs and what role he and his fellow surfers can play in keeping that water clean and safe from pollution. His research pointed to newer, more sustainable, and eco-friendly materials used for making surfboards.

Enter: Connor McKenna ’01. McKenna began surfing at eighteen years old during a study abroad adventure in Australia. Originally a snowboarder (and a really good one, at that — he placed 12th at Nationals in 2011!), McKenna was a natural on a surfboard. “Surfing has taken over my life. I get to meet so many great people, travel to places like Nicaragua and Puerto Rico…it’s amazing,” he shared. “I wish I could be surfing every second.”

McKenna learned about Strader’s Winter Project when he received the spring magazine this past May. Reading the spotlight on Strader and his sustainable surfing research, McKenna could hardly believe his eyes. “I was so interested in Christian’s project,” he shared. “He’s so young, yet has such a great vision. His research is literally what I’m working on.”

McKenna recently took over ARC Sports, his family’s sporting good business in the tri-state area. Although he stays focused on land sports during his day job, he can’t keep his mind out of the waves for too long. In addition to his work at ARC, McKenna is in the process of developing a small line of eco-friendly surf essentials. He and Joe Falcone, owner of Falcone Surfboards, are working together on the product line. “We’re experimenting with alternative materials in our products. Eco-friendly, organic, plant-based, you name it! If it’s not safe for the ocean, we don’t want to sell it,” McKenna explained. “And that’s the direction this entire industry needs to follow.”

Over the summer, McKenna and Strader finally had the opportunity to connect and discuss the concept of sustainable surfing. As it turns out, they learned that they even have Skudin Surf in common. And while they both have competed in surfing competitions over the years, they mainly surf for the pure joy of the sport. That, and their love for the ocean.

“One of my instructors at Skudin once said: ‘Your house is not your home; it is a shelter. The ocean is your home.’ And it’s so true! As surfers, we live off the ocean,” Strader explained. “It’s our responsibility to keep it clean, protected, and respected.”

“He couldn’t have said it better,” McKenna echoed. “It is possible to build surfboards that perform well but are made sustainably. We just have to put in the effort.”

With two years left at Trinity-Pawling and many project-based learning opportunities ahead, Strader hopes to see his sustainable surfing project grow. McKenna, too, is eager to stay involved and even hopes to one day recruit Strader to join his surf company. “I’d love to have him on board,” McKenna concluded (see what he did there?). “You just never know what connections will come out of T-P.”

by Emma Christiantelli