I asked a work colleague who was a seasoned surfer if they could remember what their first surf lesson was like, “trying not to drown for two hours” was his reply. Mmmm maybe I should re-think my ‘Learn to surf’ bucket list bullet point I was about to embark on.
It was 2021 and somehow sixty years had passed and I found myself with a milestone birthday on the horizon. Unfortunately for me this milestone could also be seen from space it was that big.
Whenever I am at North Cornwall’s coast I always find myself looking out at the surfers and their display of extreme confidence and courage wishing that could be me. How cool would it be to be out there with them pretending I’m Patrick Swayze in Point Break. But could I learn to surf at 60 years old? I asked myself. The internet says there is no age limit for learning to surf and it’s never too late to start, well let’s put that to the test shall we.
I was never that sporty, a combination of childhood asthma and pneumonia put paid to that. I was always the wheezy kid on the touchline at school or one of the last ones to be picked for the team. You know the line up thing where the gifted sporty types take it in turn to pick their players for the team. However I’ve always loved being by the sea and enjoyed the many outdoor pursuits that it offers. I even got my Powerboat Level 2 licence in 2018, that’s a blog for another day but somehow I managed to pick the worst two days of weather in an otherwise great summer. The sea was as rough as a badger’s bum, good fun though. Oh I just remembered, as an 11 year old I won an Archery silver medal at the Essex County Championship back in the 70s.
Anyway, back to the story in hand. I decided to give it a go and booked my first two hour surf lesson at Perranporth beach, Cornwall. I drew back the curtains on the morning of the big day and looked out to check the weather. Great, the sun was shining which disguised the fact that it was an absolutely freezing cold March day. I could only imagine how cold the water would be. I set off on my adventure and as I passed the fridge door on the way out, I wondered if it was too early to tick the ‘Go Surfing’ goal on my list next to the colourful ‘I Licked It So It’s Mine’ fridge magnet. On arrival I joined a small group of people that fate had decided our paths should cross this day and time. We could all enjoy the two hour communal ‘trying not to drown’ session that was ahead of us together.
My first observation apart from the icicle on my nose was that I was clearly the oldest of the group. A little deflated, I was hoping to meet some other similarly aged and fitness challenged people so we could all laugh at each other. At school you compete with others the same age, I could already see the humiliation of a ten year old showing me how it’s done. But that humiliation in the water was a way off yet, there was much more to come on land.
The surfer girl that The Beach Boys sang about in 1963 took the register. I think she had just come straight from an early morning photo shoot for Hot Surfer Girls magazine. Maybe it was going to be a good day after all, my nose icicle started to melt. I confirmed my name which also meant there was no turning back.
It was suit up time, the organisers had our wetsuits ready for us in individual plastic trays, that was thoughtful. My one was labelled ‘Let’s make him look like a Twister ice cream lolly wrapped in black neoprene synthetic rubber’. I wrestled with the wetsuit for several minutes thinking to myself, I must have the ten year olds, there’s been a mix up. Hot surfer girl settled my confusion, assuring me that it was mine and I had to squash myself into it somehow. Eventually my suit was on together with boots and gloves, no scarf I thought. I was exhausted already. It was worse than changing a double quilt cover single handed. Wetsuits are not very flattering for let’s say the ‘more mature person’, great if you have all the right curves in all the right places, but with all the wrong curves in all the wrong places that’s a different story.
Next it was ‘allocate everyone a board time’. The ten year olds were given what appeared to be a child’s toy each and then it was my turn. I’m about six feet tall so apparently my height demands a board of similar stature. And there it was, what appeared to me to be the tallest rock from Stonehenge fashioned into a surfing device. It reminded me of when I went horse riding at Centre Parcs. Because I’m tall they gave me a huge horse that even John Wayne would have thought twice about getting on.
We were shown how to carry the board correctly, so I picked up the giant monolith and tucked it under my arm. If you don’t know Perranporth, the shoreline is what appears to be about three miles from the surf school, I began the long march.
It was at this point that just how old and unfit I was became obvious, who’s silly idea was this? Many times I stopped to catch my breath and get a better grip on the board. Before long I was dragging the board behind me as I was so tired, it was like a scene from Ice Cold In Alex when they were pushing that lorry up the sand dune. I was struggling and the lesson hadn’t even begun.
Eventually we reached the shoreline and were asked to form a semi circle on the sand and then the hot surfer girl began the safety briefing. I wondered to myself if there was any oxygen or a defib machine available so far from civilisation. My attention drifted for a few seconds to the waves that were waiting to try and drown me. I could almost hear them calling my name, however my mind was brought back sharply into focus when she mentioned a creature with a venomous spine that can inflict excruciating pain.
Now for a second I thought she was talking about my ex mother-in-law and she had joined the group late, but no, it was the pesky little Weaver fish. Reasonably common in Cornwall, the Weaver fish that is not the evil mother in law, you may beg to differ though, the Weaver fish buries itself in the sand and is easily trodden on. Poisonous spines can stick in your feet which can keep lifeguards and the coastguard very busy during the summer holiday season.
That was a surprise, most people’s thoughts when entering the water are probably linked to Jaws, the 25 foot shark in Spielberg’s 70s blockbuster, not a 6 inch goldfish. That film has a lot to answer for. I saw it three times in the cinema when it came out, little did I imagine that 45 years later it would come back to haunt me. Just when you think it’s safe to go back in the water eh. There was almost a ‘I’m gonna need a bigger board’ joke here but as I already had the biggest I can’t use it!
With the safety briefing complete we quickly moved on to how to get on the board correctly and then stand up. I have to say that sand surfing is dead easy, you get on the board and stand up, no prob. No one tells you at this point that doing it in the water is 100 times harder.
So that was it, the safety briefing was done, the easy sand surfing was complete, my nose icicle had melted and I was now ready to enter the water. The group of surf rookies walked into the sea, but in my mind I could still hear Amity Island’s Police Chief Brody from Jaws shouting “GET OUT OF THE WATER”. At this point I was about an hour into the two hour session, so I had an hour’s surfing ahead of me, loads of time to show those annoying kids how it’s done.
Sadly it wasn’t to be, for me I was too old and unfit and struggled repeatedly to get on the board, stand up and ride the waves. My inner Patrick Swayze just wasn’t there. I called time 15 minutes before the lesson ended explaining to the hot surfer girl that I’d had enough and was too tired to continue. She gave me her best calendar smile and paddled off into the surf. I left the water disappointed. I began the long walk back to base camp dragging my board behind me. I still had a 30 minute session ahead of me trying to get the wetsuit off to look forward to though.
So that’s it, the dream was over, learning to surf at 60 was a step too far for me. I’m going to stick to my body board and mess around in the shallows. I will continue to admire the cool guys riding the waves from afar but at least I had a go. Don’t let me put you off giving it a try though, my main observation was you do need to be fit and in good shape as it is very physically demanding. If you can do it the rewards are huge, it’s great exercise, it’s good for your mental health, it’s very social, you get to travel if you want to, you have cool bragging rights, but most of all it’s a lot of fun.
Written by: Atlantic Surf Radio
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