The rising tide of senior surfers

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Jeanne Keith-Ferris and her husband moved to Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island and there, in the sand and waves of the Pacific Ocean, her surfing dreams were rekindled.Melissa Renwick

Jeanne Keith-Farris’ earliest memories growing up in California are of playing in the waves with her mother. She dreamed of being on a board on the water when she was a little older.

Then her family moved to landlocked Colorado when she was 12, followed by Calgary, where she lived until her retirement about a decade ago. His surfing dreams dried up over the years, but they never died.

At the end of their working years, Mrs. Keith-Farris and her husband moved to Ucluelet, on the west coast of Vancouver Island and there, in the sands and waves of the Pacific Ocean, her surfing dreams have been revived.

“It’s a bit daunting to start, because I would have been around 56 at the time,” she says. She played in surfing for a few years but “it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t surfing.

“A few months before I turned 60, I caught my first so-called green wave [an unbroken wave, the kind you see in surf pictures] and I got addicted,” she says. “You get that wave out there that day and you just have to get that magic back because it’s so amazing. And I won’t have it as often as some of the younger guys, but it continues and I continue to looking for more, trying to find that better elusive wave.

Now 65, she owns seven surfboards and hits the waves almost every day when the weather permits. She inspired her daughter to learn and together they went to a surf school three times in Los Olas, Mexico.

“I built up strength and endurance, and then I became obsessed with getting better,” she says. “I keep improving and that’s what drives me out. Progress is slow at this stage of my life.

Surfing is a tough sport, but Tiffany Olsen, principal of the Surf Sister Surf School in Tofino, British Columbia, where Ms Keith-Farris learned to ride the waves, says she taught beginner surfers the will down to their silver years.

“I’ve taken a lot of people of all ages, from 5 to 100, surfing and everyone is having a great time,” she says. “I think the most important thing is that people don’t see it as a competition or set goals. You just have to get out in the ocean and see what happens. Low expectations are usually the better expectations when surfing, because you always surprise yourself.

Regardless of age, she advises those who want to learn how to prepare by starting with some basic yoga stretches, including lunges and forward bends, and arm-strengthening exercises such as arm circles. and push-ups or boards.

“Anything that strengthens your upper body because paddling is really what lifts you up,” she says.

Surfers should also practice balance and stay in a low position with knees bent. There are modifications that can be made if necessary, she says.

Ms. Keith-Farris learned to ride the waves again at Surf Sister Surf School in Tofino, British Columbia.Melissa Renwick

Ms. Keith-Farris is a big surfer, adds Ms. Olsen.

“She’s better than me, I’ll tell you,” she said. “She’s definitely not your typical 65-year-old woman, but I think exercise is becoming a bigger thing for the people in our lives and so it’s not out of reach, that’s for sure.”

Across the country, Mark Moore, co-owner of Halifax Surf School with his wife, says it’s not uncommon for retirees to sign up for lessons at the school, located in Martinique Beach about 40 minutes east of Halifax.

He reiterates that future surfers need a reasonable level of swimming with the ability to swim around 50 meters. More importantly, they must feel comfortable in the water.

“If you don’t have the means and comfort to be able to sustain yourself in deeper water than you can touch, something that wouldn’t normally be a big deal could become a big deal,” he says.

And he strongly suggests lessons because the instructors are trained to work with beginners and can ensure a person is equipped with the right wetsuit (a necessity in colder Canadian waters) and the right board. They can also assess the level of ability.

“People may have a high level of fitness, say, to play golf, but they don’t have what it takes to do a pop-up on a surfboard,” Moore says. “We try to teach in shallow water up to the chest, so people can touch…but at the end of the day, we never really find out until we’re out there and people are actually pushed by the waves if they’re going to have the fit to do so.

But with the right level of fitness, the right equipment and the right ocean conditions, it’s an amazing sport, he says.

“I love it,” he says. “Surfing is very [big in] pop culture and there are tons of people who have seen it and have always been curious about it.

Surfing isn’t for old people with faint hearts, but it’s magic for those with the desire and motivation to go all the way, says Ms. Keith-Farris. Silver surfers shouldn’t let fear hold them back.

“If you’ve always had this dream and you start thinking, ‘I’m too old for this. I couldn’t do this, well, you can. You absolutely can. It just takes courage,’” says- her.”Never be afraid to accept the challenge and go ahead and try it.”

Interested in more retirement stories? Sixty Five aims to inspire Canadians to live their best lives, confidently and safely.The Globe and Mail

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