What it’s like to be a serious surfer as a middle-aged female
Being older and pursuing extremex sport brings a unique set of challenges.
I get up in the morning and limp sideways one leg at a time down two flights of extra high steps. I clutch the handrail in case my leg gives way as it hasn’t woken up yet. At least my hip isn’t locking today. I have a strong tea and a couple of Advil and settle in for a little morning yoga and stretching. As I push up into down dog I feel that little tearing in my ankle like a cut opening up inside it. Another coming issue!
It never used to be like this. I could wake up, grab a power bar, and run out the door to surf in fifteen minutes! But, on my second trip down the stairs thirty minutes later, I am walking evenly with no handrail. Off I go.
This is the worth that you can retain all your life, not a perfect body or remaining at the top of your sport, but rather the ability to participate, to try, and to enjoy it.”
Learning to surf as an adult
I’m a surfing woman turning 52 this year. The physical and mental challenges I work on are very different. I took up longboarding in mid-life after competing horses for the first half of my life. I started pursuing competitive longboarding in southern California. What I was thinking picking surfing as a sport to learn in midlife! Yet surfing has defined my life over the last decade in amazing ways. I’ve surfed in Costa Rica, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Panama, Australia, Bali, Hawaii, Mexico and the Mentawais. Surfing has defined my friendships, my relationships, travel destinations, my time and my life. At age 50, I decided to go the opposite way of most aging surfers and move from a longboard to a shortboard. Maintaining isn’t enough, I’m trying broaden my skills.
The plus side of being an older woman in the lineup
There are lots of pluses to being an older woman in the water. I care less about how I look now. I’m still out there getting it done in my 50s and so feel no need to be the best clad or sexiest out there. I just want some nice waves. Every day I am proving what I need to just by being out there. If I want to meet men, there are plenty of older men out there wanting to meet me as they fantasize about having a partner who is fit and will adventure travel with them. If you need some humor in your day, you can read my dating chronicles at datingover40.co. I discover on a regular basis that I am a role model for other women just by being out there and loving the sport.
The facts of aging
With age though comes fear. I like to blame fear on menopause as I’m pretty sure it is a hormonal thing having lived fearlessly for many years. And, at least one of my surfing female friends has developed the same issue. Now I struggle with fear of falling on takeoff, fear of big waves, fear of I don’t even know what. Issues you encounter surfing will give you a mirror image of what you struggle with in your life on dry land, and if you can solve them in the water, you’ve got it made.
My struggle in life now is not to live my life thinking of negative consequences. Not to live with fear. Sometimes I get a killer big fast ride and instead of invigorating me, this makes me fearful for the rest of the session as the thought, “Wow I made it!” reminds me of the opposite, the possibility that I wouldn’t make it.
So what do I do? I concentrate on breathing. Yup, that’s it, just breath. Breath out paddling into a wave, suck in a big breath as I pop up. That’s all I get to think. I put myself on a breath rhythm as though I am in yoga and focus on this. Then I can focus on small physical actions I need to do on the wave and try to make my physical actions, such as paddling, reprogram my brain. I was told one day, “Paddle strong and fast and let your muscles tell your brain what it is doing.” And crazily it seems to work.
Issues you encounter surfing will give you a mirror image of what you struggle with in your life on dry land, and if you can solve them in the water, you’ve got it made”
Strength is another issue. You start to lose muscle mass and power. Flexibility. Balance. You just start losing the things you rely on for your sport. When I first hit menopause my GYN offered me hormone replacement therapy. I don’t know that this is for everyone. But for me it helped with aches and pains. It helped retaining muscle mass, and it helped a ton with anxiety and fear. But after a couple of years my body rejected it. The problem is, once you start to lose muscle, if you work out like a maniac to fix it, you hurt yourself. And injuries now take longer to heal. Meanwhile, while they are healing you lose fitness at the speed of sound. So it becomes a balancing act of maintaining moderate fitness and not spending hours in the water.
