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Learning to surf at 56 years old!

See my four YouTube films relating to this blog here

Surfing is something I’ve always wanted to try but never got around to. I’ve always had a fear of the ocean, and hadn’t swam in it until a holiday in Ibiza at 52 years old. I'm now 56, even though reasonably fit, I'm feeling the passing of time and the aggravation of past injuries on my joints.

My four week stay on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, specifically Waikiki, was the ideal opportunity to have a go.

There are many board hire and lesson providers on Waikiki’s beaches, I knew that a lot of them just want to ‘give the tourists a go’ but I wanted more than that. I stopped off at a life-guard station on the beach and asked the guy if he had any recommendations, he said he knew just the man, Louie Ferreira, one of only a handful of licenced and certified Surf Instructors in Waikiki.

Louie came down to the beach to have a chat, and we arranged to meet later that day. My first lesson went well, Louie got me up on my first run, and all subsequent runs that session. I was super stoked, and thought perhaps I’ve found the one thing I’m OK at!

The Lifeguard that introduced me to Louie

At the end of each run I was meant to get down on the board then paddle back, alas often I fell into the drink, which isn’t a big deal except that there’s a rocky reef in Waikiki bay. Getting down onto the board is easier said than done if you’ve lost your balance.

It really is the luck of the draw if you fall awkwardly on the reef, and I learnt the hard way, to always try and land on my feet, which are protected to some degree by reef shoes. During my first lesson I hit the reef with my left butt cheek, hard, it took a few days for my bum bone to stop hurting, and I couldn’t cycle that week which was a pain, as I’d planned to get to the trails.

The lessons are $80 an hour, although Louie doesn’t clock watch at all, usually I tell him when I’ve had enough, on my first session I only did seven runs before my arms were shot, and I’d hurt my bum. It’s a lot more strenuous than it looks, and the longer your run on a wave, the further you have to paddle back to the instructor, and that’s what knackers you.

My second sesh with Louie was with Marcy as well, a Canadian lady I met at the hostel, she was around ten years younger than me, but we got on really well. The lesson fee reduces for two people to $60 each, which makes it a little easier on the wallet!

Marcy did great, she was a natural. I don’t remember how many runs we did, but Louie just keeps them coming, no time is wasted with waffle. As soon as you paddle back to him, he’s already spotted the next wave for you to ride. I had a terrible session, I was feeling very nervous and over-thinking things and couldn’t focus on the job in hand.

Me and Marcy

Marcy and Louie

I was glad when it was over, as I felt shit, it was such a disappointment after my first lesson, to realise I wasn’t any good at all. We called it a day when I was tired and also Marcy had hit the reef with her elbow, jarring an old injury on that shoulder, so had had enough too.

I’d been recording my sessions on my own GoPro, but this time mine had died that morning so Marcy and I shared Louie’s GoPro. We haven’t had that footage through yet, so I have nothing from the second lesson to show you how rubbish I was!

Louie’s a native Hawaiian ex-pro surfer, now retired from competition but trains anyone from beginner to improver through to current pros. His style is like this; listen to what he says, do what he says when he tells you. And that’s it. He doesn’t want to know how you’re feeling, or your excuses, he just want’s you to do what you are meant to do. And he doesn’t want questions. Just listen and do!

At first I found his manner a bit harsh, but now realise he is in fact an exceptional trainer, and he just doesn’t want to waste time on any degree of snowflakedom. Plus, especially when there’s more than one of you in the lesson, he has a big responsibility to make sure you stay alive!

Along with seeking out the waves for everyone, turning the GoPros on and off, observing whoever’s on a wave at the time and giving feedback plus watching the rest of the surfers, it’s pretty intense for him. I'll have to say, in my opinion, some of the other lessons going on didn't look as under control as Louie's!

It’s dangerous for sure, if the bay is crowded with other surfers, you really have to obey his instructions or you’re gonna get hurt. I like his method, which is clear, honest and straight. I actually don’t like him telling me I’ve surfed well when I know I’ve surfed shite, but I suppose he means in the cosmic scheme of things!

My third session was just me, until a young girl, Christin, who was flailing about on a rented board, not catching any waves, came into our riding area. Louie kindly took her under his wing and she joined the session. She did brilliantly and I did shite!

Finally on my fourth lesson, which was with a young German girl named Lena from the hostel, I started to see an improvement, but not until the second half, when I got angry with myself and started to properly focus.

Yesterday was my fifth and last lesson, which was with Christin again. She had had a bad second lesson a few days before this one. Neither of us were going well until later in the session. The bay was very busy as the surf in Waikiki had been good for the past few days.

After my last lesson I realised just how much I’d progressed, in just five hours riding over four weeks. I’d actually surfed, gone to a smaller board, was getting up from lying instead of kneeling, was paddling into waves and riding bigger waves. So I’m happy with my progress, and really thankful to Louie for his persistence, as I know I annoyed him. A lot!

Me and Louie

During my last session I experienced some of the dangers, the bay was very busy. I got T-boned by someone else's board (from another lesson), bang on my elbow, after they had fallen off, I got stung by a Sea Urchin and fell hard on the reef on my other arse cheek. As well as the surf being bigger and experiencing the power of some of the bigger waves (not big by Louie’s North Shore standards btw), getting flipped over on my paddle-back a couple of times.

Watching back the footage is so important, I can see what I’m doing wrong, but applying the correct technique and posture at the right time hasn’t come yet. I realised quite early on that I need to ride every day, for some time, to become at ease with the sea, the board and my body.

I’m very stiff, my balance is rubbish and I move slowly and awkwardly. I need to do some yoga before each session to loosen up my joints, and also to practice my get up from lying. I will certainly work on that at home, as well as my balance.

I was a little scared before each lesson, it took me way out of my comfort zone. It would have been easy to quit and be happy that I'd tried it! I'm so glad I persisted, although I haven't scratched the surface yet, so much to learn!

All done, I’m really sad that I won’t train with Louie again. I’d love to continue and progress, so I’ll have to find a way of doing that. I am gonna nail this, fitness and finances permitting!

Louie contact details email or Instagram @surfwithlouie

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