Dutch Schorn is on his way to the beach. As statements go, that one’s a safe bet most days. But on this particular day, it’s specifically true as he answers the phone. He’s just been engaging in one time-honored Fort Lauderdale pastime – helping a friend with a boat do boat stuff. And now he’s engaging in another time-honored Fort Lauderdale pastime, the one he’s devoted his life to. Dutch Schorn is going to the beach. With his surfboard.
Dutch Schorn could have been a professional surfer. He also could have used his skills for business and sales and got the kind of 9-to-5 that lets him indulge in surfing after hours. He could have done many things. He settled on something that lets him be his own boss, and puts him on the water whenever he needs to be. He’s here to teach Fort Lauderdale’s kids how to surf.
In particular, his Hangloose Surf School is here to teach kids how to surf. When most of today’s parents were kids, “surf camp” wasn’t really a thing. Schorn himself learned to surf the way so many Gen-X surfers did, by tagging along with older kids and learning by trial and error.
“We didn’t have anybody to teach us,” he says. “You were on your own 98 percent of the time.”
Today though, surf education is big business. Schorn doesn’t necessarily want to give away business secrets such as how many young people come through his weekly summer camps every year, but suffice to say, plenty of kids want to learn how to surf. Hangloose also does one-on-one or small group lessons, as well as lessons for birthday parties and other events.
“There are challenging days where the surf is not cooperating,” Schorn says. “Therefore we do surf-related games sometimes, like paddling. We do snorkeling and other options to make sure the kids leave with a smile on their face.”
For Schorn, it’s both a highly cool job and something of a natural evolution. For years, he was known as the man to talk to about boards at BC Surf and Sport, the Fort Lauderdale-based brand and store that’s been a go-to for several generations of local surfers. “I was working at the surf shop, managing BC Surf and Sport, loving my job. Then I said aw man, what else can I do in this industry to become more successful and provide for my family?”
The answer was in front of him, in the form of the kids who came into the shop looking for boards – and advice.
“I started doing surf lessons, and created a following because of BC Surf Shop,” he says. “My reputation started getting bigger.”
Lessons soon turned into sleepaway camps. He would do four sessions each summer, two for boys and two for girls. He’d rent a house right on the sand in Melbourne, Florida’s surf capital. The kids would pile into a 15-passenger van, and he’d drive them up for six days of surfing. They’d barbecue and hit the game room at night; there’d always be an excursion to the Typhoon Lagoon wave pool.
The camp got popular, but numbers for it were always going to be limited by necessity. It got Dutch thinking about a day camp. The first time he tried one, he got about 10 to 15 kids per week.
“I thought, that’s not bad,” he says. “I told myself over time, once I get this up to 500 campers, I’m going to cut back and go part time at BC Surf and Sport.”
That’s not an easy choice to make, however. For Schorn, BC is a kind of second family.
The BC Kid
Schorn’s family moved to Fort Lauderdale from New Jersey when he was 10. Not long after he arrived, one of the neighbors said he was going to the beach for some boogie boarding, and did Dutch want to come? He had no idea what a boogie board even was, but he said sure. He went out and, like so many kids before and since, tried to stand up on the little board in the shallow water.
“And that was it,” he says. “For 42 years I’ve been surfing. It stuck with me.”
By eighth grade, he was on the BC Surf and Sport surf team. They’d go to competitions in what was then called the Eastern Surfing Association. The rest of the time, he was one of the “shop groms” who would hang around the shop, help wax boards, do whatever BC founder Bruce Cromartie needed.
“I love Bruce Cromartie,” Schorn says. “He is the most amazing human. He taught me everything I know business-wise, him and my father.”
Schorn surfed and hung out at BC through his time in Stranahan High School. During college, he got a job at the Door Store, which was in the same plaza as BC. One day, Cromartie walked over and offered him a job. Schorn didn’t need long to think about it.
He became, among other things, the shop’s board and accessories buyer. He got known around the local surfing community as a guy to come to for advice on a board. “I would never push a board on someone just to make a sale,” he says. “And Bruce is like that too.”
And he ran the team he’d once surfed for.
