Try Surfing

by Diana Sunshine, Big Retired Life Founder

It’s never too late to try something new and test your abilities. Surfing is often only thought of as an activity for the young and adventurous, but as someone who learned to surf at the age of 50, I can tell you this isn’t true. Like myself, older athletes may find surfing provides a perfect combination of challenge and reward. And you don’t have to surf big waves. In fact, 1-3 foot waves are perfect for learning, and just as much fun can be found in safer conditions. Whether you live near a beach or you have to make plans to travel to one, summer’s a great time to give surfing a try. 

Here’s how to get started: 

  1. Take a series of lessons: Find a reputable, local outfitter who is experienced with new surfers, will teach you the basics, and push you into the waves to aid with timing and popping up. They will also provide you with the necessary gear and take you to the best beginner breaks to surf. If you are learning in Santa Cruz, we recommend Capitola Beach Company or Club Ed. For a primo travel surf safari, Tropicsurf Luxury Surf Vacations is an unparalleled experience. 
  2. Wear a good wetsuit: Wetsuits vary by thickness to keep you warm even in frigid water.  Depending on the water temperature, you may also want booties and a hood. Wetsuits will be provided by a good outfitter.
  3. Start with a soft-top longboard: These boards, typically 8-9 feet and with a lot of volume, are more stable and easier to ride. Their softness is important in case you get hit by your board.
  4. Find a good beginner break: Ideally find a beginner-friendly point break. A point break is where waves break over a point of land, creating a consistent and predictable wave and an easier paddle-out. 
  5. Practice your pop-up: Popping up is the process of getting from lying down on the board to standing up on the board. This can be practiced on dry land. There are many popup tutorial videos on Youtube. I recommend you practice the pop-up method you learn in your first lesson.   
  6. Understand how to paddle out: Watch the waves to see how they are coming in. Most breaks will have a peak that tapers to where the wave doesn’t break. That’s the easiest location to choose to paddle out. Additionally, most waves come in sets where there will be 3-5 larger waves and then a series of smaller waves. Time your paddle-out to avoid the larger set waves. You don’t want to fight through the waves, especially not through the lineup of other surfers. 
  7. Check the conditions: Surfing is dependent on conditions. If you go at the wrong tide, swell direction, wind direction, or swell height, it can be impossible to catch waves, even if you’re doing everything right. Set yourself up for success by picking the optimal conditions. Ask your surf instructor for advice, or you can refer to Surfline or Magic Seaweed.

Besides enjoying the thrill of catching waves, surfing is great for your health, strengthening areas of the body which typically decline with age. Here are some of the main health benefits of surfing:

Upper back strength: 

Surfing requires a lot of upper back strength working the muscles in your shoulders, arms, neck, and upper back. A surfer keeps their chest up off the board while paddling and popping up. These muscles are essential for maintaining good posture and counteracting kyphosis, an exaggerated, forward rounding of the upper back associated with older individuals. Improved posture helps alleviate back pain, improves the overall quality of life, and makes you look and feel younger.


Surfing helps improve balance, which is critical to maintaining as we age. After age 40, the ability to balance declines, which is linked to increased potential to fall. A 2016 Center for Disease Control study cited falls as the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among people over the age of 65. With surfing, your balance improves as you must stand on a moving board while navigating waves. 

Cold water therapy:

Surfing in cold water has been found to have numerous physical and mental health benefits.  Cold water therapy stimulates mitochondrial production, reduces inflammation, improves circulation, and boosts immunity. It can also help reduce stress and anxiety promoting relaxation and better sleep.

Connecting to nature: 

There’s no better feeling than being out on the water looking out at the beautiful coastline. While surfing you can enjoy stunning sunrises and sunsets, and encounter wildlife such as sea otters, seals, and dolphins. Overall, being outside is just plain good for you. A 2008 Journal of Aging and Health study found that for people over 70, simply getting out of the house every day predicts positive long-term functional and health benefits. 

Mental health benefits:

According to, “many new surfers report that one of the biggest improvements was in their mental health.” Surfing is meditative and requires you to be fully present in the moment, which can help alleviate stress and anxiety. Challenging yourself physically and mentally can also  boost confidence and self-esteem, which is particularly important as we age.

Rules to know before you go:

  • Don’t surf alone.
  • Make sure you are a strong swimmer and ideally have experience swimming in the ocean and know how to dive safely under waves. 
  • Control your board: Cover your head when you fall, particularly when you’re separated from your board.
  • Check conditions: Conditions always change. A break that’s beginner level one day can be transformed to advanced with new swell or wind. Make sure the swell is the proper size for your ability.

Give surfing a try, bring your whole family along, and have some fun riding the waves. Who knows, it might just change your life.

Diana Sunshine, founder of Big Retired Life, is a mission-driven, community builder with 20+ years experience in EdTech, Fundraising, and Non-Profit management.

Throughout the “Active You” section of this blog, we will introduce you to ideas on staying active and learning new things. 

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