From old ladies to surfer chicks: Learning to surf at Hanalei Bay
There we were four women who had all reached the point in our lives when we could check AARP off the list of invitations we’d received in the mail—and we were lying face down in the sands of Hanalei Beach
on Kauai’s North Shore. It was a slightly overcast summer day that as it wore on, drew people outside like Hawaiian cleaner wrasse to algae-wearing turtles. While they adjusted beach chairs and applied sunscreen, we stared down a surf break known as “Grandpa’s.” Grandpa’s, as in, people young and old could surf this wave. Grandpa’s, as in a beginner’s wave. The bunny slope of surfing.
Mike, our surf instructor from Kauai Experience
, said there is no better place on Kauai to learn to surf than Grandpa’s, and we started our lesson on the beach while we were still dry.
Honestly, there aren’t too many instructions to impart. Surfing isn’t like golf. There aren’t a dozen different clubs in your bag to figure out when to use what. There aren’t a dozen different swings to perfect. There are really two things to know to get started: 1) How to go from prone to standing; and 2) Where to stand on the board.
I started with the first, doing my best impression of a “pop up” and wound up in a lunge with my right leg bent, facing forward, and my back leg straight.
“This isn’t yoga,” Mike said, “We’re not doing the Warrior Two pose.”
I took up a regular yoga practice about a year ago when years of sitting in a writer’s pose introduced new knots in my body, and as I approached a certain age that carried weight in my family’s medical history. So, I’m not surprised my body’s muscle memory naturally assumed this yoga pose. But my yoga instructor is named Maile. Not Mike.
Now might be a good time to introduce Mike. He’s a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, San Diego-born waterman who has called Kauai home for years. You know that tired metaphor about looking up a word in the dictionary and seeing someone’s face. Well, under, “surfer,” you’d find Mike’s mug. So, to hear Maile’s words come out of Mike’s mouth surprised me. At first. Then, I realized surfing and yoga have much in common. Both require practice. Both require patience. Both can be a Zen experience.
No amount of popping up and standing in a stance that reminded me of a shortstop player on a baseball team can actually simulate the real thing. So, we took to the water quickly, just as a slight breeze—Mike called it makani—rippled across the ocean’s surface.
The oldest among us—and probably the most fit—went first, and she surfed a wave the entire way to shore. That put the pressure on me, the youngest. I managed to stand, maybe not gracefully, and ride a wave nearly as far. In the end, we all accomplished our goal—we surfed waves.
I’ll be real here: We had help. Mike watched the horizon for waves and told us when to start paddling. Then, he gave the tail of our boards a push to give us the momentum we needed to go from prone to standing. But we all surfed. We walked on water. We rode the power of the ocean from point A to point B. Sometimes those pinpoints weren’t very far apart. Other times, they were—or, at least, in our minds, they were. And we had as much fun, if not more, than the little groms on each side of us.
A couple hours later, sporting wet swimsuits, sandy feet and ear-to-ear grins, we drove home. It was a completely different conversation. On the way to Hanalei, we complained like little, old ladies. “If there’s no surf, I won’t be happy.” “Mike better not cancel because of his back injury.” And “It’s a little expensive, don’t you think? Does he know we’re kama`aina. And old?”
But on the ride home, the conversation went like this: “I hope someone asks me what I did this morning.” “I need to get the right surfing clothes.” “Who’s going to call Mike to schedule our next surf session?” And “My goals are modest. I just want to paddle into a wave of my own with no push from Mike.”
On the subject of goals, my physical fitness goals have changed as I’ve aged. Instead of working out to fit a society-defined definition of body image, I find myself gravitating to physical activities that will help ensure my second 50 years are as good as my first.
In the shower, after I guffawed over the amount of sand I’d collected in my swimsuit, I realized that after one surf session, my body felt more alive than it had in years. More alive than after yoga. More alive than after a hike up Sleeping Giant or across the crater of Haleakala. More alive than after a trek down the beach in search of Hawaiian monk seals. It was a different kind of alive feeling that came with a grin, and I figure it had something to do with the healing magic of the ocean—the combination of an Epsom’s salt bath and the gravity-free feeling of an inversion table.
All I know is: I want to keep this up. I want to keep surfing. I want to keep feeling alive. But time, as always, will tell whether we—the “Gredgits,” as we’ve dubbed ourselves—overcome our old lady predilections and become the surfer chicks we think we can still be. Or not.
(And the first person to correctly explain the name, “Gredgits,” in the comments below will receive a personal, autographed copy of something—I don’t know what yet—from me. And, no, none of the Gredgits are eligible to win;-)