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Who else feels like this? I can go from brilliant one day to feeling like an absolute loser the next. Today I couldn't get a wave and took at least 20 large waves on the head. Finally I made a run for the beach sat and cried. Then got back up and out there and nailed a new skill. Always get back out!! #surfergirl #surfergirl #getbackup # keep trying #bali
I’ve found the most useful things you can work on is flexibility through yoga and some basic core and butt exercises. Be conscious of using your core during the day, walk up those stairs, and work on your butt. Never mind having a Brazilian butt – this is the biggest muscle in your body and you need it!
Rest is perhaps the most essential thing of all. In my youth, I pushed through exhaustion far better. But now if I paddle out when I’m tired it all goes to hell. Judgment, balance, paddling…gone!! So if you only take two things from this, get extra sleep and do more stretching. That will get you a long way.
Age can’t stop the dance
Yet despite all of this, when I grab my longboard and paddle out on a bigger day after limping, after stretching, I dance on the board and feel all the grace and balance I thought I had lost. I have days of being on fire and schooling the lineup in the ways of the wave. To me, there is nothing better than walking the board and playing with the wave, like playing the violin. I continue to do my sport and bring joy into my life. Making accommodations when I have a stiff day, appreciating my success in paddling out every day, shortening my sessions so exhaustion doesn’t set in are all important. Be prepared for the changes in your body that will come, acknowledge them, and work with them, not against them.
Of course, it’s great when I make that set wave and set up some nice turns. But to me it is even better when I feel I have pushed myself to try harder”
Sometimes I sit in the lineup worrying about the young guys who can sit deeper, paddle harder, risk more. But this does no good. Instead, I try to praise myself for achievements. Today I was so proud of myself for three big wipeouts in a row (that all surgically removed parts of my bikini) because it meant I was taking off deeper and faster and I kept on trying. “Wow,” I thought, “I was willing to try that move three times and take the beating!” And on the fourth wave, I made it. Of course, it’s great when I make that set wave and set up some nice turns. But to me, it is even better when I feel I have pushed myself to try harder.
The male-dominated lineup
My interactions in the water have changed also. At any age you are in the minority as most lineups are male-dominated. In younger years some men resented me, but other men were happy to have a cute butt to eye and a friendly vibe in the water. Smart men! However, my butt no longer gets me extra waves, and I suspect that the sight of me reminds many older guys of their dreaded ex-wives. Plus, I am even more marginalized now as most women my age are not traveling around the world to surf or even paddling out at their local break.
I am more an object of curiosity. So I simply take friendship where I find it and complement fellow surfers on waves, smile and cheer. If possible, I spot the alpha male in the lineup and compliment him on a wave. If done right this gets me a nice session.
This morning as I was doing yoga it came to me that I was like the big diesel truck I used to own. In my youth men coveted me and the sight of me made their hearts pound a bit. I had all the get-up and go to make anything happen and possessed boundless energy. But as the miles and years added up and the shine came off the paint and the door dings increased, it would seem that my value diminished. Maintenance increased, the costs of maintenance were far more than I expected, and while the engine might go forever, the brakes and suspension went, and the oil pump gave out. Nobody told me it would be like this.
And yet when I went to sell the truck, I was astonished to find that it had held its value and was still in high demand as this older vehicle was the engine everyone wanted. I sold that truck for double what Kelley Bluebook claimed. And sure enough, it turns out in middle age I have far more worth and ability than society and social media would suggest.
…it turns out in middle age I have far more worth and ability than society and social media would suggest.”
When you notice an older woman surfer sitting quietly and comfortably in the lineup, smile at her, paddle over and get to know her. She may not be getting the wave count you are, doing the turns, or the hard drops, but you want to become her in a few years. She is your future.
You want to be the woman who keeps trying her best at her sport, conquers her fears and her limitations every day, and does what she truly enjoys. This is the worth that you can retain all your life, not a perfect body, or remain at the top of your sport, but rather the ability to participate, to try, and to enjoy it.