“It was such a good time,” he says. “I just wanted to be in the store and sell surfboards. Bruce had the most amazing crew of employees always, and the most long-term employees you could ever have. I worked there 27 years. BC is everything to me.”
He stayed working for BC in some capacity until just about three years ago. Today, all Hangloose campers still get a goodie bag of surf merch from BC.
With the surf team, he’d have the kids on the team show him their report cards. He knew not every kid got guidance at home – for some, maybe he was the only person asking how they were doing in school.
“Not everyone’s having a perfect situation at home,” he says. “You can tell some kids might need a little more attention.”
A kid, he says, needs to be acknowledged, to have some sort of figure in their life who asks how they’re doing and takes an interest in their life. Schorn reckons he’s been lucky in that.
“I’ve always had coaches; my father was the most amazing human ever,” he says. “He recently passed.”
John Schorn never minded that his son surfed; in fact, he encouraged it. So did his mother, Harriet, who at 88 today has more energy than most people he knows.
“They supported me 100 percent,” he says. “Everything I’ve ever done, they backed me up. They brought me to the beach, they picked me up. As long as I was getting good grades in school – and I was – and doing the right thing – and I was – they always had my back. They bought me hundreds of surfboards over the years.”
Where Can Waves Take You
More than once, Schorn’s had an experience at summer camp. A parent walks up with a child to be dropped off and nods with familiarity. After a moment, Schorn realizes that this will be the second generation of this family he’s taught to surf. “Oh OK,” he says with a laugh. “I guess I’m getting older.”
Hangloose also employs teenage counselors who started out as little campers.
“I’ve seen them grow up and come through our system,” he says. “They already know how it works and the basics of surfing. We love that.”
As passions go, surfing’s not necessarily the easiest one to make a living out of. There’s the professional surfing tour, a route Schorn could have taken. In actual fact, it’s a route a recent Stranahan graduate almost did take.
“When I was getting out of high school I had two other friends that were pretty talented kids who said ‘Hey, let’s go to California, let’s do this.’” They both made it pretty big on the surf tour.
“I didn’t,” Schorn says. “I stayed back. I went to school, I had a family here. I chose a different path. I’ll never regret that.”
And he’s still managed to see the world. At times he’s traveled with surf tour friends as a board caddy. (“I was on their backup board; if something happens to their board or they need something, I’m there in the water.”) Through that he’s surfed Tahiti, Fiji, Australia. He’s also seen what it’s like. “It’s a lot of stress; there’s a lot of competition,” he says. “It’s pretty cutthroat.” They also have tour sponsors to make happy. Schorn enjoys working for himself.
Sometimes he travels with clients who employ him as a kind of surfing guide. They travel around the world to real bucket-list places. And when they land in the Maldives or Fiji or Tahiti or Australia or Costa Rica, they want Schorn there to help them find the best waves. It’s not a bad gig.
But the main gig happens just off the sand of the city he says he’ll never leave. He’s taught so many Fort Lauderdale kids how to swim – including his own two Fort Lauderdale kids, daughter Saxon, 17, and son Scout, 15. He was standing them on boards as soon as they could stand.
“Both of my children when they were 4, 4-and-a-half, they could push themselves into a wave almost. They’ve been around it forever – that’s when they started getting into it.”
His kids don’t skip school to surf, they’re rewarded with, say, a weekday morning surf for things like excellent report cards.
“I’d tell the principal we came in late today because straight A’s,” Schorn says. “We had an amazing morning, and now we’re here.”
And like every parent today, he’s raising his kids in a world of lockdown drills and standardized testing. Of stresses and pressures. For Schorn, being on a board in the ocean might be about camaraderie and physical activity, but it’s also about more than that. For people who understand surfing, it’s about more than that.
“This is what, my whole life, they’ve always said – if you’re having a bad day, if things aren’t going right, if you and your wife are on a different page today, this is what they say – there’s nothing a good day of surfing won’t cure,” he says. “It’s just a healer.”
If he feels unhealthy, he’ll drive to the beach and just swim.
“It feels,” he says, “like it fuels me.”