Two months ago I separated from my wife of 31 years (second time in the last five years.) We were together for a year. It was OK between us but there were other problems, and it was for the best I left. I moved from a rural community outside of Jerusalem to a suburb of Tel Aviv about 15 minutes from the beach where I could finally commit myself to learn to surf. It's a rough sport, especially learning at my age (68.) I do a lot less weight training. I was never strong although I did 15 chinups a few months ago and loaded carries (a little less than a half bodyweight dumbbell per hand plus weights I stuffed in my jacket pocket) that was close to my body weight. I walked probably 70 yards. That's nothing compared to walking out in the surf for fifteen yards at times.
A few weeks ago I came for a surf lesson. My teacher said, "It's too rough. I just pulled a guy out of the sea. He had no pulse. We gave him CPR for 25 minutes until the ambulance came." The guy died two days later in the hospital. He had a freak accident and lost consciousness. Either the board hit him in the head (that has happened to me) or he smashed his head on the sea bottom, according to different accounts. I went out in the whitewater right after my teacher cancelled my lesson. It was so hard to walk out. There was a vicious current pulling me south and another pulling me back out. I caught waves. One of the teachers signaled me to come in. He said, "Move down the beach by the lifeguard." I didn't want to but went. It was a lot easier to walk with just about a body weight loaded carry for seventy yards than walk out the fifteen yards from the shore.
Most people originally learn to surf the white water near the shore. Learning to surf beyond the break, further out where the good surfers are, is like a completely different sport. It's a lot faster. At times it's frightening. My teacher said it is for everybody learning it, or at least almost everybody.
In the past I hit my head on the sea bottom twice, once in about two feet of water, taking off on a wave way too close to shore. I'll never do that again. You learn the hard way in this sport a lot of times. I had ten days of shoulder/neck spasms each time that took me a lot of work with visualization and my doing the Feldenkrais method on myself (I'm a teacher) to get rid of. Other people couldn't help me. If I had been ten years old I would have laughed it off and been fine.
I still skateboard. I cross country ski when I'm out of Israel. I learned to downhill ski. I started learning snowboarding. Surfing is about 20 times as hard to learn, at least for me. A few years ago, somebody almost mowed me down with his board. There were two of us in the water and I was still surfing the white water. He was probably 25 yards from me when I saw him coming. I couldn't believe he wouldn't veer out of the way. I have done that with people who are swimming (they're not supposed to be where the surfers are.) My son taught me how to do heel and toe turns on a skateboard, and I was able to do it on a surfboard never having practiced or, I would have run a couple over with my board. I kept watching this surfer come right at me and I finally ducked under. He grazed my fingertips. He asked, "Are you OK?" I couldn't believe it. He wasn't a teenager. He was about fifty. I had seen him on the beach. I asked my teacher about it. He said, "Some people are jerks."
There are times I paddle out and I can't see above the waves to where guys are taking off about 20 feet from me. I asked my teacher. He said nonchalantly, "You try to duck out of the way if you see somebody coming at you." He told me he surfed 30 foot Nazare in Portugal. Imagine what happens if a wave the size of a three story building would fall on you and then you get what's called rag dolled. You hope you don't dislocate a limb or drown. I can't imagine what that's like.
Strength training doesn't help much in this sport at least at my level in the waves I surf - three foot to overhead. From the shore it looks like the waves are nothing until I get out. They aren’t nothing. Not even in the Meditaranean. They can be very powerful. Learning to relax is a lot more important at this stage than deadlifting or squatting. I still do them, but I know it’s not helping me surf. If I can relax into incoming waves it's a lot easier to get out than struggling. Surfers have a leash attached from the board to their foot. If I don't hold onto the leash I feel like my leg is about to be yanked out of the socket at times.
No one can believe how difficult it can be just to get out beyond the break sometimes until they do this. A former pro surfer, Kalani Robb said, "It would be like skateboarding and people are beating you up on the way to the top of the hill." He's talking about 8-15 foot Pipeline and other surf breaks where people die. My teachers have said getting out beyond the break is about positioning and timing. I'm learn to do that, and it's not that hard when they tell me to go. I'm still learning it on my own. It's not easy for me to learn. I did a lot of land based cardio before I moved. It didn't help much for surfing. I get tired pretty quickly. It's not helping that I don't sleep or eat much.
I have been catching waves. It's an amazing experience. At times I feel like I'm being rocketed down a fast moving wall of water that will smash my head again on the bottom. I am learning when to get up. I miss a lot. Either I don't paddle hard enough or I'm not positioned right on the board and fall, sometimes violently. Two days before I moved here, on my last wave, I almost got to my feet but fell off the board. I got whipped around by a wave which somersaulted me under water and I landed really hard on my upper back. I cut the lesson short by about ten minutes. I told my teacher. "I have to move in two days. I don't know if I'll be able to walk tomorrow." I couldn't believe I was fine the next day.
My board broke in half a few weeks ago (it was the surf club's.) I have my own but I was told to use theirs. I'm back to using mine. My teacher said, “I probably broke fifty boards.” It’s a really weird sport. Every wave is different. You have to be really aware of where you are in the water. The current can carry you back in or down the beach to where you don't want to be. You have to watch out for other surfers.
You can't do this every day even in Hawaii. There are days or weeks when it's flat. Everybody who learns to surf goes through some version of this. A guy from the local surf shop who is about 30 told me his ribs ache sometimes. He's been doing this since childhood. There aren't a whole lot of people my age learning this. I can understand why. I don't think a lot of people my age could even put on and take off a wet suit for surfers.
I was never a very good athlete. My father played on a major college varsity basketball team as a freshman before he enlisted in the army in World War II. I was at best a mediocre tennis player in an era when none of the good athletes would play the sport. Somehow I am learning to do this. I wouldn't put up with what I have to go through if this was not one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. Even two crappy waves can completely change my mood from being completely bummed out to feeling really good. It's a cliche, but there's nothing like surfing.