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Surfing in Sydney – You’re Never Too Old To Learn
A few months ago a friend called me asking if I wanted to join her for a surf lesson at Manly Beach in Sydney. As I thought about my answer, two images came to mind. My thirty-nine-year-old battle-weary body trying to hang five with a bewildered group of foreign backpackers and finger-pointing school children. And more vividly, the look on the faces of my sedentary couple and my married friends with kids if they knew I was even considering the idea.
Having recently left the maximum Lower North Shore suburb of Sydney and moved to the fun-filled beach of Manly, I had already become a prime suspect in their case against filthy thirty-somethings trying to regain lost youth. It wasn’t that I had been caught driving a red convertible sports car or acting suspiciously outside Botox clinics. However, I had been transported to fresco-painted living rooms and interrogated under the glare of designer mood lighting about alleged mixed-touch football matches on weekends, in evening bars on summer nights. school and clubbing every night, sternly warned that such activities were not something a self-respecting man of my age should get involved in.
“Of course, count on me” I answered. Breaking the news to the fun police couldn’t be more embarrassing than having to answer the question posed to all men living in a seaside suburb, “So you surf?” with a mumbled response about body shots in a pair of flippers. Moreover, a lesson was hardly a commitment. It was like a speed date. I would connect with a few boards, share laughs, make fun of myself, and never come back again.
The day arrived, and everything seemed to be going according to plan. Paddling, thrashing around like a puppet on amphetamines, catching a wave, trying to stand shaking, falling comically, trying to laugh at yourself louder than those around you and start again. At this rate, I’d be back in the safety of the pub in no time, saying to those who asked me, “Yeah, I used to surf until I collapsed on an overwhelmed German and I turn around.
Then the weirdest thing happened. After landing a particularly nice, staggering wave on my feet, the regulation left hook that had sent me crashing to the canvas all day never happened. I was still standing, surfing just above the remaining backpackers, while the school kids didn’t even register a bump!
There was no denying that my giant esky cover was about the size of the QEII and would have remained stable with an entire Central African government on board, however, gliding through the water with the sun on my face, salt on my lips and sand in my shorts left me elated in a way no Sunday night happy hour had ever had. By the end of the lesson, I knew that somewhere in a surf shop there, a nice piece of fiberglass was calling my name.
From a very young age, I have always loved the beaches of Sydney. Face-planting on a sandbar after catching a ‘dumpa’; having to “run a runner” across the hot sand until we found a place to lay our towels; waiting hungrily in line for a chocolate Paddle Pop and pie n’ sauce with the feeling of course of wet sand under my feet and the smell of clumping salt under my nose; the golden tan girls who, well, walked around being golden tan girls. My transcendental surf lesson aboard HMAS Polystyrene left me wondering, “Why didn’t I try years ago?”
Among a list of very lame excuses, only one seemed valid. Fear. As a teenager without a car, it had been less scary to stand in local nets and watch cricket balls fly in my face, or to try, and often fail, to jump BMX bikes over- over 5 foot ditches, than to let golden tanned girls see me hanging on the beach with mom and dad.
In my twenties, I was building a career, traveling the world and discovering that there was more to a woman’s beauty than the shade of her tan. At that time, my parents were allowed to accompany me in public, however, the thought of prehistoric man-eaters licking their lips under my dancing sea biscuit, and the stories of 120kg Neanderthals performing a proctology of surfboard on anyone who accidentally caught their wave, ensured the closest I came to the thrill of surfing through the eyes of a sports news camera at six o’clock.
After the lesson, I realized how irrational those fears were. I had seen dozens of surfers come out of the sea every day. They all still had their chests on, and very few walked as if they had a surfboard planted in their backs. Never again will I let something beyond my control stop me from living my surfing dream!
Which meant I would need a more tangible fear. He came to me right after the smiling carnation from the surf shop took my money and watched me walk away with eight feet of fiberglass, a rubber suit, two packs of gold bikini board wax and his sunglasses holder wrapped in my leg rope. Maybe my sane friends were right after all? Maybe I was clinging pathetically to a long-lost youth?
As I timidly walked down the beach, I felt the stares of the sunbakers piercing me, knowing exactly what they were thinking. A voice came over the speakers of the lifesaving club. No one ever understands these announcements, but I heard them clearly: “You, the thirty-nine-year-old guy in the hysterically-fitting wetsuit. Look your age. Put the surfboard down and step back between the flags. Kind and slow .” Just when I thought the game was over, I took one last look at the lapping water and realized I had come too far to stop now. Gathering every ounce of courage into my entertaining frame, I gripped my board like a swagman with his tucker-bag and yelled, “You’ll never catch me alive,” crashing into the sea, leaving the world epochlitically correct soldiers in my wake.
I’ve been honing my poor surfing skills for a while now and find myself getting upside down even more often, but that doesn’t matter. As any golf hacker will tell you, a good drive down the middle of a long straight fairway nets 99 slices in the parking lot and dribble off the end of the tee. Just give me a smooth ride on a wave of shimmering blue satin sheet, overflowing champagne froth in my wake, and not a backpacker to be seen between my board and the beach, and this middle-aged delinquent will always be from back for more. Because the only thing that scares me these days is imagining what life would be like if I had never become a surfer dude.
Four things every late beginner should know about surfing:
1. Physiological studies have shown that surfing is an excellent form of exercise. An aerobic fitness study at Deakin University found competitive surfers had a rate comparable to Nordic skiers and cross-country runners, while my study found it reduced budding man boobs. and wonky love handles.
2. Male surfers are allowed to stand at the bottom of the beach and ogle women for at least fifteen minutes longer than other male surfers before being arrested, provided they at least pretend to study the swell in the water too. Female surfers don’t have extra ogling rights over other female surfers, as male surfers just wish they all did it more often.
3.It is worth investing in a good quality wetsuit. In addition to their warming benefits, they evenly distribute excess lard all over the rubber skin.
4. No matter what your friends tell you, a jumpsuit should be worn with the zipper on the back. I promise.
The best places to learn to surf in Sydney:
Manly Surf School Offers lessons at four of Sydney’s northern beaches daily throughout the year.
Bondi Surf School – Lets Go Surfing Offers lessons on Sydney’s most famous beach all year round.
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