Learning to Surf at 50 (and Over!): 11 Tips for Maximum Motivation and Progression

Learning to surf at 50 sounds daunting for many since surfing has a reputation for being a difficult sport to learn.

Paddling on a board in the sea then catching a wave and, going further, standing up on it (!) can seem a bit much to the uninitiated.

With that in mind, and to show you that you can learn to surf at 50, here are 11 tips to lay out the path to surfing fun and success for you:

  1. Focus on fitness first
  2. Master the muscle memory
  3. Go hard!
  4. Forget the fools
  5. Max out with a lesson
  6. Choose your tools wisely
  7. The warmer the water, the better
  8. Stay supple for success
  9. Age is an advantage – use it!
  10. Buddy Up
  11. Have fun with it!

These are the tips in brief, but let me explain more in the sections below to make sure that you, too, can ride the crest of the wave of fun in the sea, regardless of your age.

Let’s get to it!

Focus on fitness first

Before starting out on your surfing journey, it’s good to take stock of where you are in terms of physical fitness.

No doubt you are aware of how physically fit (or not) you are. Reflect and think about how much sporting or general activity you do.

In the first instance, this can really help you to know what to expect in terms of how hard you might find surfing.

Surfing is definitely a great workout and physically challenging, but it relies on a certain kind of fitness that you can start to work on before even going in the sea.

Fitness for Paddling

To be able to paddle a surfboard properly, you will need a good amount of upper body strength. You can work on this by swimming, lifting weights or bodyweight exercises.

Paddling is what you will spend most of your time in the sea doing, especially in the early days, so getting your paddling fitness up will be a huge boost before starting.

Fitness for Popping Up

On top of paddling, you will also need to get to your feet on a surfboard, or ‘pop up’. This is probably the most difficult part of learning to surf since it requires timing and an explosive movement, again relying on upper body strength while also combining it with some core strength. 

You can get a lot of the fitness for this part of surfing from practising push ups and also burpees.

If you are already doing these kinds of exercises on a regular basis then you should already be well primed for learning to surf, so that’s a great start. If not, now’s the time to get into the habit if you are serious about learning to surf! 

Here’s a great instructional video on how to perform a burpee for beginners:

There is also more on how to improve this kind of strength in the section on muscle memory below.

Fitness for Riding Waves

Once up and riding, which will be the next stage in your learn to surf progression, you will then need to have the fitness in your legs and lower body.

This comes from needing to balance on your board and also push it up and down on the face of a wave to generate speed.

You can improve this kind of fitness by doing simple bodyweight squat exercises at home, or by cycling or jogging. This will again link in with your core exercises. 

You can also see the video below on how to do a bodyweight squat, even if you’ve never done one before.

If you get your fitness up to speed, or just improve the right aspects a little, before starting out in the surf, you will feel much more at ease than if you just ran out to catch a few waves.

You can also look into getting a balance board for surfing as these can be really helpful to help you train when out of the water.

My in-depth guide to balance boards for surfing has everything you need, so be sure to check it out!

Obviously, there is nothing quite like being in the sea and catching waves, but doing all of the above will give you the best possible start.

Master the muscle memory

Continuing on from the fitness aspect, let’s also consider the muscle memory involved in surfing.

I know from learning many moons ago that things can get really confusing when it comes to actually trying to surf, especially the pop up, which is part of the ‘take off’, meaning the start of the ride where the wave picks you up and.

The pop can leave your legs and arms feeling a bit lost as it is a dynamic movement that happens while you are about to be pushed along by a wave – it gets easier but I remember it being a bit mind boggling to start!

So, to help you with your pop up and take off, try practising this at home. This can be done easily on a carpet, a yoga mat or just about any soft surface (it’s a bit much for a hard floor, especially when starting out!).

Doing this on a regular basis will help you to start to get some of the muscle memory in place before going surfing, again to make that initial first real surf at the beach a lot easier.

You can also see the video below on practising your pop-up from the ever-helpful guys at How to Rip:

It will take some time for your body to get used to the strange and quite complex movement of the pop up, so the more you can practise it, the easier it will be out in the surf.

To keep on top of this, try slipping this in to your wider workout routine and do, for example, 3 sets of 10 pop-ups in a row with a rest between each of the 10 repetitions.

Doing so will give you a great boost in learning to surf, irrespective of age, and will be a fantastic springboard onto surfing success and fun.

Go hard!

OK, so by this, I don’t mean to go for big waves right from the off; rather, I mean to fully commit and go for it, telling yourself that you will learn to surf!

