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Surfing in Sydney – You’re Never Too Old To Learn
A few months ago, a friend called me to ask if I would like to join her for a surf lesson at Manly Beach in Sydney. Thinking about my answer, two images came to mind. My battle-weary body of thirty-nine years trying to hang five with a bewildered pack of foreign backpackers and schoolchildren pointing. And most vividly, the look on the faces of my settled partner and married-with-kids friends if they knew I was entertaining the idea.
Having recently escaped Sydney’s Lower North Shore peak suburbs and moved to the fun-filled Manly Beach, I had already become the prime suspect in his case against the dirty thirty trying to recapture their lost youth. It wasn’t like I’d been caught driving a red convertible sports car or acting suspicious outside of Botox clinics. Yet I’d been dragged into Fresco-painted living rooms and questioned under the glare of designer mood lighting about allegedly co-ed soccer games on weekends, bar-hopping on school nights, and clubbing. any night, I was sternly warned that such activities were not something a self-respecting man my age should engage in.
“Sure, count me in” I replied. Breaking the news to the funny police couldn’t be more embarrassing than having to answer the question every man living in a beachside suburb is asked: “And you surf?” with a muttered response about the body hitting a pair of fins. Besides, a lesson was hardly a compromise. It was like a speed date. I would hook up with some boards, share some laughs, make a fool of myself, and never be seen again.
The day came and everything seemed to be going according to plan. Paddling, wallowing like a puppet on amphetamines, catching a wave, trying to stand unsteadily, falling comically, trying to laugh at yourself louder than at those around you, and start all over again. At this rate, he’d be back in the safety of the pub in no time, telling questioners: “Yeah, I used to surf until I got annihilated by a submerged German and went under again.”
Then the strangest thing happened. After landing a particularly kind wave and staggering to my feet, the regulation left hook that had sent me to the canvas all day never came. He was still on his feet, surfing above the remaining backpackers, while the school kids didn’t even register a hit!
There was no denying that my giant esky cap was about the size of the QEII, and would have remained stable with an entire Central African government on board, yet gliding across the water with the sun on my face, salt on my lips and sand on my My shorts left me elated in a way no Sunday night happy hour ever had. By the end of the lesson, I learned that somewhere in a surf shop, a shapely piece of fiberglass was calling my name.
From a very early age, I had always loved Sydney’s beaches. Face off on a sandbar after catching a dumpa; having to “run” through the blistering hot sand until we found a place to drop our towels; waiting voraciously in line at the store for a chocolate Paddle Pop and pie n’ sauce with the feel, of course, of wet sand under my feet, and the smell of caked bodies under my nose; the golden girls who, well, just walked around being golden girls. My momentous surf lesson aboard the HMAS Styrofoam left me wondering, “Why didn’t I try this years ago?”
Among a list of very lame excuses, only one seemed to have any validity. Fear. As a teenager without a car, it had been less terrifying to stand on the local nets and watch cricket balls fly into my face, or to try, and often fail, to jump BMX bikes over 5-foot ditches, than to let tanned girls drive me. they saw hanging at the beach with mom and dad.
By the time she was twenty, she 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 the time, my parents were allowed to accompany me in public, however, the thought of prehistoric man-eaters licking their lips under my bobbing sand biscuit, and stories of 250-pound Neanderthals performing plank proctology of surfing on anyone who accidentally caught their wave, they secured the closest thing. I came to the thrill of surfing through the eyes of a six o’clock sports news camera.
After the lesson I realized how irrational these fears had been. He had seen dozens of riders emerge from the sea every day. They all still had their torsos and very few walked like they had a surfboard stuck up their behinds. Never again would I let a problem out of my control stop me from living my dream of surfing!
Which meant he would need a more tangible fear. It came to me just after the smiling buttonhole from the surf shop took my money and watched me walk off with eight feet of fiberglass, a rubber suit, two packets of gold surfboard wax, and his sunglasses. wrapped in the rope of my leg. Maybe my sensible friends were right after all? Perhaps I was pathetically clinging to a long lost youth?
Walking timidly along the beach, I felt the gazes of the sun worshipers boring into me, knowing exactly what they were thinking. A voice came over the loudspeakers of the lifeguard club. No one understands those ads, but I heard it clearly: “You, the thirty-nine year old guy in the hysterically tight wetsuit. Act your age. Put down the surfboard and move between the flags. Nice and slow.” Just when I thought the game was over, I took one last look at the lapping water and realized I had gone too far to stop now. Mustering every ounce of courage into my entertainment frame, I clutched my board like a braggart with her bag and yelled, “They’ll never take me alive,” crashing into the sea, leaving the world of epolitically correct soldiers in my wake. .
I’ve been honing my paltry navigation skills for a while now and still find myself upside down most of the time, but never mind. As any golf hacker will tell you, a good shot down the middle of a long straight fairway redeems 99 cuts in the parking lot and dribble off the tee. Just give me a smooth ride on a wave of shimmering blue satin sheet, champagne foam brimming in my wake, and there won’t be a backpacker to be seen between my board and the beach, and this middle-aged delinquent will always be back for more. Because the only thing that scares me these days is imagining what life would be like if I never became a surfer guy.
Four things all late beginners 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 score comparable to nordic skiers and distance runners, while my study found it reduced budding man boobs and wobbly love handles.
2. Male surfers are licensed to stand at the back of the beach and stare at women for at least fifteen minutes longer than other men before being arrested, as long as they at least pretend to be studying the waves in the water, too. Female surfers have no extra ogling rights on other women because men 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 body fat throughout your rubbery skin.
4. No matter what your teammates tell you, a wetsuit with the zipper at the back should be worn. I promise.
The best places to learn to surf in Sydney:
Manly Surf School Offers lessons on four of Sydney’s northern beaches every day throughout the year.
Bondi Surf School – Lets Go Surfing Offers lessons on Sydney’s most famous beach all year round.
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