Meet the NJ School Principals Who Love Surfing as Much as Their Students Do

These wave-riding administrators know firsthand that surfing runs parallel, not perpendicular, to academics.

Van Cathcart of Sandman School in Lower Township surfs after school
Van Cathcart of Sandman School in Lower Township surfs after school.Photo: Courtesy of Van Cathcart

Getting called to the principal’s office as a young surfer might not be the worst thing—not with these wave-riding administrators.

If you attended school in one of our coastal counties or even beyond, there may have been a certain stereotype of surfers—perhaps more concerned with waves than grades, a tendency to cut when the swell was good or to otherwise run amok with the administration.

But today, administrators like John King, principal of the Maud Abrams School in Lower Township, Peter Kopack of the Long Beach Island Grade School in Ship Bottom, and Van Cathcart of Sandman School in Lower Township, know that surfing runs parallel, not perpendicular, to academics.

King, 48, of Cape May, grew up between Philly and his parents’ second home in Cape May, where he became a year-round surfer. A graduate of Rutgers, he surfs every day there are waves.

[RELATED: Yes, the Jersey Shore Has a Thriving Surf Scene]

He sees some students surfing the Cove in Cape May.

“I know the families in town that surf, and there are parents that will sign their kids out on really good swells. I just nod and say, ‘Thanks for the heads up.’ Because I know I’ll be surfing after school,” King laughs, adding that surfing helps with the stress of being a principal. “Surfing becomes therapy. You get out and away from it. I take a few beatings and it kind of clears my head. There is a great crew of people I surf with here. No one’s talking about school.”

Cathcart, 46, of Cape May Court House, grew up as a hoops player and surfer at Middle Township High School. He began teaching at the Pinelands Learning Center, taught and coached varsity basketball at Absegami High, and became principal at Sandman in 2015. 

He finds his surfing time brings him back to a relaxing center after the challenges of school. 

Kopack, 50, of Point Pleasant Borough, grew up in Farmingdale and found surfing and skateboarding as a kid. He and about six friends would get rides to Manasquan Inlet and spend the entire day there—and they still surf.

He graduated from Howell High School in 1991. During the summers, he lifeguarded in Point Pleasant. He taught at Middletown and became vice principal at Marlboro, then Lacey Township, before becoming superintendent and principal at the Long Beach Island Consolidated Schools.

[RELATED: Jersey Shore High Schools Dominate Surf Competitions]

Kopack’s school is just two blocks from the ocean in Ship Bottom, and he says a lot of his students surf, which helps him relate to them. 

“Surfing, skating and snowboarding are really good for them, emotionally and socially—really, any time spent outside is good to see,” he says.

Cathcart says he sometimes uses his surfing experience as a tool to connect with kids. “I start talking about surfing and their eyes light up. It helps develop a rapport with some of the kids. We start talking about boards and waves, and they see you as more than just a principal.”

No one knows New Jersey like we do. Sign up for one of our free newsletters here. Want a print magazine mailed to you? Purchase an issue from our online store.

Read more Jersey Shore articles.