Susan Edlinger on surfboardWith waves up from the hurricanes, surfers will be out…and they will need to know their abilities well to safely handle bigger waves and strong currents.

A good video and article by Mrs. Edlinger follows about taking up surfing later in life and the associated benefits of and lessons learned from the sport.

My limited personal experience has been exclusively with body surfing and even then you have to evaluate the wave fairly quickly (if it is going to break too fast, too steeply and wipe you out with little water out front to cushion the blow) and feel the pull just before it begins to break and launch, swim, and kick yourself into the proper position/angle and use your hands like fins to control your trajectory. You are always trying to decide whether to go with the first wave of a set or the second one and one tends to become a waveform critic because you want to have a ride that is worth going in on and that makes it worth expending the energy to get back to the break area. On rare days you get big glassy, slow breaking, wonderful waves for body surfers. Its always a bit scary though on the bigger waves when you sometimes get driven downward and finally come up for air only to have a second wave wash over you as you try to grab a quick breath—there is a half second of panic you have to learn to control. Pro surfers obviously train to stay down underwater and work through downward water column pressure for extended time as the movies show.

All in all it is good exercise and you get a lot of twisting, turning and stretching, and tend to sleep quite well that night.

But as Mrs. Edlinger shows even midlifers can learn to get on a board, overcome fears and have fun:

Paddle Smarter, Not Harder!

by Susan Edlinger, M.Ed.

"You're never going to catch a wave paddling like that!" a strong male voice bellowed from behind me. He sounded angry, as if my paddling skills were a personal affront to him. "Great," I thought, "I'm already padding as hard as I can!"

My self-appointed surf coach paddled up and reiterated, "You're never going to catch a wave the way you paddle!" and proceeded to do a not-so-funny re-enactment of my paddling style. Watching him, I realized that by now I should be used to this when I'm surfing. As soon as my board hits the water, I become a part of the community, where although you may feel alone, you never are. Surfers, as a group, are a loosely formed coalition of people who share a passion, and that passion binds us, for better or for worse. Chances are, this gentleman felt these connections particularly strong this morning.

Coming back to reality, I mused, "Why is he talking to me", and more importantly, "Why does he seem so mad?" What then ensued was a brief conversation and demonstration of how I should be paddling vs. what I was actually doing.

"You've got to DIG, and FAST, not just paddle." Then as quick as he appeared, my surf coach turned to catch the next wave, with this sweet grumbled parting, "I just want to see you catch some waves."

Relief! He wasn't angry after all. He was just frustrated watching my incompetent paddling attempts (I secretly believe that good surfers are like artists, they become aesthetically offended at the sight of clumsy, unrefined effort.) Nonetheless, I was thankful for his advice. And I must add, it's not as if I am a total "kook". I do catch waves, but in all honesty, my personal ratio of waves caught to effort expended is embarrassingly low.

As the next few waves approached, I practiced my newly learned paddling skills, but no success. Then I heard another voice rising above the waves, "Wait till the wave almost breaks on you!" My new mentor glides over to me, "These waves are slow, take off only when they look like they are going to break on top of your head!" I smiled, nodded and wondered, "Was there anybody in the water who didn't have something to say about my surfing?" I knew what I was doing wrong, but still couldn't master the skills. Knowledge and application were oceans apart.

Finally, I caught a wave, to the whooping and hollering of my surf comrades. I was pleased and as I turned to paddle back out, I saw another surfer heading my direction. As he paddled by, he commented briskly, "It's not about the paddling, it's more about the ANGLE."

"Oh no, what's this"? I thought. Another secret other surfers know that I had to learn. I quickly paddled inside to my newest teacher to hear more of his wisdom. "Your board is like a kid's teeter-totter," He told me in-between taking every ride on the inside, "When you're paddling for the wave, keep you're back arched, then when the wave gets to about your ankles or calves, put your head quickly down on the front of your board and angle downward". To me this sounded vaguely like a surfer version of the political slogan, "It's the economy, stupid." It became "It's the angle, stupid."

For the next hour I practiced. Digging instead of simply paddling, watching my timing, and most of all, angling on my board. Surprise, surprise, I caught waves. I had fun. Strangers cheered.

So, what's the point of my story? Well, as I later contemplated that morning surf, I found myself reflecting on what I had learned, both in terms of surfing skills, and also how it reflected on my life. I was reminded again of the maxim 'how we do one thing, is how we do all things.'