This needs a certain level of commitment to help you along in the process.

Telling yourself that surfing is something that you want to do will help you to do it.

From there, set yourself a timeline of when you will go for a first surf, how often you will go and when you think you will be able to surf.

Putting the milestones together will help you to get to surfing enjoyment a lot faster.

older man surfing a wave and smiling
It’s never too late, and you will have so much fun! Photo Credit: Stoke Drift on Unsplash

Cram it in for rapid improvement

For rapid improvement, book yourself a break at a surf camp. There are so many of these around the world that they can accommodate all kinds of destinations and all will cater for absolute beginners.

This could be for a few days or a few weeks; the beauty of this option is that surf camps specialize in providing everything you will need, including lifts to and from the beach, gear hire and lessons included.

This can be a great way to ramp up your surfing progress as it will be a focused holiday on learning to surf. So, fun in the sun while also getting as many waves as you can with like-minded people – sounds pretty good to me!

Surf Camps for the Over 50s

If you are looking for a discreet learn to surf experience, then you can find some surf camps that cater specifically for the over 50s.

From a scout around online, here are some options for you that I’ve just found:

Stepping down a little, the next closest option is Pura Vida Surf Lodge’s 30+ surf camp, while Nomad Surfers offers surf camps ‘for all ages’.

The Wall Street Journal also lists some further options in this (sadly) pay-for article.

Forget the fools

Now, this one comes back to more of a mindset tip. One of the biggest things holding people in the over 50 age group from learning to surf, or doing anything that’s considered to be for ‘young’ people, is the psychology.

Particularly when thinking about what people might say: ‘You’re too old to learn to surf!’, or ‘you’ll look ridiculous with a board under your arm!’.

This is where you need to just shut down the negativity from the naysayers and shut out the fools.

You can learn to surf at 50 and above, and there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t!

As a famous British broadcaster responded when asked why he got a tattoo at the age of 75, ‘you’re only old once!’

With that in mind, be prepared for the unhelpful and irrelevant negative comments to come your way and either respond with an equally fun comment like the one above, or don’t even bother to respond at all.

Give yourself licence to learn to surf and remind yourself that lots of over 50s surf so you will be far from alone.

Besides, not starting now will mean missing out on many more years of fun, so don’t hold back!

Max out with a lesson

To kickstart your surfing progression, look for a good surf school to have a lesson with. 

Finding a Surf School

There are so many surf schools around that you should always be able to find one wherever you need.

Just check them out on a site like TripAdvisor to get some honest feedback and see what others say about them.

If you like the look, go ahead and book yourself a lesson with them once you are ready. You should be able to see from their comments and customer reviews whether they will be the friendly kind of people that you want to learn with, or if they just fit the stereotypical airhead surfer (hopefully not!) and should be given a wide berth.

Benefits of a Lesson

Some will weigh up the pros and cons of having a surf lesson, but if learning over the age of 50, it will be a great way to get going quickly.

This is not only because of the advice that you will get from an instructor, but also because you will be able to ask them lots of questions while you are there.

Make the most of your time in a surf lesson by picking the brains of your instructor, asking them for lots of little insights and tips to help someone of your age to progress.

You should definitely get your money’s worth and then some that way!

Choose your tools wisely

When it comes time to buy your learn to surf gear, be sure to get the kind of surfboard that you will need.

The main thing to look for in a surfboard when starting out as a surfer in middle age is a nice generous template with plenty of volume.

By this, I mean a surfboard that is wide in the nose and the tail, with a soft rounded end. These are often called either ‘mini mals’ or funboards. Searching for ‘learner surfboards’ will also help you to find some nice boards that are right for you.

In terms of the build or construction, I would recommend going for a foam soft-top surfboard to get started since these are much easier to care for and also more forgiving when you are out in the surf. They’ll float really well to help you catch waves, too.

For most people, a surfboard in the 7-9 feet length range will be well suited to learning, depending on your height and weight.

Be sure to check out my more detailed guide to choosing a beginner’s surfboard for more on this.

The warmer the better

Surfing in warmer water is a lot more than just the idyllic picture postcard image of surfing; it’s actually just a lot easier to do all round!

Learning to surf in warmer water is that much easier since thicker wetsuits for cold water are heavy and restrict movement, making an already difficult task that bit more challenging.

Going one step further, finding the motivation to hit the cold surf is a lot more difficult than the same when running down the beach on a summer’s day!

So, if you can, plan to learn to surf in the warmest months of the year.

