Learning How to Surf at 30
At the age of 30, I learned how to surf.
The idea of surfing had always intrigued me. Maybe it was the cool vibes, the draw of the ocean, or the devotion that the sport seemed to inspire in its die-hard fans. However, it took me a long time to get around to it; I gave up learning new sports at a young age. I think it had something to do with truly, deeply caring what other people thought of me, and not wanting to look like a clumsy, untrained, awkward newbie.
So, what changed in 30-year-old me?
The answer: quite a bit. I have always been sporty. But, after working as a personal trainer for several years, I learned a few things from coaching others that I wasn’t able to learn as an athlete myself.
Most importantly: It’s cool to be a newbie. Hey, we weren’t all brought onto this earth knowing every sport out there. Yes, there are those of us who were delivered from the womb onto skis or surfboards or mountain bikes, or heartily thrown into dance class or gymnastics or Little League. Yes. But, for most of us, that wasn’t the case. So being a newbie (or noob, if you prefer) is normal! It means you are adventurous and trying new things out of your comfort zone. Own it. It’s pretty cool to be that girl.
Next up: it’s a great idea to find a pro to show you the ropes. This is a huge lesson of mine from personal training: work with a professional who can show you how to do something safely, correctly, and with personal attention. It’s a game changer! You will prevent yourself from getting injured or doing something stupid, you will improve much faster with proper instruction, and you can learn at your own pace, focusing on the areas that are more challenging for you while zipping through the stuff that comes naturally.
Lastly, everyone—and I mean everyone—is an athlete. We just all groove to our own beat. This may not be rocket science, but here you go: we are all born with different abilities. What isn’t so obvious is that by learning the right stuff, going at your own pace, and sticking to it, you really can be a great athlete in the sport of your choosing. Seriously. I have seen it time and time again: no matter how tough things are at the outset, you are only a beginner for so long. Confidence and experience make you a pro, and everyone has to earn that designation in their own time.
So how did I answer my calling to surf? Pretty straightforward: I booked lessons at a local surf school and took surf lessons every Saturday for two months. To really seal the deal, I headed to Nicaragua to an all-women’s surf camp. I surfed every day and got confident enough in my surf skillz to come back home and buy my own 9-foot longboard. Since then, I surf in New York on weekends when I can and have committed to taking one surf vacation a year. (I’ve added Jamaica and Mexico to the list.)
Am I a pro yet? Far from it, and that’s cool. Surfing makes me incredibly happy, and I have found a life-long sport that gets me in the water, clears my mind, and keeps me (very) humble. It is something that I have gotten to share with friends and family, and I have built amazing, active adventures around it.
It is physically challenging—I’ve always been a runner and cyclist, a legs girl!—and it requires paying much more attention to the natural environment than any other sport I’ve tried.
I’ve experienced my fair share of surfing misadventures to date—a concussion, urchins in my feet, some pretty crazy wipeouts, being yelled at, completely misinterpreting surf conditions—and I’m sure there will be many more. But I can honestly say that I’m so glad to have learned this sport as an adult. It’s nice to feel humble. It’s nice to be eager to learn. (It’s also nice to celebrate small victories with a cold beer on a sandy beach.)
It’s nice to feel alive and step out of my comfort zone. It’s nice to actually have my mind stop racing and just be (and no, I apparently cannot do that in yoga class). It’s nice to appreciate the learning process and to be patient with myself.
Now that I’m a grown-up, being a newbie is OK with me. What’s more, learning to surf has been my gateway to the next adventure. It’s gotten me to try more new sports, like paddleboarding and snow skating. And now, for the first time in my life, I’m considering a triathlon. Bring on the new challenges!
Lauren Abele is a lifelong athlete and outdoors enthusiast who knows the importance of having fun when it comes to getting sweaty. She is a former senior-level personal trainer and has worked with hundreds of clients, completing over 3,000 hours of one-on-one training. Her latest project: connecting people with great adventures and fellow adventurers at HIRO.