A weekly column by Catherine Dugan. This week: Surf’s Up!
Long before Katy Perry, the Beach Boys made us all want to be California Girls. Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, we played with Malibu Barbie, watched old Gidget movies, and dreamed of impressing the boys on our surfboards.
Gidget – Kathy Kohner Zuckerman’s nickname was a combination of “girl” and “midget” – was a teenager when she learned to surf. Her adventures were chronicled by her father, Frederick Kohner, in his 1957 novel Gidget, The Little Girl With Big Ideas. In Gidget’s world, surfing is for the young. When Gidget meets the wise old man of the beach, the Big Kahoona, she describes him as “on the oldish side—around the end of the twenties or so.” Some surfers retain the notion that people over 50 are “too stiff in the spine” to surf.
But others recognize that surfing is a lifetime sport, and learning to surf as an adult is not uncommon. You can try surf camp at Ocean Outfitters in Wildwood, take formal lessons, or seek the advice of a patient, experienced surfer.
Before you hit the beach, you need to determine whether you are “goofy” or “natural.” A “goofy-foot” surfer puts her right foot forward. To test, slide down a hallway in your socks – whichever foot is first is the foot that you’ll put in front on the surfboard. Next, lie down and practice “popping” up to your feet a few times.
Ready? Plunge in, armed with a wide beginner board and a kind friend. I held the board by the sides – the “rails” in surf-speak – faced the shore, and jumped on, letting the wave carry me in. I had been warned to lower my expectations, so for the first few tries, I rode in on my belly, to get the feel of the water. When I felt braver, I rose to my feet – and promptly fell off. Again. And again. Then I rode in an awkward crouch for a few feet before I fell off. Exhilaration! Now I see why people get up before dawn to dunk themselves in cold water.
Look for a relatively empty beach, because, as a beginning surfer, you are a hazard to others. Space is easier to come by in the autumn, but the same hurricanes that delight experienced surfers will work against you as you learn, so be cautious.
No matter how awkward you are, surfing can make you feel graceful. And, even in your failures, you may inspire a youngster. As one young surfer said, “Seeing older people surf takes the pressure off. I don’t have to learn it all at once.” Wise words, Moondoggie.
Next week: Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum