I recently turned 40. I must admit I did not approach this birthday by prancing around the house singing ‘I am H-A-P-P-Y’. After all, 40 sounds significantly older than 39, and it’s generally considered the start of middle age. But like most things in life the anticipation is much worse than the reality. I actually feel very content to be 40, but sometimes I do find myself in a no man’s land caught between young and old…
For instance, I can still surf a 3 hour session, but I need a 45 minute nap immediately afterwards. I wear Topshop and Forever 21 and denim cut offs, but I also like big knickers and a decent raincoat. I listen to Taylor Swift and I dance to Beyonce, but sometimes my knees make a funny noise. I don’t need incontinence pads, but I can’t get on a trampoline with a full bladder. I like beers at sunset and fresh lime margaritas, but I also like tea from a teapot and going to Book Club. I want to surf Pavones, Popoyo and Uluwatu, but I need to be in bed by 9.30pm. I love dawn patrol, but some mornings it’s nice just to potter around at home in my slippers.
I’ve swam and ran and jumped and hit balls since I was four years old. I feel lucky and grateful that my parents encouraged me and exposed me to lots of different sports and activities from a young age. Being active is so intrinsic to who I am, so of course on reaching the milestone of 40 I’ve done some reflecting on how I can stay active for another 40 years. Surfing, in particular, often feels like a sport which values youth very highly. So here are my thoughts on the pursuit of surfing radness after 40….
In my twenties I could just do a few arm circles and shoulder rolls and then launch myself into whatever activity it was. These days when I wake up in the morning my body feels like the Tin man in the Wizard of Oz. My shoulders in particular feel like they’ve been to a concrete factory overnight. I think I am reaching the point where it is non-negotiable, my body is saying that if I want to continue surfing then I have to give it a bit of yoga tlc. I really like this yoga video on YouTube by Kino McGregor and I’m trying to do the sun salutations part every morning. It takes less than 12 minutes and it makes a big difference. Kino has the air of a no-nonsense schoolmistress, but the fast, upbeat pace is what makes it appealing to me…
I also have the David Swenson yoga CD on my ipod and sometimes I mix it up and do that. David Swenson sounds like a kindly grandfather. There’s also a very nice lady on YouTube called Esther and I try to do one of her free videos fortnightly-ish. Her YouTube channel is called Ekhartyoga
If you’ve been blowing out the candles since 1976 or before, then the news about diet is a bit grim. Our metabolism is apparently grinding to a halt and even looking at a custard cream will send us to fatsville. But we are surfers, so the usual stuff doesn’t fully apply to us. So my advice is to try to eat lots of fruit and vegetables, but don’t deny yourself the occasional slice of pie, or lasagna with truffle oil, scones with thick golden curls of butter, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, and hot chocolate with marshmallows. My personal rule on salads is that they must include at least one ‘fun’ ingredient, such as gorgonzola cheese. Women over forty look better if they’re a bit tubby, not gaunt and emaciated. Also we surf better because we can get a bit of weight behind our power paddles. If you are lushly thighed like Beyonce you can really carve out those bottom turns. Large breasts are like two hot water bottles which will keep you warm and cozy in cold water. When you’re paddling like crazy to get into a wave, a pair of large breasts slammed on the nose of the board at the last second can really tip the balance in your favour. An engaged big bootie can add a bit of horsepower to your pop up.
One change I have made to my diet this year is adding protein powder to my smoothies. I use this one from Alfa
It has 25 grams of protein per scoop. The RDA of protein for women aged between 19 and 70 is 46 grams per day. However current research shows that this figure may not be adequate as we age. Some experts recommend an intake of up to 90 grams of protein per day for older adults to maintain muscle mass.
Unfortunately I’m not quite so upbeat on this subject. The other day I had 3 cans of beer at sunset and the next day my poor noggin hurt so much that I found myself googling the words ‘brain tumour symptoms’. My 40-year-old cells can’t cope with alcohol the way they used to. On the rare occasion when I’ve mixed drinks I’ve felt like I’ve been poisoned the next day. Nowadays my drink of choice is either wine or tequila on the rocks with lots of fresh lime. A friend of mine (and she is Scottish) swears by milk thistle tablets which she takes before and after a night out. Apparently milk thistle can protect the liver from damage onslaught. I am yet to try it.