I was behaving the way I typically behave when frustrated by something not working; I try harder. I do the same thing over and over, thinking I'm going to get better results if I just put in more effort. In this case, if only I paddled harder, I'd catch those waves. Wrong.

The definition of insanity, I've heard, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If an ounce of something doesn't work, maybe a gallon will? Like so many areas in my life, I needed to learn to paddle smarter, not harder. There was more to catching a wave than how hard I paddled; I had to dig fast, watch my timing, and lastly, pay attention to the physics of board leverage.

I also relearned several other things that morning in the surf. People are essentially good; we want to help each other. There is a joy we all share in watching someone else be successful; watching another surfer catch a great wave. This is called community.

I remembered once more that life can be easier, less strenuous, and more successful when I allow myself to actually listen to what other people are trying to tell me and then simply do what they say!

The road to learning is paved with humility and there are teachers everywhere. I learned that being stubborn about my paddling and trying harder and doing more of the same was not going to result in my catching a wave, only getting more tired. I had to try something different. I needed a community to learn to 'paddle smarter, not harder.'

What about you? Where can you 'paddle smarter, not harder?' What do you need to do differently, and who can teach you?

Susan Edlinger, M.Ed. is a certified Executive and Life Coach, living in Woodland Hills, and practicing her art wherever waves and people meet.

Victor Niederhoffer writes:

One must be aware of being knocked unconscious by body surfing as "Uncle Howie" was recently. It is nice to be able to afford the time and luxury of such activities in the fullness of time also.  

Chris Tucker writes:

As Captain Aubrey, "always a hand for the ship", one must always "keep an eye for the waves." 

Jeff Watson adds:

Any type of surfing is very addicting and has similarities to heavy drugs. Surfing is our form of crack, and we start getting tweaky when away from the waves or beach for a long time. Most mid-life surfers get hurt a lot, at least the crew of geriatrics that I surf with do. We view the aches, pains, sprains, and broken bones as part of the cost of doing business. In my case, I have had an injury every year for the past ten years that has resulted in some sort of medical treatment or hospitalization. In fact, I'm out of commission right now but my injury is skateboarding related, not surfing, and skateboarding and surfing are closely related in the surfing tribe.

My crew has similar experiences, and our eldest member is 69 years old, I get asked all the time why I still surf. My answer is that I just never quit. On that note, here is a good movie, "Surfing for Life" that describes the lives of many senior citizens that still surf seriously. I gave The Chair a copy and he said that he enjoyed the movie which I found to be one of the most uplifting documentaries of all time.

Interesting that the surfing tribe would be worthy of a study by Mead. Here's a very good MA thesis that an acquaintance wrote back in 1976 describing the surfing tribe of Santa Cruz, CA.

"Uncle" Howie Eisenberg corrects:

You neglected to mention not to bodysurf a wave that has become whitewater as uncle Howie did in winning the worlds stupidest bodysurfer award. I did not become unconscious. After "breaking my fall" with my head snapping my neck back, I emerged from the sea a bloody mess with tingling from my wrists to my shoulders, picked up my sandals, walked to the lifeguards who placed me on a wooden board, was ambulanced to a hospital where 3 CT scans, especially the brain scan showed nothing.

David Hillman writes:

at the chiropractor this a.m for an adjustment…

Doc says, "took my 6 year old son to the waterpark yesterday afternoon for an 'end of summer' day."

"How did it go?" asks I.

"Really well, first we went on Lazy River, a slow meandering stream one paddles down leisurely, then we went for a few runs down the big slides."

"Oh, knowing him, he must have really liked the action down the big slides."

"Yes, he does, so it was really a big surprise when he said 'Dad, let's go back down the Lazy River.' It surprised me because it's usually a little too tame for his liking. But we put the raft back in the Lazy River and we're paddling downstream a little when he says 'DAD! Do you see that lifeguard?' I take a look in the direction he's staring in agape and here's this beautiful blonde college girl lifeguard in one of those form-fitting Speedo suits. Six years old and it's already ingrained in him."

We laughed a bit, and, "Then, on the way home in the car," says Doc, "my son says to me out of the blue, 'Thanks for the best end-of-summer day ever, Dad."

Yes, yes…..always a hand for the ship and an eye for the waves….

Craig Mee adds:

Don't forget the change in tide either. It can get you into trouble if you have not taken into account the change in water depth at the front of a wave when attempting to pull off.

A bit like the markets.





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