The Art of Surfing the Never-Too-Late Philosophy Has Adults Climbing on Board

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Soergel, Times-Union staff writer

It's never too late to learn to surf -- but the longer you wait, the harder it is.

Surfing is one of the most difficult sports to learn, and beginners will find it frustrating, potentially embarrassing and exhausting.

Of course, they may also find it addictive and exhilarating.

Dan Brooks, owner of Sunrise Surf Shop in Jacksonville Beach, said he's seeing more and more adults -- men and women -- take up surfing. Many are newcomers to Florida who figure this is their chance to start.

It is. But it's a lot harder for a working adult than for spry 80-pound kids with a long summer vacation ahead of them.

Bill Love began surfing as adult, so he knows what it'll be like.

"Everybody goes through a phase of not knowing what you're doing, getting frustrated, getting your butt kicked," he said.

He picked up surfing seriously two years ago after moving to Atlantic Beach from Atlanta. He's 42. He'd surfed a little during his 20s during summer visits to New Jersey, just enough to learn to stand up and ride a little. But surfing is now a major part of his new life.

Until a recent Achilles tendon rupture -- caused by flag football, not surfing -- he was going all the time, getting good enough to handle almost anything North Florida waves threw his way.

Cheryl Webb, 41, of Jacksonville Beach, took a few private lessons last year, enough to stand up on a handful of waves. This summer she's enrolled in a women's-only surf camp.

She has a couple of reasons to learn. She wanted to get over her fear of the water -- "not of the water, but of the things in the water."

And she wanted to know what it was about surfing that caused her male surfer friends to rhapsodize so.

"I want to do something fun. I'm hoping it'll give me some confidence. Plus my guy friends who surf, they are so into it, there must be something to it. I go, 'Come on, it's a hobby, it's not, like, a spiritual experience.' But it must be, because their whole lives revolve around it."

Here are some tips to help make your life -- or a good part of your life -- revolve around surfing:

The best help: Go with someone who already knows how to surf. A patient instructor can cut your learning time drastically.

Or you may want to consider surf camps, which include those run by Sunrise Surf Shop and Aqua East Surf Shop. Most participants in those camps, however, are children, though there have been a handful of adults. Saltwater Cowgirls (www.saltwatercowgirls.com) run camps for female surfers -- including weekend camps for women over 18.

There are also some private instructors at the Beaches; check local shops or Web sites for suggestions.

Your first board should not be . . . that sexy, pointy little 6-foot rocket ship that looks so spiffy under your arm. Leave that to the skinny kids and the experienced rippers.

Seriously -- getting a conventional shortboard will set your surfing back immensely. They're hard to paddle, hard to stand up on and hard to keep moving in the small waves you'll learn on.

Your first board should be . . . a borrowed one.

Borrowing a board from a surfing friend can give you a feel for what surfing is like. If you get hooked, then go out and buy a board.

Make sure it's a board suitable to a beginner. That means it had better be a longboard or funboard.

Longboards are generally 9 feet or longer, which gives them all the advantages shortboards lack: float, glide, stability.

Women or smaller surfers may be better suited to a funboard, a rounder, fuller shaped board that's usually between 7 and 8 feet in length. They'll give some of the float of a longboard without the bulk.

Most surf shops have boards they'll rent. Figure on about $15 to $20 a day.

It'll cost you: Longboards are not a secret. …