Surf, love, life – 24 things I’ve learned in 42 years

The other day someone stopped me in the street and asked me directions to some hotel that I’d never heard of and I responded “I’m sorry, I don’t know anything”.  Later on I reflected on what I said and I realised that I do know some things.  I’m 42 years old and I’m sure I can come up with 24 things I know about surfing, love and life.  Also my birthday is coming up – so what better time for some self-indulgent contemplation.

You don’t have to follow my advice, after all the 4 main recurring themes of my 20s and 30s were credit card debt, bad sex, pearling, and Ramen noodles.   I once told someone I loved him on the first date, I still don’t get my back foot in the right place, and one time I went to a party and didn’t speak to a single person, except for when a guy trod on my foot and I said “sorry”.  But here is everything I know…

1) This is the greatest surf tip I have ever come across.  It’s from my favourite surfing book, which I highly recommend, called ‘The Complete Guide to Surfing Your Best Vol 2’.  I’ve never actually caught 100 waves in 1 day, but I agree with the philosophy behind it


My friends and I really took this advice to heart and we started counting all our waves and writing the number on the calendar on the fridge.  I would see them in the lineup and before they’d even said hello they would yell “EIGHT” or on a good day “THIRTY THREE”.  It helped us a lot

2) Whenever you see a guy that you’ve never spoken to and you feel an instant, visceral, animalistic attraction and all you want to do is ogle at his glistening tits as he exits the water and takes his rashguard off, and all you can think about is riding him like a wild rodeo bull – you should straight away run a mile in the opposite direction. Think about this for just a second, and you’ll know I’m right.  If you’re under 35 it’s okay to make this mistake.

3) Every woman should own a pair of ‘gold’ oversized hoop earrings. I refer to mine as my ‘cry for help earrings’

4) Every surf session I try to go for 2 waves that frighten me, where I’m thinking “oh shit, this one’s a bit steep” or “yikes it’s a big one”. Usually these 2 waves are my best ones.

5) Never ever buy someone a plane ticket so that they can come visit you and stay in your house for free for 6 weeks.  I have done this, I have friends who have done this, and it never works out.  One time a friend told me she’d bought a phone for a guy so that they could stay in contact.  He never called her.  Next time I like someone I will give them a stone from my Interesting Stones Collection.

this is a photo of my Interesting Stones Collection

6) Whenever your surfing gets stuck in one of those inevitable ruts, stepping on a skateboard really helps. Just be fine with the fact that you will look like a complete tool in the beginning.

7) Naproxen is great for period pain, I used to swear by ibuprofen but naproxen is much better

8) I think it’s important to know exactly what your alcohol limit is. I know that my exact limit is 2 cocktails from Drift Bar.  If I go beyond that I am in dodgy territory.  I will definitely try to do this move from Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights video…

Kate Bush Red Dress Wuthering Heights GIF-downsized_large

Then I will coerce someone to link up the speaker to my phone and I will play Wham! ‘Young Guns (Go For It!)’ and I will playfully prance around making pistols with my fingers and blowing ‘smoke’ at guys I fancy.  For sure I will say this to a guy, who is looking bleakly into the distance: “You have such a great surf style … I’m a nice person y’know … I’m a fun person … you seem nice … do you like me?”  I will have to send at least one apology text the next morning (as a side note, the last time I went to send a morning after apology text the person had already blocked me across all social media.  I had to salute her for her prompt action).  I will get a text from someone else saying I “went too far this time”.  One time someone even sent me a screenshot of the self-help bestseller ‘The Four Agreements’.  I may vomit into a recycling bin (in my defence, I did go and clean it up the next day).  I may let off a fire extinguisher.

And those are all the reasons why I must never go above my Drift Bar 2 cocktails limit.

9) A really good life tip is to always carry some emergency Wham! on your phone. At the very least I would recommend having the Greatest Hits on there.

