Learning to Surf at 43
I had a bucket list to fill so upon my divorce, I began to fill it. First, I had always wanted to own and drive a Jeep Wrangler, not a fancy new one but a beat up (ala Terminator) one. So, I am now the proud owner of a red 1989 Jeep Wrangler, check. Next, I desired to own a townhome and be free to travel on a whim, check. Finally, after living for 11 years in Southern California (where the water is way too cold for me to surf or swim), I had always wanted to be a cool, free-spirited, strong, traveling-while-living-in-my-airstream-surfer-chic kinda woman.
The truth is, I am a wanderer at heart. Surfing looked like freedom and grace to me. It felt like strength and courage and, for as long as I can remember, I desperately wanted to be free, graceful, strong, and courageous as a woman. So, when my divorce was near finalizing, I began planning, plotting, and scheming about how and where I was going to learn how to surf.
Surfing looked like freedom and grace to me. It felt like strength and courage and, for as long as I can remember, I desperately wanted to be free, graceful, strong, and courageous as a woman.
Jump a year into the future and I found myself booking a 14-day trip to Tamarindo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. I dragged my mom and dad, plus both kids along for this great exploration of mine. My first decision to make was, which surf school? Surf Divas is all ladies and at 43, that seemed way less intimidating. However, I had met Joe Walsch (I call him Goldilocks) on the plane during my first trip to Costa Rica. We hit it off, shared a few beers enroute, and he told me his story and gave me advice on having a ball in Costa Rica.
So, I chose the Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo and hoped like hell Joe would remember me. We arrived at our condo, which was a gorgeous two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath townhome with laundry facilities, a full kitchen, a living space, and a pool. Best of all, it was a short trip from an American style grocery store and the famed ,.
We had our first lunch at Witch’s Rock and I became reacquainted with Joe. He set my daughter and me up with appropriate surfing instructors for the next morning and introduced me to a famous surfer from the ‘60s movies, Endless Summer and expert surfboard designer, Mr. Robert August. We all had a great time chatting with Joe, Robert and all of the staff.
The next morning at 8:45 ,we were dressed and ready to get our surf on. My daughter had Maria and I had Carlos as an instructor. I was so nervous. “What was I doing?” I asked myself. “I am way to old for this!” Carlos assured me that I was indeed the perfect age and in the perfect place to start. Carlos was right.
We started out on the sand learning to “pop-up,” or get on your feet, for about a half hour and then it was off to the water. The instructors at Witch’s Rock are super patient and knowledgeable and I felt safe and at ease with every lesson I took. In the beginning, the only responsibility of a new surfer (with an instructor) is to paddle out and pop up when they catch you a little wave. So, after day one, I was feeling pretty good about myself as a surfer.
Then came day two. We chose to rent boards on our own and try it without instructors, and I can still see and hear Joe rolling his eyes and groaning. We still had fun but–and it’s a big but–it was frustrating.
Learning to Surf at 43.
The good part was that the beach out in front of Witch’s Rock is perfect for beginners and no one gets upset if you steal their wave or get in the way. The downside was that I had no idea how to catch a wave since Carlos spent the day before catching all of mine! By lunchtime, we had instructors for the afternoon. Cha, my daughter and I shared Maria and she taught us how to pick a wave and catch it ourselves.
The absolute best part was seeing my daughter in a new light. Surfing took her a minute to get. She didn’t pop up right away–she had to earn it, and she did it that first day out. She spent her entire three hours working to catch that wave. On her final push of the day, she did it. She popped up onto that board and the wave took her all the way to the shore.
I had it a bit easier due to my gymnastics background. Popping up came naturally, but staying on the board–not so much! I had spent my day staying up, feeling the ocean spray my face, hoping Carlos didn’t get eaten by a shark, and wondering if it was okay to have a pina colada and then come back out. Suffice it to say, we were totally hooked on surfing. Now, we try to go once a year and I am looking forward to sharing Domes Beach in Northwest Puerto Rico with my daughter soon.
Don’t let your number stop you. Get out there and work on that bucket list.
The thing is, 43 is just a number. Frankly, I have allowed that number to stop me in my tracks time and again. I let it keep me from traveling alone, from setting off on the around-the-world-tour I want to take, and from the nomadic lifestyle I desire to live. Don’t let your number stop you. Get out there and work on that bucket list.
I wanted to learn to surf, check. Now I want to learn how to make the surfboard go where I want it to go. That’s my plan for this summer where you will probably find me on the beach in Jaco, Costa Rica or Panama or Puerto Rico….I’ll let you know!
Learning to surf; Top photo by Unsplash.