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Surf’s up: Making waves in retirement

Forget the bucket list. Far better to find a pursuit, whether it be a sport or hobby, which you can derive pleasure day in, day out.

I’ve never had a bucket list, and never want one. They make us dissatisfied with everyday life, imply that happiness can be ticked off, hamper spontaneity and encourage short-term satisfaction. And once they’re done, then what?

What we need is a pursuit that provides ongoing enjoyment, stimulation, a hint of danger and a sense of satisfaction… maybe even to the point of becoming an obsession. And I’ve found mine in surfing.

Of course, I’m over 70 and have enough trouble with my aging body parts without undergoing such stresses. And I don’t have the skills and wouldn’t even be able to get up from a prone to a standing position on a wave. Yet it all depends on what you mean by surfing. I take it to mean any form of craft that enables you to catch a wave, whether you’re standing, sitting or lying down.

  • Growing up in Hobart, I’d surfed in my late teens, but was not particularly good, despite my enthusiasm. I wasn’t a strong swimmer and was nervous of large waves and strong currents (those were the days with no leg ropes on boards). Some 30 or more years later, I rekindled my interest when we moved to Melbourne and were within driving distance of surf beaches. I’d also improved my swimming skills to feel comfortable in the ocean.

    I bought a surfboard, but quickly realised that the required skills were beyond me. Not to be deterred, having seen a surfer on a waveski at Point Leo, I bought a second-hand one and rekindled my love of the sport. A waveski is like the surf skis you see lifesavers riding, but it’s shorter, making it more manoeuvrable on waves.

    After trying it out on the calm waters of Port Philip Bay, I ventured to Point Leo and started what has become a regular pleasurable pursuit for the past 15 years or so. There’s nothing more life-affirming than the drive along the back roads of the Mornington Peninsular early in the morning and then paddling out as the sun rises and catching a few waves, before coming ashore and heading for a blissful flat white coffee accompanied by a raspberry and white chocolate muffin at a nearby cafe.

    Those who live in Melbourne will be aware that we have an artificial surf facility, UrbnSurf. I’d been curious to try it but discovered that it doesn’t allow any craft with a paddle, so I was seemingly stymied. However, it does allow boogie boards, of which I had one, so off I went, and had a fun time in the allotted hour. Though not the same as ocean surfing, UrbnSurf does have its strengths, mainly in that you are guaranteed about a dozen waves in your session. Its surroundings are pleasant, and the staff helpful and supportive.

    Which brings me to my ultimate surf craft, a surf mat. These have been around for many decades, and have had a small but keen following worldwide, many inspired by the legendary surfer George Greenough. Yes, you simply strap on your flippers and head out into the surf, and once you’ve mastered the basics, I would claim that it’s the most fun you can have on a wave. You also get curious looks from fellow surfers, who, at first, are bemused but then become more interested when they see how fast you can cut across the face of the wave.

    Overall, the message I’m trying to deliver is that surfing, in whatever guise you embark on it, is a massively fulfilling way of spending your time. If you’re a beginner, get a boogie board and play around in the shore break – you’ve probably seen news items on groups of older persons heading off for their daily session. And if you’re more skilled or adventurous, try a waveski, surfboard or stand-up paddleboard. It’s much more fun than ticking off items on a bucket list.

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