10) Life is definitely better with pets. I am a pet pusher. There is scientific research that shows that listening to a cat purr is one of the most mentally healthy and relaxing things the human mind can do.  I’m an introvert so I spend a lot of time at home by myself, but I’m not really by myself because I always have a furry buddy by my side.  And hot news flash!  I am currently fostering this 8 week old kitten and I’m looking for a good home for him in the Santa Teresa area.  His mama died on the road in front of the Super Muralla when he was just a few days old.  I hand raised him with syringes and bottles, so he’s extra affectionate and loves human contact.  His favourite activities are falling asleep on laps, kisses and cuddles, snacks and lots of purring.  Send me a PM on Facebook if you would like to come and meet him.

Where’s my Butler gone?
That’s better







Pet me hooman
I’m bored, this photo shoot is ova







11) Never try to impress a hot guy in the lineup with your surfing. For me this always leads to total failure and humiliation.

12) Whenever I feel like I’m on the verge of a meltdown I tidy my bedroom. I’ve discovered it’s a lot harder to have a meltdown in a tidy bedroom.  Also I change my bed sheets.  I’ve been really stressed out recently because I’m moving continents, job and apartment (all with an adult cat who hates travelling) and I find it helpful to say to myself “let’s create a plan” and I sit down and write down the plan in an A4 journal.  It makes me feel like I’m not just flailing around hopelessly.  Also I find that playing Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ very loudly can help a lot of problems.  A good soup recipe is vital

13) If you ride a shortboard make sure your back foot lands at the back of the tailpad.  Here’s Winston pointing out where the back foot should go on my embarrassingly battered tailpad…


Also using the foot against the tailpad when duckdiving instead of a knee on the deck is life-changing.

14) I know self-help books go on about this ALL THE EFFING TIME, but we have to let go of stuff. I have a scar on the back of my right calf which is a visual reminder to me to let go of shit.  A guy I’d had a crush on for ages invited me to a sunset pool party.  It didn’t sound like a casual invite, and I told myself a stupid little fairytale that he really wanted me there.  I spent the entire day choosing an outfit and waxing, plucking, dyeing, blow-drying, and doing ab crunches and had a quick flick through ‘Ultimate Sex Tips for Women’.  When I arrived he was in the pool talking to another girl, so I got in and swam over to say hi in a manner that I hoped was sexually alluring.  They both barely acknowledged me and then he turned his back against me.  In that moment I felt so small and humiliated and paralyzed by burning shame.  I floated around in that pool for around 30 seconds and then I got out and left the party.  As I was riding home on my motorbike I was a heady mixture of hurt and anger and I accidently drove my bike off the road into the verge and crashed and the exhaust pipe singed my leg.  There were no other cars, or people, or animals involved.  It was just me being a careless fool, upset about something that didn’t matter.  I limped around for a few weeks but everything healed fine and everytime I see that scar it reminds me that we get to choose the things we care about.  Bizarrely I’m now actually good friends with the villain of this piece (who’s not really a villain, he just happened to meet someone else that night that he fancied more); and I’m always riling him about ‘The Incident At The Pool Which Must Never Ever Be Mentioned’, except I mention it all the time.

15) Surf like no one is watching. And the fact of the matter is they probably aren’t.

16) Black out blinds were the best thing I ever bought

17) Sorry this one sounds a bit self-helpy and stating the bleedin’ obvious but most of the time it’s better to just be yourself. One time I was starting a new job and the boss told me she wanted me to be just like Olivia*.  However Olivia would never have an unarranged bank overdraft, she would not chat to a guy in a surf shop and then obsess over him for the next 6 months, she writes ‘to do’ lists but they do not include instructions like ‘take a nap’ and ‘go to Drift Bar’.  Her name is always mentioned when guys have that chat called ‘who are the hottest girls in town’.  Dear reader, it may come as a surprise, but my name is never mentioned in these discussions.  She is very outgoing and popular, whereas I don’t like to have more than 7 friends because it gets a bit too much for me.  Olivia has a dream home with Le Creuset saucepans.  I only ever live in rented accommodation where the toilet is always broken and the fridge does a widdle on the floor.  At that specific time I only had 2 saucepans and they both had broken handles*.  In the time I have known Olivia she has got married to a lovely chap, built a house, produced 2 new human beings, and started a successful business.  In exactly the same amount of time all I have managed to do is buy a new shower curtain.  Anyway – this is the person that I am supposed to mimic!  I did try, but when the boss left town I couldn’t keep up the pretense.  I would love to finish this with … and the clients preferred me just the way I was, The End.  But I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that life suddenly felt a lot easier.