The lighter gear for summer months can really help you to focus on the process of surfing, rather than just staying warm!

Again, a learn-to-surf holiday would be ideal here, but if that’s not an option, still think about when it will be warmest in your area and plan around that.

Supple for success

Surfing requires a lot of movement, so staying supple and flexible will also be a huge advantage for you if learning post-50.

Without telling you things that you already know, flexibility is a great help when surfing, especially in the pop up as you will be pushing your body into some strange positions.

This comes back once again to the idea of working on remaining supple and flexible, or just improving how much you can stretch, even if you haven’t done it for years.

Yoga is clearly a great option for this, although pilates and general stretching routines can be a big help, too.

If interested, you can see this video for some flexibility ideas:

You can also check out the clip below taken from the Yoga for Surfers DVD by the ever-youthful Peggy Hall. Her DVDs in the late 90s and early 2000s featured lots of pro surfers who raved about the benefits of yoga, so it comes highly recommended.

What to do if struggling with flexibility

If you are struggling with the points and suggestions above, remember that you can always start off by learning to bodyboard instead of going straight out into the surf.

I can tell you that I started off by learning to bodyboard since I found surfing really hard to begin with; I went bodyboarding for a few years before going back to trying surfing again, and had a blast!

The advantage of bodyboarding over surfing is that you don’t need to stand up on your board, so it can certainly help in the early days to get you out in the surf and having fun, so don’t rule it out as an alternative option!

You can see more on why many think bodyboarding is easier than surfing in my article on it.

Age is an advantage – use it!

We’re back to another bit of psychology here, this time for using age to your advantage. So, what do I mean? Well, given that you will one of the older people in the surf, you can make use of the fact that younger people will generally be more polite to you.

How does this translate into a benefit, you might be wondering? Well, you might find it that bit easier to catch waves, with some people showing you a little more deference than they would for peers their same age.

This might help you sneak into a few more waves than some of the whippersnappers would!

Ask the Youngsters

You can also just ask the younger surfers for tips and advice. Although some might give you a strange look, most will be genuinely impressed by the fact that you want to learn at an ‘above average’ age, so you can once again take the benefit of being confident in yourself to ask them for tips and advice.

Once you find someone willing to share, ask them some more! In a friendly surf environment, you will find that people will be happy to give you inside tips and info on how to progress, especially if you are that bit older than them.

Spending Power

As a more mature surfer, you should also have a few more funds in your bank account compared to lots of the youngsters.

You can put this to good use by choosing good quality surf gear that is comfortable and functional. You can also get yourself the right kind of surfboard, with a quality that will last and be a joy to ride.

As mentioned above, you might also have the extra funds to treat yourself to a nice surf camp break that will boost your learning curve in a big way.

Remember that some of the youngsters out in the surf would love to have the kinds of funds that you probably have at your disposal, so use these wisely to facilitate your progress on your learn-to-surf journey.

Buddy Up

To keep you on your fast track to surfing fun, there are few things better than enjoying the process with someone else.

Finding a buddy will keep you wanting to go back for more, and also be someone to share the ‘stoke’ with!

Perhaps you can find a friend, family member or colleague who you can convince to come along with you?

Doing so will increase your chances of sticking out the harder early days of surfing, while also making it that much more fun for you.

If you follow the advice earlier in this article and set out a timeline for how and when you plan to surf, your surf buddy can also keep you accountable and help to push you along in the process.

Whoever it is, make sure that they are someone you want to spend time with since dragging someone along who doesn’t want to be there might only put you off going again.

If you can’t find a local surf buddy in your area, then you might also be able to find people through searching on Facebook, be it among your friends or in local groups for people your age or for surfing. No doubt there is someone out there who can share in the journey with you, so have a look!

Have fun with it!

This is probably the most important part of all. If you are going to learn to surf, be it at 50, 60, 70 or above, then just remember to have fun while doing it!

There is no point in learning to surf if you are only going to turn it into a problem or a competitive endeavor. Rather, think of it as an opportunity to stay fit, get outdoors, spend time in the natural environment, see and socialize with others and, of course, for lots of fun!

Going surfing when the waves are good and the weather is nice is one of the finer things in life. That said, it also beats the heck out of most things even when the waves and weather aren’t that good since, as the old surfing adage goes, a bad day’s surf is better than a good day at work!

Hopefully you’re now sure that you can indeed learn to surf at 50 or over. So, all that’s left for you to do is go out and put these things into practise and make it happen!

Remember, YOU CAN DO IT!

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