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A reflection after a surf in the wind and the rain of the South East, by Graham Shephard, ex Skewjack surf instructor & lifeguard.

I drive slowly into the car park, looking for a space to give me a bit of shelter from the cold swirling SW wind that rattles through the car park and on up the coast after teasing our local break into a mess of onshore rolling waves. Hey though, it’s surf and, there’s no work to be done.

Space found, I emerge out of the car and stretch, nodding to two or three of the guys already getting into their suits, avoiding any skin exposure to the moisture laden wind. I smile and nod at a car full of guys I don’t recognise, boards stacked on top and one more in the car for good measure. They give me the evil eye, Who are you? Old guy with a family estate, not seen you before. Don’t get in our way, old guy, is implied in their returning stare.

I smile to myself, Don’t they know Old guys rule! I was probably surfing this break before they were even in their teens! I throw them a wave and turn back to the job in hand. Putting on the suit!

Suit on, despite the odd twinge, boots on against both the cold and the shingle laden beach that can have the most able bodied of surfers hobbling about like a ninety year old.

I unload ‘my stick’ from the roof. Now I have tried my best to avoid going long board but, when you hit fifty it is a fact that you are not as fit as you were when you were thirty.

Old guys rule

So I apologise, on behalf of all of us old guys with fatter, longer boards to all those twenty some-things with your super short, super skinny boards and your fishes and your super lite super tuff surf boards but us old guys, we need a bit of float, a bit of paddle and, more importantly a bit of time to get to our feet.

By the way we had fishes in the Seventies, we had twin fins, we had super short thrusters, channels, it as all been done before. You might make light of us old guys but we were there you know…. And you will be where we are now! Anyway board off, out of the bag add a bit of wax.

One of the guys from the car comes over. “Ere mate“, (30 years difference dissolved into ‘mate’,) I smile, “Yes mate.” I reply.” “Can you spare some wax? My mind forms the reply of “No, fuck off, if you can’t organise yourself don’t come to the beach.” but my voice goes “Sure, no problem. have this,” and I smile and then realise that his younger brother is a year ahead of my son in the local school so I add, “Say hi to your parents from me!”. He looks sheepish, thanks me and the next time I look at the car I see a bunch of young local lads looking slightly less cool than before!

So to surf. Old guys rule you know. Now I do not know which old guys they have in mind but this one drives a desk, misses most of the best surf opportunities and despite all aspirations, gets in when he can, not when he wants.

Leash on, quick stretch and into he water. Wait for the shore break to rearrange the sea weed and off we go. Is it me or is it colder than I remember?

Immediately I think what is wrong with this board? It will not move, but, sure enough it is moving forward and in line with a couple of guys who hit the water at the same time as me, but it still seems slow. Surely it can’t be my arms?

A set cruises through to the beach, my fellow paddlers pop up and then disappear into well executed duck dives, I join them but why, I ask am I going backwards and slightly sideways while they continue on. I mean, come on, I am an old guy, I rule. More sets, more reverse duck dives, a couple of eskimo rolls and yes I have made it out back. Twenty five yards behind the others sure enough, but out back all the same. ‘Old guys rule’ you know! See a couple of faces I recognize, bit of banter, mostly around my lack of attendance during the last few swells we have had, but good natured all the same.

Nice feeling of belonging to something. Well suppose I had better catch a few….. well one any way.

After ten minutes here comes a set. All the keen surfers jostle for the first wave, I wait, paddle over ten yards and stroke into the second. No problem, briefly any way. Wave caught , board driving,

I flick to my feet. Well I like to think so because as I stumble upright, cramp grabs my right calf, leaving me semi rigid and in agony on the board. I do not even make it to my feet and flounder over the falls, bounce gently off the chalk and surface to cheers from my so called mates. I laugh but stop swiftly as I now realize that I have to paddle back out again. Back outside eventually, reverse duck diving perfected, I move over out of the way of the pack realizing that I could demolish quite a few of the South Easts finest ‘youth’ with my current level of competence.

I mean, old guys rule.

Old guys though do have water time, and, I spot a set well different to the others so quietly move over from and beyond the pack. As the first wave of the set, looms up substantially bigger to those so far, I angle the board and start to paddle. Old guys rule you know.

The board picks up, the wave is huge, well by our standards at least, and must have over four feet of face. Bloody hell, I am up on my feet.

Check, bonus. No cramp. Just time to look around, amazement is set on the faces of those I am hurtling towards, perhaps tinged with fear by those that do not know me. I find a space amongst the duck diving hordes and crank in a bottom turn. Round we go, a short section, round the bottom of the white water and time for a cutback. Weight onto back foot, drop left shoulder and arm, look where you are going to go and round she comes. Not sure who is more amazed. Me or the remaining hordes. Old guys, well you get the drift! Bank off the white water, left hand comes round and off we go back the way we came.

The wave hits the chalk shelf and jacks a bit. I apply brakes, stall briefly, weight onto front foot, and cop a wet sloppy cover up. Wave stalls, one more cut back. Then kick out. Smile hugely to self and then euphoria immediately dissolves as I realise, I have got to paddle back out.

Finally make it out back, wanting another one. “Still got it then, baldy!” shouts one the locals. I wave two fingers and smile, hugely pleased.

The lad who I gave the wax to paddles by and grunts. “My Dad said to look out for you, nice wave.

I smile, again. Old guys rule? Maybe not but we still love it.

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  • Matt


  • Dan

    Legend. Great reflection for an ‘old guy’. Hope the youngsters show some respect in the future.

  • Steve Bailey


    Ditto on the calf-cramp. I was married and began having kids in San Diego, where I’d lived/surfed for 20 + years. Then went to graduate school in Nothern Arizona, and travelled around the US for internships/post-docs/faculty positions. I’m 60 now and have had 12 knee surgeries on my right knee, and recently, 2 complete arthroplasties on same.

    The last time I was actually able to surf quality waves (given age, physical conditioning, regional availability) was the summer of ’05, when my son and I surfed Panama City. The last GREAT Waves I surfed was actually Hurricane K that summer at St Andrews State Park.

    I recently went to visit a college buddy (point loma college grads) who now lives in Seal Beach, and we decided to hit the waves, as we’re both recovering from shoulder and knee replacement surgeries. My BEST Excuse for the poor performance was “calf-cramp”.

    I’m now looking for work in CA/HI and have posted my vita online in numerous locales.

    “Aging Child Psychologist – Will work (HARD) for SURF!”


    Steve Bailey