learning how to surf in hawaii

Never too old: Learning how to surf in our 50s

by Michael on December 1, 2014

During our 3+ year journey around the globe we try to experience new things and seek adventure outside our comfort zone. Earlier in the year we rode horses for the first time and later Larissa flew an aerobatic plane upside down in Las Vegas. Which was how we found ourselves bobbing up and down on the gentle waves at Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. We were finally learning how to surf in our 50s.

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Surfin’ USA

Waikiki Beach is an excellent spot for the beginner surfer: the waves break in easy 3-to-5-foot swells and there’s an abundance of surfing schools. We chose Gone Surfing, figuring that its female owner, Jo Jo Howard, would be patient with our nonexistent skills. We signed up for a two-hour semi-private lesson. Jo Jo was assigned to Larissa while Noah handled Michael, a formidable task for the young surfing instructor.

We started with a quick safety lesson on the beach where we were taught what to do out on the water. The three-step process seemed simple on solid land: 1) Bring your knees up; 2) Set your feet; and 3) Stand up. What could go wrong?

Since the waves on our part of the beach were pretty flat, Jo Jo and Noah towed us out to a farther section of the beach. Or we should say “toe’d.” Each of them hooked a toe over the front of our surfboard and paddled us out into the ocean. That was so relaxing that it could be a new activity for old-timers.

Wipe Out

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As we bobbed around in the water waiting for a wave Michael tried the three-step process on the stationary surfboard. Guess what? It’s a lot easier on solid ground. With the water shifting underneath him he promptly did an ungainly face plant. Watching Michael’s belly flop brought images from the movie Orca to mind. Hmm, maybe this would be harder than we thought.

The mellow Noah said not to worry. It would be easier when the board was moving. That sounded counterintuitive to Michael but getting into the Hawaiian island spirit he decided to roll with it.

Rumble at Waikiki


And then it happened. The first wave came. Michael was face down on his board and was paddling with the wave as it pushed him to shore. With Noah shouting out the commands Michael somehow found himself in a standing position on the board, feet pointing in the right direction, arms stretched out for balance. It must have been a day for miracles because he was actually surfing. His five second ride felt like five minutes and when he came crashing into the water at the end he was stoked.

Surfer Girl

Larissa jumped onto the second wave and with her convenient lower center of gravity (okay, she’s short) also rode to a watery glory. We were thrilled.

One of the nice things about surfing is that even experienced surfers end their rides with a dive into the water. It’s basically how you stop so when we fell off the board at the end of our attempts it wasn’t the same as doing a face plant on a ski run. It was actually quite refreshing.

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Don’t Worry Baby

We wore long-sleeved black shirts called rash guards that protect the skin from sun and scrapes. One of the nice things they do for a middle-aged surfer is act as a cover-up for sagging muscles so we looked as sleek as champion Laird Hamilton, well almost. We might just start wearing them everywhere even when we’re not hanging ten.

We were warned by some friends that we’d be pretty sore afterwards. The next day we were a bit sore in our ribcages where they pressed into the board. But that was it. A day after that we were fine.

Good Vibrations

The one lesson has given us enough confidence that if we’re staying someplace where we can rent boards we can now do so. Granted we’re not ready for the Banzai Pipeline on the north shore of Oahu, but we feel we can handle something more modest without embarrassing ourselves.

Collecting experiences at this point in our lives feels so right. We are creating new memories and are even picking up a few new skills along the way. Besides, as nomads without a home we can’t collect stuff, we have no place to put it.

Hawaii Vacations: Save 30% or more in paradise!

Here’s how to connect with Gone Surfing who was kind enough to provide us with this lesson.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Penelope December 14, 2014 at 4:42 pm

That first successful ride hooks you for life … have fun with your new found hobby! 🙂

Heather January 12, 2015 at 7:30 am

My husband and I tried surfing for the first time this summer! I must admit it was easier on dry land than on the water for us too. We were super-wobbly, but by the end of the lesson we could stand up and ride some little baby waves into the beach.
Do you think you’ll try surfing again, given the chance?

Michael January 13, 2015 at 8:46 am

We’re definitely up for it. We’re spoiled with Hawaii though. It was the ideal mix of warm and clean water that’s hard to find.

Wandering Educators January 25, 2015 at 11:49 am

Good for you! wow! My brother surfs – it’s addicting, he said!

Tawanna January 25, 2015 at 11:45 pm

I commend you all! Age is a mindset.

Cat of Sunshine and Siestas January 26, 2015 at 3:29 am

I surfed once on a calm day and would love to try again! Your outlook on life and learning is fantastic!

Lillie January 28, 2015 at 12:00 am

This is so inspiring! I’m in my 30s and have been terrified of surfing, but now I have no excuse!

Michael January 28, 2015 at 7:58 pm

Time to get out on the waves.

Theodora January 31, 2015 at 6:20 am

I’ve tried surfing a couple of times but it’s getting to the level where you can reliably stand up that’s hard – let alone where you can ride a wave properly. Impressed you had no upper arm pain, though – and good on you for giving it a go!

Larissa February 2, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Fortunately we were in pretty calm waters, Theodora, which made paddling easy (and easy on the arms!). We also learned that one of reasons Waikiki is so popular for surfing is the relatively flat sand underwater makes for long, long waves (even small ones). That gives you plenty of time to stand up–even if it’s a bit wobbly 🙂

Mary @ Green Global Travel January 31, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Thanks for sharing your inspiring story about learning how to surf. I’d glad to hear that people can learn at any age. There is still hope for me!

Larissa February 2, 2015 at 12:47 pm

If I can do it Mary, there’s definitely hope for you 🙂

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