Surf Camp–Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Is it just me, or does this make me look athletic?

Is it just me, or does this make me look athletic?

Surf Camp?” my daughter, Taylor, asked. “Does anyone besides you call it Surf Camp?”

“Taylor, it says Surf Camp on my rash guard.”

“Wait. You’re wearing a rash guard?”

When my friend Amy mentioned learning to surf was a dream of hers, I pointed out the obvious–time was not our ally. “We’re 57 years old. Let’s get after this.”

So there we were, the first day of our Wrightsville Beach vacation–up at 7:00 to make a 7:45 class just as the Sunday church service was starting at the exact spot where our lesson would occur. “Great Pat, there’s 100 people on the beach to witness this debacle.”

“Think of the bright side. We’re all set for the funeral.”

Our instructor, Christian, awaited–a floppy-haired, exuberant goof who instantly erased all memory that I was 1. Married and 2. Born during the Eisenhower administration. I never considered this day might end well, but Christian exuded optimism. “You’ll get up! I promise!!”.

Christian behind the bar

Christian behind the bar

We pulled on our rash guards, reviewed the rules (“no diving off the board or the lesson is over”), and started practicing pop-ups on dry land. Christian ensured us age would not be a factor. “I surf with an 80-year-old man. He’s great.”

After a few painfully slow, groan riddled pop-ups, we grabbed our boards and headed into the water. The ocean temperature approached 85 degrees and the surf was calm—the best conditions we would have all week.

Christian held the end of my board and watched the waves form as I focused straight ahead. To his screams of “paddle, paddle, paddle” I took off, held each position as if this were more of a yoga class than a surf lesson, and eventually lumbered to a stance just as the wave died into a ribbon of foam.

Once or twice, I managed to stand, but Christian and I had formed an agreement; this was not my dream. “Focus on Amy. I’m fine.”

I survived the class and had enough; Amy signed up for a second lesson (she was feisty and had a few nice rides which boosted her confidence). As we prepared to leave, Christian mentioned he worked at a brewpub, “Stop by tonight. It’ll be fun.”

That night, we hung out with locals at the bar as Christian poured drinks. Wrightsville Beach is pure 1950s Americana–women biked at night on their single-gear fat tires, our 80-something landlord, Miss Nippy, greeted us with a smile and honey-soaked accent, and no one seemed fussed about pretty much anything. The weather was lovely, the sun rises spectacular, and our little sea front condo in a dream location.

All in all, it was a wonderful and perfect week. But this post is about surfing.

And I stunk at surfing–sadly, not due to my age.

I showed up to surf camp with no core or arm strength and ten pounds over weight. During the summer, I thought about working out, yet I did nothing—nothing—to prepare. In no other area of my life would I have felt comfortable showing up completely not ready.

In spite of my dismal performance, my ridiculous, ironic takeaway from surfing was that, while it was hard, it was not impossible. I anticipated impossible—I planned for impossible. I had failed for no good reason.

Sitting on our deck and watching the choppy, unruly sea–no longer suitable for lessons, I researched surf camps in Guatemala. “Wow, for 290 dollars I can go to surf camp for a week—food, housing, equipment, and private lessons.”

I emailed them and shortly received a reply, “Of course, we can teach a 58-year-old beginner. Since you will be in Guatemala all winter, let’s wait and set up lessons when the forecast is for gentle surf.”

Pat and I are living in Michigan now. We have joined a gym and lift weights three times a week, we have stopped eating out, and bike a nearby trail during these last Indian summer days. Monday we begin salsa lessons (let’s leave that for a future post).

See Taylor, "Surf Camp"

See Taylor, “Surf Camp”

I am doubling down on surfing.

Granted, I could use my age as an excuse and move on, or I could discount surfing as something which was never very important to me.

The problem is, in my mind, I have conflated surfing with so much more–the ability to hike up and down the steps of the Great Wall of China or climb to the tower of Notre Dame or hike to the base camp of Everest or the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Perhaps I can give all of that up too. Why not? I’m 57 (nearly 58).

This is a slippery slope which ends in an assisted living facility where I would play shuffle board “If it weren’t so demanding.” Taking myself out of surfing is the first step in taking myself out of life–losing control. I’m not ready for that.

Surf camp has become the proxy for my ability to live the life I want. And in that context, I must return.


Pat caught my nano second standing up!

Pat caught my nano second standing up!

Categories: The United States

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21 replies

  1. I’m totally impressed!! I know Pat is quick with the camera but even a nano-second on a surfboard is incredible!!! Of course, it couldn’t have been that hard – you’re SOOO young!!

  2. Julie! This is beyond awesome!! You are my inspiration! I am looking for a climbing partner…..want to try that next?

  3. no way, surfer girl!


  4. What a fantastic post and a great picture! I love your posts that not only tell us a story about your travels but also show us how you’re growing and coming to new realizations as well. Your writing helps me be a better writer!

  5. This is hysterical and touching, great writing! Looking forward to seeing you both in Cuba….now I need to get cracking on salsa lesson, but leaving next week for a month in Paris where the main exercise is the metro stairmaster !

  6. Oh, you are so Gidget!!! That is awesome, and l am very impressed. So glad you had fun!!!

  7. Love Wrightsville beach! My parents owned a condo there years ago and I loved spending summers there. It’s a bit more crowded then it used to be but it’s still one of North Carolina’s best beaches. Wonderful for the younger crowd as well. From there they moved to Shallotte, another, very small, NC beach town. Thanks for bringing back fond memories for me!

  8. This post, as always, was inspirational for me. I hope it will be motivational for me as well.
    As mentioned by Gina above there is the adventure story, but I love the insights you have and share just as much.
    Thank you very much.

  9. Very impressive Julie! When are you guys in Guatemala?

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