Athleta Journal: Learning to Surf Before I Turn 45, Part 2

Follow journalist and fitness junkie Jessica Hundley over the next few weeks on her journey to conquer the waves before her 45th birthday in our new series: Athleta Journal

Jessica Hundley Athleta_1452

Jessica is wearing our Ariel Cut Out Bikini and Dolphin Shorts in Spire Green.

Let’s get this out of the way – surfing is hard. Deeply challenging, infinitely exasperating, it is the kind of activity that continually forces you to the precipice, to the edge of tears and of frustration. It is a sport that pushes you far, far past the boundaries of both your patience and stamina. It is unforgiving, humbling and exhausting. Try to recall that grit tooth gumption required to learn to ride a bike when you were a kid – the skinned knees, the crying– and you’ll have an idea of what it’s like to learn to surf.

I am now three weeks deep into my quest to learn and have yet to get up and truly ride a wave on my own. Yes, I have stood a few times – briefly, gloriously – but only in those rare moments when my instructor has pushed me into the surf at the perfectly-timed moment, guiding me precisely out into a wave and shouting words of encouragement and wisdom.

Getting Knocked Down

Most days, I bob in the water for a long, long, while – then – suddenly, desperately – paddle toward a promising crest, only to find myself “washing machined” – spinning helplessly, head over heels, head over heels, caught beneath water, my board catapulting into sky, my body ultimately unharmed – but my ego crushed to pieces and sucked away by the tide.


This is learning to surf, friends – and it ain’t pretty.

And Getting Back Up Again

But here’s the thing. Despite my continual failure in the face of the waves, I still find myself aching to go again, to get out into the blue Pacific and try.

Learning It’s A Process

Every time I am in the water, I learn something.. Even the smallest bit of new information is cathartic. The more I watch the surf, the more I begin to understand which swells are worth swimming for… and when. The more I get knocked down and slapped around, the more I respect the ocean and the more I want to prove to her that I can do this – I can get up, I can ride, I can catch that sweetest of moments – when the sea is right beneath you, holding you in it’s salty palm and carrying you forward into bliss.


I don’t know what that moment feels like. Not yet. But I can sense it – even in the midst of getting knocked down and slapped around, the possibility is always there. It is there in that slimmest of seconds when I feel wave beneath board and know, in some deep place, what it must be like when you actually catch it.

There is nothing to do but keep trying. And so I do. I keep splashing, gracelessly out into the water, in my sausage-casing wetsuit, my arms eternally sore, my hair straw – salted and wild, enduring the humiliations – yet alert always, to the lessons.


Patience is a Necessity

Surfing is teaching me. The ocean is teaching me, things I know already, perhaps, but have pushed too far down and away. I get onto my board, and the metaphors abound – as true in life, as they are in the water. Patience is a necessity. Diligence is required. Ego is an obstacle. And hard work is the only path to real reward.

Photo credit: Todd Weaver

Jannine Myers

May 30, 2015 at 5:00 pm

Not sure if it is a good or bad thing that I read this post today. Tomorrow, my 21 year old daughter is taking me out for my first ever surf lesson, and I am terrified! My sport of choice is running (I like that I can feel the ground beneath my feet); balancing on a surfboard however, with a huge ocean beneath me and no sense of stability, is very intimidating. But I love what you said in the very last sentence, “Patience is a necessity. Diligence is required. Ego is an obstacle. And hard work is the only path to real reward.” I’ll keep this in mind as I hit the waves tomorrow. Oh, and by the way, I also will be turning 45 – in just two more weeks 🙂

Team Athleta

June 01, 2015 at 9:58 am

Jannine, best of luck to you! We hope you love surfing – and if it doesn’t end up being the sport for you, at least it will be a fun day on the water with your daughter.


June 01, 2015 at 6:42 pm

Jessica is such an inspiration and has inspired me to finish what I started at 39. I took a surfing lesson back then and did good, but not beyond the white wash out to the line up. Since then, I’m now 45, every time I’ve gone out, I’m afraid to get through the “zone” in fear that my board will smack me in the face, as I saw that happen to a couple of surfers before. I’ve turtle rolled one time and that’s it. Surfing/SUP in So. Cal waters is definitely not as calm as the spot in Maui where I first started to SUP. I keep telling myself that each summer when the water gets warmer, I’ll get through and do it. So thanks to Jessica, I will get out there, sign up for more lessons and just get it done because I remember that feeling when I stood up for the first time….I love the ocean, I’ve got this!

Team Athleta

June 02, 2015 at 9:52 am

Adrienne, we’re glad to hear you were inspired! Good luck out there – we’ll be rooting for you. Power to the She!

Jessica Hundley

June 01, 2015 at 6:57 pm

Jannine – you will enjoy the time in the water with your daughter no matter how well you do. I hope you have an amazing time! And Adrienne – get back in there! You are right in that SoCal is not an easy place to learn, but keep trying. Try Mondos in Ventura if you can make time, it is a wonderful beginner spot and easy to learn. Get a foam beginner board, so you can conquer that fear of getting smacked. My next piece will be focused on the practicals, gear and tips from experts. Glad you both enjoy the piece and happy surfing!


June 07, 2015 at 6:58 pm

I was consoled to hear I was not the only one who found learning to surf challenging but also addictive. I tried surfing last year at the age of 50 for the first time. I had lived in San Diego 20 year ago and never tried it. When my family went back for a vacation I was determined that I would surf with my sons-10 and 14. We all tried it for the first time together. It was much tougher than I imagined but also I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Initially I thought I was doing it for my kids but I got so much out of challenging myself to get beyond my fears. I live far from the ocean and can’t wait till I have another chance. I never got up in the 2 days I tried but hope to some day. It is a great workout! We are traveling to southern India and I plan to find a place to surf there too. Keep trying and have fun doing it.

Team Athleta

June 08, 2015 at 11:54 am

Tammy, sounds like you challenged yourself and had fun with your kids – we consider that a success! Thanks for sharing your story.


June 10, 2015 at 4:53 am

I learned to surf a couple of summers ago after my divorce. It was the most cathartic summer! I look back now and truly felt like a soul surfer. I got rolled, thrashed, smacked in the head but every time I came out of the ocean’s spin cycle I got back on the board. I never became very good and sadly I only did it for one summer. Now I have the desire again and will be riding (or trying to!) the waves again! The friend who taught me took me out one night when the full moon was rising. I look back on that as one of the best experiences of my life. It was exhilarating and scary but also a great time to learn. Not being able to see well you really get into the rhythm of the ocean, and that is quite an awesome feeling. Thanks for the encouragement to get back out there!

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