There is however a positive side to all this – at least it’s cheaper. After 2 glasses of pinot grigio I am buzzing. I don’t dance on podiums wearing a gold boob tube (well not this weekend anyway) but I can have a really good time and it doesn’t cost more than six pounds.
- Weight training
Fitness magazines and websites always stress the importance of weight training after 40 because of the rate we’re losing muscle mass and bone density. Women in gyms usually tend to gravitate towards the cardio equipment because, let’s be honest, we think they burn more calories and we don’t want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The reality is that it’s very difficult for women to bulk up, and the strongest are also usually the leanest. There is a small gym where I live and I went once about 6 years ago. A porn movie was being played, and when I left someone asked me if I wanted to buy some steroids. I reached the conclusion that it was not very ‘women-friendly’.
So I bought a TRX which is a piece of equipment which uses the body weight to build strength. It was expensive, but so worth it. I particularly like it for the core exercises. Belly flab often becomes an issue for women over 40 because of hormonal changes. I’m not a fan of sit ups or crunches because they can strain the back and neck. A 5 minute core workout with the TRX makes me feel like I’ve been kicked in the guts, but in a good way.
- The power of Posture
I do a lot of work on a laptop (although ‘work’ is a loose term and encompasses fannying about on the Topshop website and Twitter) and I started to notice that my posture resembled those Indian shoes that are curled up at the toes. I’ve made some changes to stop me becoming a stooped crone. I bought a decent chair and this lavolta laptop riser from Amazon.
It cost less than twenty pounds and it’s an easy way to make sure the top of your screen is level with the eyes. I also use a separate mouse and keyboard. The Occupational Therapist at my old workplace would be very proud.
- Pointbreaks and surfboard volume
I must admit that as I get older I do love pointbreaks more. When I’m paddling out at the beach and I’ve been stuck in the same spot for ages and there are endless lines of whitewater for me to duckdive, well I get a bit peeved. It’s lovely to have a pointbreak with a beautiful channel to paddle out in. I’m also not to proud to admit that I want a board with more volume in it. After all, even the pros are adding more volume to their boards these days. My basic rule is that if a board is difficult for me to duckdive, well that means it’s a good board for me. Boards like the Rusty Dwart, the Channel Island Average Joe and the Hypto Krypto are wave catching beasts.
These days sleep is my favourite hobby, and surfing comes second. I’ve spent long periods of my adult life being a nervy insomniac, but in the last couple of years it’s got a lot better. My crow’s feet are increasing, but so is my ability to not give a flying f**k and worry less. If ever I’m stressed out about something I take these natural calm powders before going to bed and they put me in a relaxed mood. They are also really good for muscle soreness
The ‘Kava Stress Relief’ teas by Yogi Teas are another good way to encourage a good night’s sleep, and it’s hard not to love the inspirational quotes. A good eyemask is a must, especially in tropical places where the light starts streaming into rooms at 5.30am. I bought my eyemask from Brookstone in the US and it is the Rolls Royce of eyemasks. If my house was on fire I would grab my cat, my surfboard and my Brookstone eyemask.
If ever my sleeping is really bad I take a Tylenol PM or a Benadryl (they have the same active ingredient, Diphenhydramine) and that completely knocks me out, but I feel a bit groggy when I eventually wake up. A sunset surf is the best way to beat insomnia, but it’s not always possible because of a pesky thing called ‘work’.
- Be smarter
I think women surfers generally need to be a bit more intuitive and observant than our male counterparts because usually we don’t have as much beefy brawn as them. I used to think that getting better at surfing was just about trial and error, if at first you don’t succeed then try 17,345 times. But now I try to think more about technique and body mechanics. Getting good is about making the right shape with your body at the right time. I’ve also learnt to relax more. When I am nervous I surf like a total numpty. At least if I am calm I can give it my best shot.
My English teacher at school always used to say that we had to end our essays with a ‘conclusion’. So my conclusion is that middle age and surfing is going to be fab. We can glide on longboards, and we can aim for the lip on shortboards. We are in the middle, we are in between young and old, we can choose either side, we can be both. We can make soup and listen to BBC Radio 4, and we can dance on podiums and flash our knickers.