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Learning to surf as a middle-aged man

They make it look easy…..

When you watch films, documentaries or even the guys on my local beach here in Brighton don’t they? Seeing Kelly Slater win yet another title or Laird Hamilton dropping in on the face of a behemoth, but the sad truth is it takes practice and lots of it.

To be slightly brash, any sport that uses a product called sex wax is worth investigating, right?

That will be me one day.

You need a new hobby…..

I am pretty good at most sports so this will take me a maximum of two to three days and I’ll look like it has been in my blood since childhood. Let me explain that I am now 51 years old and have played rugby, football, tennis, and cricket most of my life so as the ravages of time take hold of my constantly aching body I am searching for a new challenge.

I have several friends that are surfers and as most of you will know they are easy to spot in a crowd. Straw-like hair, permanently tanned, driving the obligatory VW Transporter and always happy. They have been encouraging me for some time to join them on trips to Cornwall or Devon but I seem to find reasons not to be part of the crowd.


At some point in your life peer pressure is no longer relevant to you but unfortunately even at 51 I am prone to it so have agreed to a six-hour journey with them to Cornwall. All I need now is the equipment. Now I could nip out and buy a brand new wet suit Wetsuits | Men, Women & Kids’ | Decathlon which will set me back £100 plus and then do I need to find a surfboard that is good for beginners.

The answer to both questions is no, I am going to borrow a “wettie” as it’s known and then rent a board or “foamie” when we get to Cornwall. In some way both will be ill fitting to my tall, not so wiry stature but somehow I think this is going to be the least of my worries.


Once again, I am going to be honest with you and announce that this has been the ultimate reason for my unwillingness to becoming a pro surfer. I am not talking about the slang stuff like stoked, rad, drop in, hang ten or goofy but the actual technical stuff about wave structure and wind direction. I know that I am over-thinking it here, but I am a bit of a research geek and wouldn’t undertake anything as important as new pastime without fully immersing myself in a good old-fashioned bit of swotting up.

Now, for the purposes of this upcoming trip I decided to just leave it to my friends to point me in the right direction and hope that nothing untoward happens to me. I mean let’s face it, a slightly chubby fella with a damaged shoulder is easily going to win a battle with Mother Nature.

Hang ten dude

The Foamie…..

There are myriad of boards that you can own throughout your life on the waves but this is the one we all start out with. It is little more that a large piece if hardened polystyrene wrap in a waterproof layer Surfboard Foam: It’s What’s Inside That Counts. – Degree 33 Surfboards

I chose a 9-foot board as it looked the most stable and but there was sizes to fit all ages and shapes. Let me just make one thing perfectly clear to you if you are going to learn to surf, nobody looks cool carrying a foamie.

The image that you may have of a beautifully bronzed guy or girl strolling along a beach with a perfectly sculpted, logo emblazoned board tucked under their arm looking like they own the planet is a far removed from myself clumsily dragging a huge blue and yellow beacon of incompetence on my head, but it is my mode of transport and I love it.

In my imagination I looked this cool

The Pop-Up…..

So, the best way to learn is to book a lesson and most popular surf beaches worldwide will have a surf school. These people will teach you the essentials that you will need to know. Paddling, which is what you will spend most of your time doing is where your fitness levels will be brought in. I am not going to sugar coat this, but it is difficult, you are essentially swimming atop a board only using your arms to power you through the oncoming waves.

Secondly the duck dive is a process that I honestly did not get to grips with but as any surfer will tell you is an essential skill that will eventually be mastered as more of a necessity than a preference.

Lastly the holy grail of surfing, the pop-up. This where you go from laying down, paddling frantically to standing up in less than a second and by far and away the hardest of all the skills you will need.

I, on the other hand relied on the teaching ability of my accomplished friends to explain all of this to me whilst being fed information about on-shore winds, head high, glassy waves and getting rag-dolled.

Into the breach…..

The first thing you notice as you get into the water is that the wet suit is somehow keeping you warm against the cold, September, Atlantic chill which is around 17 degrees Celsius right now. Its thrilling as you lay on the board and start to paddle which as I said is not as easy as they all make it look and all joking aside you do need a certain level of not just fitness but swimming confidence to do this.

As a first timer I am not heading out to the back with my friends but I am going to sit closer into the shoreline where the bigger waves cant get me. This is what I have termed “the kiddie pool” as it is full of people just like myself stepping into this new adventure.

If a first you don’t succeed…..

The one thing that this first experience taught me was perseverance. I could not count how many times I attempted to ride the waves but let us just say it was more than a few. That aside every wipeout I had made me more determined to get back on the board and have yet another go. It is an odd feeling to be so unsuccessful at this but enjoying it to this level. I cannot think of any other part of my life where falling over was so much fun.

Elation, Utopia, Heaven…..

Call it what you want, that first time you catch a wave and properly stand up on your board is glorious, a feeling that I have never felt in any sporting activity. You are literally being pushed along by the sea and it feels as if you are travelling at a thousand miles per hour. You don’t want it to end, you hope that everybody saw you and most of all you hope you can do it all again.

In my case I casually stepped off the board and turned back to my friends, one of whom had witnessed this captivating moment to see him cheering like a crazed maniac. He was just as happy or should I say, stoked for me as I was.

What next…..

After the tension, pain, joy and thrill I honestly wanted to give it all up and move to Cornwall or should I go the whole hog an up sticks to Hawaii to follow my new passion but maybe I’ll have to broach that subject gently with the rest of my family and for now I’ll settle for selling the family saloon and get myself one of those aforementioned VW’s.

Top tips…..

  1. Choose the right equipment. The wetsuit is essential in cooler water. Sunscreen no matter where you are in the world and have the right board, the bigger it is the easier it will be to learn on. Always ask questions when hiring the board about conditions as this will decided the size of board you will need.
  2. Book a lesson. The knowledge that any instructor can pass on to you will be invaluable throughout you entire surfing journey. You wouldn’t drive a car without lessons, would you?
  3. Never surf alone. No matter how easy you think it looks, never, ever approach surfing by yourself. Either get an experienced friend to teach you or go on a surf camp for beginners. This way, you’ll avoid injuring yourself or even putting your life in danger.
  4. Respect the ocean. You will need to have a certain level of fitness and swimming ability before heading out into the water. Everyday can be different and every beach will have it’s own challenges so get to know them as your safety is paramount. There are several sites to choose but always search the beach and its conditions https://magicseaweed.com/
  5. Be aware of other surfers. There is an etiquette amongst all surfers that you should be aware of. Do not drop in on another person’s wave. Stay away from crowded areas whilst learning and always wear your leash.
  6. Enjoy yourself. Please do not worry about how you look, every surfer started exactly where you are with wipeouts and mouths full of salty water. At some point you will catch that elusive first wave.
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