Wild Wave Rider
by Karen Raterman

surfer.jpg What's wrong with this picture: 40-year-old mother of two and rippin' surfer chica.

Actually, not very much, according to former professional surfer Anne Bayly who now specializes in teaching women to ride the waves.

It's entirely possible to start surfing in middle age. That's what Bayly told me, anyway, one Saturday in April as I squeezed into a skintight wet suit for a two-hour beginning surfing lesson in the 52º waters off Santa Cruz's famed Cowell's Beach. Bayly's partner, Barb Cartwright, elaborated about the virtues of surfing as a workout and endurance sport while I put on my rubber booties. "We have many women in their 30s and 40s who become so stoked about surfing that they get motivated to be stronger and more fit, just so they can surf better," she says. As a workout, surfing is most closely related to swimming. The long paddle out to catch those waves is a great upper body workout that tones the neck, shoulders and muscles down the sides of the chest. As you pop up to a standing position on the board, you'll also work your arms and abs. "Every time you rise up to get through a wave as you paddle out — that's a push-up," adds Cartwright. "And as you pop up to a standing position, that's a very intense push-up."

But to many, surfing is more than a sport — it is a lifestyle, even a religion. "It's way spiritual," Bayly says. "Everyone finds a different element, but for me, what better way to be aware of God than to become attuned to nature, the wind, the clouds."

I carried my 11-foot Softop surfboard down a steep stairway to begin my lesson. Anne, a small, athletic woman with a dazzling white smile, led the way carrying her board one-handed. She began by going over surfing basics, drawing pictures in the sand to illustrate how waves work; then demonstrating the fundamentals of her patented "pop-up" technique.

With the fundamentals fresh, I headed out for some water time. I received a quick initiation as the waves splashed me in the face. When I reached the safe zone (outside the surf break), it was time to turn around and give it a shot. My first ride was anything but successful; my board got a quick shove from Dylan, one of the instructors, and the next thing I knew, I was sideways in the water.

I paddled out again. "Paddle hard, arch your back, stand up," Dylan shouted as he helped my board gain the speed of the wave. This time I did stand up, riding the wave all the way into the beach. Then I paddled out and did it again and again and again. I was surfing.

Truth be told, I wasn't dashing down a glistening green wall of water; I was standing on a board, moving just ahead of some white water and keeping my balance. Still, it was exhilarating. And even after I left the water, I was drawn back to watch the waves and feel the pull of the ocean. And I was picturing myself, 40-year-old mother of two, strong and trim and darting up and down a glistening green wall of water ... in Mexico.

Photography by: Dave Nagel