Mid Life Crisis?
"What's wrong with you, think you're a kid again?"
That was my wife's first reaction to my suggestion as to what to do for my 40th Birthday. Then the kids started..."What will my mates say" said one, "Just think what that gut will look like in a wetsuit!" said the other.
I must admit I did have second thoughts but they lasted as long as next pint of confidence giving nectar. The rest of the night was a blur but the next morning I woke and decided I seriously wanted to learn to surf.
This all happened mid way through my 39th year. I had realised my dream of becoming a professional footballer was no longer a realistic option.
I had recently undergone a knee operation which prevented me doing any exercise and given up smoking - all of which contributed to my weight ballooning to an obese 17 1/2 stone.
All of my life I had been involved in active sport but had come to the conclusion that, despite what I had told everyone, my body refused to do what my mind told it to.
So how does a middle aged Fat B with a love of active sport keep busy as the years roll by?
I had tried golf (I had to agree with Mark Twain, Golf is a good walk spoiled), Bowls - I think not, go to the gym - I prefer to be outside, cycling - too many hills in Wales. Surfing?
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't think of one reason why I shouldn't give it a go and that's how the obsession started...
After the family had overcome the initial surprise, they became very supportive (think they were pleased I had a reason to get out of the house) and we booked a weeks holiday in Cornwall.
So April 28th 2002 I squeezed into my first wetsuit, hired from the local surf school and had my first and only lesson.
I didn't manage to stand up that week but knew the sport was the one for me. My first bit of advice is have a few lessons, you need them to understand the basics. Don't forget to ask about surf etiquette, it will save you a lot of grief if you understand the rules early on.
When I returned home I was desperate to try out my new skills in the waters around the Welsh coast so off I went to Llangennith and paid my first visit to PJ's. They are very helpful and always willing to offer advice.
I think all beginners should seek and take the advice of shops like these; they want repeat custom and won't usually give you a bum steer.
I do however find the shops in areas away from the beach aren't always that helpful and sometimes seem more interested in a quick sale than giving good advice.
One of my big concerns was looking and feeling out of place in what I thought was a young persons sport. Boy was I wrong!
There are of course a few grommets around but I would say the majority of surfers are in there 30's with many in the 40's and a few in their 50's.
There aren't however too many with a well cultivated beer gut like mine! Its not a pretty site let me tell you but once in the water, its hardly noticeable.
So after a few trips to Llangennith and hiring suits and boards, I decided to buy my own and this is where I made my first schoolboy error.
I bought a second hand suit, which was fine and board on the advice of an assistant that was totally wrong for me. Imagine a 17 stone bloke on a 6'2" thruster! Needless to say they didn't get my repeat custom.
Trouble was it took me a few months to realise I needed a bigger board and by then the Winter had arrived.
I wouldn't say I'm a warm weather surfer but after six months of frustration (because I wasn't making any progress) I decided to take the Winter off.
I read lots of articles and found 'Off The Lip' that Winter and realised I needed a bigger board or serious liposuction! I decided on a new board.
I have had two boards since then and ended up with a 10' 2" Longboard which is ideal for someone, my weight with limited abilities.
I have attempted to surf most of the beach breaks around West Wales and found that as long as you follow the basic rules, everyone is friendly and helpful.
There are so many people out there all with different abilities that you can always find someone to help you if needed. You do need to be reasonably fit however and a competent swimmer.
It also helps to be a bit resistant to the cold if you plan to surf all year round although thick winter suits are excellent.
Both my kids surf now and I have introduced a few other relatives and no-one has a negative thing to say about the sport.
I think it's just as much about the social side as the sport. There can be no better place to spend a sunny day than at the beach with the family and friends and if you ever need to chill out after a stressful day just get on your board, paddle to an isolated spot and watch the world go by. Works for me.
So if that's a mid life crisis, long may it continue!
Words and Images by Sax