How old is too old to surf? I've been asking this question a lot lately as I approach the age of 51. I think the answer is that it can be a lifelong sport for surfers with a healthy lifestyle and a positive attitude... who are riding the appropriate equipment. In fact, many folks continue to slide and glide well into their 50's, and quite a few others into their 60's and beyond. So I'm hopeful I will find a way to ride the waves as long as possible.
Being active in your 50's these days seems easier than ever. Even though I've got baggies older than most dudes at any given spot, I still don't think of myself as old. I'm just older than I use to be. Truth be told, I'm always dealing with multiple injuries, both old and new, at almost any given time. So getting out into the water can be a challenge, with barriers not easily overcome.
Here are five tips for surfing into your older years, and enjoying the rides!
Ride Something Wide Unless you live in Hawaii or some other place blessed with world-class surf, you're going to need some help paddling into waves and getting up to speed. Your sloppy and gutless beach break won't make surfing easier as you get older, and getting-into waves earlier sets you up for a more successful ride. So opt for a board that's got more foam with greater stability, and match that to your skill level and physical condition. The obvious rule is thicker and longer for easier paddling and wave-catching.
Set Session Goals I actually covered this in another blog, Just One Lip Smacker. But setting a realistic and measurable goal for each session can help you focus and push through adversity. Try to keep it simple, attainable, and of course measurable. The goal "Catch a lot of good waves" isn't measurable. What does "a lot" mean? And what if no good waves come? You can see how this could be different for everyone and difficult to measure. So set a more specific goal, tailored to you, and easily measured... like, "I'm going to paddle for 10 waves". With this goal you'll probably end up catching a lot of waves, because you'll be focused on the wave count the entire time trying to meet your goal. (And I'm not saying wave count is important necessarily... it's only important if you want it to be. The Apple Watch has some cool apps and tools for tracking a surf.)
Stretch and Move You've got to constantly move your body around and stretch out your muscles if you want to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury. This rule applies when you're both in and out of the water. When you're paddled-out surfing, don't sit stagnant. Try to paddle around, sit up, lay down, and just move. You want to keep your body as loose as possible when it's time to catch a wave. And when you're in the real world, not out surfing, try not to sit still for too long! Get up and move around. Try to remind yourself, even if it's for only a couple of minutes an hour. Also, setting time aside each day for stretching helps in so many ways. But most importantly, before paddling out, always stretch-out the key muscle groups like shoulders, back, hips, and legs. Include dynamic stretches like arm circles, leg swings, and hip rotations. Don't be in a rush!
Temper Your Expectations It's important to be realistic about your abilities and limitations as you get older. You may not be the ripper you used to be, and nobody really cares that you're not. So save yourself the frustration and redefine what a successful surf session means to you. Were you out in the ocean enjoying nature? Yes? Well, then that's a win right there. So let's keep it all in perspective. And as far as safety goes, if you're 50+, it's essential to stay within your comfort zone and not push yourself too hard. Otherwise you're prone to more injuries and losing your stoke. There's no sense in beating yourself up because you can't drop into throating overhead barrels anymore. There are plenty of fun spots to surf into your older years. For me, there's no shame in ripping a big turn on a playful wave at home in Florida, as opposed to paddling for my life, taking sets on the head, caught inside at a heavy reef break.
Have Fun Out There If you follow the four tips above, then tip five almost falls into place. FUN. It's the only reason we do this. It definitely takes a certain maturity to not act all possessive and cranky when it comes to surfing, or ripping at a surf spot. Some dudes never grow up. And there's no sense in getting upset about that because it won't change anything. I know the crowds are worse than they used to be. I also agree that surfing has lost its soul, to some degree, when compared to other eras in my lifetime. But seriously man. Let it go. Anger will kill you. And you're really not special. Accept that you're not entitled to anything. Remember that it's a free country, and folks are going to do what they do. As an older surfer, use your wisdom and stoicism to rise above and move beyond. Relish the stoke, be glad you're simply out in the water. And go have FUN!
Keep in mind that as you get older catching waves will get harder, it's unavoidable... but you don't have to quit surfing completely just because you can't make your potato chip shortboard go off the lip anymore. You just need to change your surf perspective. Floating around on a boogie-board, bodysurfing with your grandkids, riding logs with your buddies, all count as surfing. It's just super healthy to be stoked. Riding and sharing waves, in any capacity, helps you stay active and maintain a sense of adventure and vitality. I hope you're surfing where you are!
RIP Jimmy 1946-2023