Many Baby Boomers were first exposed to surfing when they saw Gidget, Hollywood’s 1959 version of Malibu’s beach scene. The success of Gidget ignited an explosion of beach movies in the ’60s, and surf culture quickly permeated the lifestyle of teenagers across America.
Today, Baby Boomers make up about 15 percent of America’s surfers. Boomers have embraced surfing in part because it’s a great sport for getting into shape-toning the upper body through paddling and strengthening core muscles by balancing on the board. And the thrill of catching a wave is something that keeps them coming back for more.
It’s never too late to start surfing. If you surfed as a teen and yearn to get back on a board, join the Boomers who are hanging ten again-like Becca Beitel, who just turned 50.
Becca has been an avid surfer since she was 14, when she and a girlfriend started surfing together at their home break in Wrightsville Beach. Becca says there are many benefits to surfing, including that unique feeling of being one with the ocean. “It’s a peaceful experience,” says Becca. “There’s nothing like being out in nature at dawn and watching the dolphins surface!”
Becca believes that surfing is a fantastic sport for women. It’s great for developing the upper body strength needed to paddle out and pop up on a board. It also offers a wonderful opportunity to bond with other women who love to surf. “I still get together with several friends that I started surfing with in the ’70s,” says Becca.
Becca and her daughter, Kirra, love to compete in the East Coast Wahine Championships held each August at Crystal Pier in Wrightsville Beach. “Women and girls come from all over the country to compete, and the camaraderie is wonderful,” Becca says.
Becca recommends surfing to older women for the physical, spiritual and social benefits of the sport. “It’s healthy, fun, challenging, and sometimes, life changing,” she says.
Sixty-year-old Stephen Gonsalves is looking forward to at least 15 more years of surfing. He started surfing when he was 14 and lived on Long Island, NY.
Stephen says, “I’m happy to surf alone and enjoy the quiet of the waves. There’s always the realization of the solitude of being in nature.
“The last 11 years of surfing have been among the most satisfying,” says Stephen. “When I had back surgery in 1992, I wasn’t sure I would surf again. It took me years to get back but I did.
“You can learn to surf at any age,” Stephen says. “There is no trick to it. You just have to learn to paddle that board. If you practice, you will stand up.”
Nelson Phillips was a water person her entire life, but she didn’t start to surf until she was 50. “It’s great to go surfing early in the morning when the sun rises and the wind is calm. You’re in the water with people you may or may not know, but there is a camaraderie that knows no age or ability,” says Nelson.
“You’re in a group,” she continues, “but you’re focused on your personal best. And that personal best is always noted when you make that wave or pearl!” (The nose of the surfboard goes under the water’s surface, propelling the rider head firstinto the water as if they were diving for pearls.)
Nelson recommends learning to surf at any age. She says, “It takes patience to get up on a board, but once you ride a wave, you’ll fall in love with surfing.”
So grab that board, paddle out, and catch a wave. Remember what Gidget said: “Surfing is out of this world. You can’t imagine the thrill of shooting the curl. It positively surpasses every living emotion I’ve ever had!”
Best Surfing Spots in the (South)East
Among the best places to surf on the East Coast is Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. Synonymous with big swells, Cape Hatteras is located on a narrow strip of land on the Outer Banks. The continental shelf at Cape Hatteras is very steep and narrow, which allows large waves to reach the shoreline from any number of directions.
The most famous surf spot is called Hatteras Lighthouse, but with over 70 miles of access to the water, there are a variety of great breaks from which to choose. Cape Hatteras breaks can handle swells, both large and small, regardless of the wind direction.
Heading south to Wrightsville Beach, NC, beginning surfers will find a paradise of small, ride-able waves. The awesome combination of warm, crystal clear waters, mild air temperatures and gentle sandbars produces an appealing surf break that attracts both
novice and experienced surfers alike.
Crystal Pier and C-Street are top surf spots on Wrightsville Beach. Consistent lefts and rights break on the sand bottom in three- to five-foot swells at Crystal Pier. The waves are more powerful at C Street where hollow, fast waves break right and left, with swell size ranging from three to 10 feet on its biggest days.
At the south end of Wrightsville Beach, you can paddle or boat across the inlet to stunning Masonboro Island. This island is free of any development and is the last and largest pristine barrier island on the southern North Carolina coast.
The Masonboro Inlet left breaks off the jetty in northeast swells at higher tides on a sand bottom. In the best conditions, surfers enjoy fast, long, hollow barrels. During the summer, the clear, warm water averages in the low 80s, making this an ideal location to learn how to surf.
South Carolina also has its share of good surf locations. The beach break in Myrtle Beach between 42nd Street to 46th Street is great for beginners. The small waves are perfect for riding funboards, popular among beginners because the design allows waves to be caught more easily than a shortboard, and the shape makes it more maneuverable than a longboard.
More experienced surfers will want to check out the break at 64th Avenue in Myrtle Beach. Fast, powerful right and lefts with a swell size ranging from three to five feet make this one of the best surf spots in South Carolina.
Located about 22 miles south of Myrtle Beach is Litchfield Beach. This classic beach break has a small sandbar about 200 feet out and is a fun spot for beginning surfers. Featuring both right and left waves three feet or less in size, Litchfield Beach can produce small hollow tubes on windy days. With a laid-back atmosphere and uncrowded waves, this is a great South Carolina surfing destination.
Eight short miles from historic Charleston is Folly Beach, a beautiful natural barrier island. The top surfing spot on Folly Beach is ‘The Washout.’ Many experienced surfers claim that this is the place to ride the best three- to five-foot waves on the South Carolina coast. Other spots with smaller waves for beginners include Folly Pier, 10th Street East and Piddleys.
Cocoa Beach, the home of Florida surfer Kelly Slater (nine-time ASP World Champion), offers small, mellow waves, which make it a top choice for beginners. Dependable rights and lefts break over sandbars on either side of Canaveral Pier. Cocoa Beach is also the site of the Easter Surf Festival, billed as the second oldest surfing competition in the United States.
Part of the Sebastian Inlet State Recreational Area, Sebastian Inlet is the most renowned place for Florida surfing. Since the 1960s, many professional surfers have ridden the waves of the inlet, which is composed of three breaks aptly named First, Second and Third Peak. At the end of the south jetty is an offshore sandbar called Monster Hole. North/northeast swells and low incoming tides bring huge left-breaking waves that provide long rides. East/southeast swells create right-breaking waves, which are sometimes smooth and fast, and sometimes bumpy. This challenging spot can handle anything from three- to 15-foot waves.
Another notable Florida surf destination is Delray Beach, two miles of untouched beauty on the South Florida coastline. It’s also known as the first home of South Florida surfing, starting in the late 1950s. Low and mid-tides are the best surf conditions here. The waves work on every tide and swell combination, but on big swells and lower tides, the outside sandbar really fires.
At all of these East Coast surfing destinations, it’s easy to find instructors by visiting a local surf shop. “In two to three days of lessons, you can certainly expect to learn enough to stand up and ride to the beach,” says Lisa Mead, owner of Central Florida Surf School in Vero Beach. Mead says her students include “quite a few 55-year-old early retirees who have a second home here.”