by Justin Henderson, ex-pat writer and surfer-extraordinaire
In 2010, my first year in Sayulita, I made friends with a couple of other Costa Verde International School parents, and ended up surfing with them a lot. We surfed almost every day, it seemed, as the fall/winter/spring season of 2009-2010 offered up week after week of solid swell. Living here in Sayulita, with lots of good surf in the neighborhood, I got my dormant surfing mojo back fast, and I have been getting better ever since.
A couple of my Sayulita buddies were more or less new to the sport last year, and had a lot to learn. I gave some tips here and there, but mostly I told them it’s time in the water that teaches you surfing. There is a lot to learn and no way to learn it except practice.
Time in the water. As was soon revealed in the course of surfing and hanging out with my new crew, I was a few years older than them–and I have been surfing a very long time. Not continuously, no – I did spend 13 years in New York City and 16 years in Seattle, and neither of those places are exactly “surfer towns” (although there are now surf shops in both Manhattan and Seattle). The point I’m circling is this: I learned to surf over 40 years ago–46 years ago, to be precise. I was aware of this fact, though I never really said it aloud or even to myself. But then, one of my surfer pals here in Sayulita introduced me to a visiting friend and added, “This guy’s been surfing over 40 years!”
It was intended as a compliment, and even though I knew this, I winced, and took it as a slight. Yes, I was being thin-skinned. There were two ways I decided to feel insulted. First, 40 years of surfing should have produced an amazing skill level, and while I’m a fairly competent wave rider, I ain’t no supersurfer and never will be. I ride a longboard, old school style, and while I can rip pretty well going right on a solid, point-break type wave, I’m a mediocre backside surfer, and a mediocre cold water surfer. Maybe the 30 years in New York and Seattle had something to do with that.
Second, and more fundamental to my feeling insulted, well, slightly wounded, was the issue of age. After all, forty years plus of surfing more or less requires an age of 50 years plus. It says, undeniably, that I am pretty stinkin’ old.
And in fact, I am getting there. I turned 60 last week. Damn! How did that happen? It sucks, getting old. Getting creaky, less patient with people, tormented by insomnia. Skin drying up, eyes getting bad, etc., etc. There are things about getting older that just f— you up.
On the other hand – and in my world this is huge; bigger even than still having all the hair on my head – I am surfing better than I ever have in my life. I hope I can keep it going. I know I can keep it going. If the swells continue to roll in like they did last weekend – my birthday weekend -we got surf-skunked, but on the following weekend, the one that just passed, a solid south-southwest swell sent some great waves into Burros and Lancha. I surfed Burros three days in a row, and it totally rocked. I must have ridden at least fifty waves Sunday morning and then again Monday morning in my three hours in the water each day. My rashguard was worn out so I have a nasty rash on my lower chest, and my shoulders are aching from all the paddling (and rolling under – I got caught inside on several multi-wave sets), but these pains mean nothing when I’m getting good waves. I hardly notice them.
I hope I can keep this going for at least another ten years. Getting barreled at 70 — now there’s a goal to shoot for.
I did some other surfing as I was thinking about writing this column. Here are a few good thoughts on youth and age from the web:
It takes a long time to become young. ~Pablo Picasso
Everyone is the age of their heart. ~Guatemalan proverb
Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative. ~Maurice Chevalier, New York Times, 9 October 1960
A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams. ~John Barrymore
The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom. ~H.L. Mencken