*name changed to protect identity

*I should add that it does get better.  I now own 2 saucepans and 2 frying pans and they all have handles.

18) Zinc is the best sunscreen for surfing. I always use some sort of zinc stick on my face because it stays on much better than lotion, and lotion always stings my eyes.  To get the zinc off rub coconut oil between your palms and then apply to face.  Leave the coconut oil on for 2 minutes and then gently wipe it off with a warm and dampened facecloth.  Your face will feel clean, moisturized and radiant!

19) Give yourself permission sometimes to be a kook, don’t expect to surf well every single time

20) Always back up important documents on the cloud. Google drive has 15 GB for free!  I can’t tell you how much stuff I have lost over the years because I never backed things up.

21) I go through phases where I keep a journal and I rarely look back at them because it’s so cringesome.  In my journal I am extremely melodramatic and whiney.  I’m often bursting at the seams with some sort of emotion, but I’m trying to learn to have better control and waiting for a few days until I react to something.  That’s why journaling is good because I can vomit all my problems onto it and no one gets to see it.  When I look back at them it’s a reminder to me that something can feel really intense and hurtful in the moment, but in a couple of months I probably won’t give two hoots about it.  Here are some examples…

I sound like a fun person at parties
setting my sights high








I have no recollection of this
it’s a great movie line tho’








22) When you are young it can feel like the worst thing in the world to have an eccentric parent, but as you get older you realise it’s actually a beautiful thing. I remember when I was a kid thinking that if there was an Embarrassing Dad Olympics then my dad would surely be a gold medal winner.  When Dad took me and my younger sister to swimming club he would make us put our swimming caps and goggles on whilst we were in the back of the car because we took ages to do it in the changing rooms.  Other motorists would stare at us, thinking who are those eejits?  Then we had to walk across the Beau Sejour Leisure Centre carpark, queue up at reception and walk across the concourse looking like fools.  I knew what shame was from an early age.

We only had four cassette tapes in the family car – the soundtrack to West Side Story, the harpist Mary O’Hara’s ‘Songs of Ireland’, The Beatles ‘Yellow Submarine’ (which is generally regarded as their worst album), and The Four Tops Greatest Hits.  Whenever we gave other kids lifts home I had zero music credibility, and it was all Dad’s fault.  Nowadays Mum always says to me “you’re just like your Dad” and she claims that’s where I get my innate oddness from.  However I think that’s a ludicrous idea and I don’t know what she’s talking about.

23) Try to find someone who looks at you the way Kenny Rogers looks at Dolly Parton in their 1983 hit ‘Islands in the Stream’.  I have included it here for your viewing pleasure.  There’s a bit around the 2’48 mark that gets to me everytime

24) Last one!  With my 43rd birthday coming up I think I am entitled to some self-indulgent reflection. Of course there are lots of things that suck about getting older.  Everytime I go to the optician I need a stronger prescription, the dentist told me last week that I have “receding gums”, and my Spanish speaking massage lady says there’s a lot of “crepitos” in my body.  I don’t know what that word means but is sounds a lot like ‘decrepid’.  The doctor says my left ear canal is narrowing.  But my midriff is expanding and I look like I’ve shoplifted a loaf of bread underneath my rashguard.  On the positive side though I know what my strengths and weaknesses are and this gives me a lot of comfort.  Play me the first 3 seconds of any Top 40 song from 1982 to 1997 and I will name that song.  I know all the arm movements in Madonna’s ‘Vogue’.  I’m really good at spotting what’s wrong with peoples’ surfing.  My bad points are adding up numbers, checking bank statements, and putting duvets into duvet covers.

Another good thing about being middle aged is finding pleasure in the small, everyday things.  I don’t have it all figured out and I sometimes feel a bit lost, but my base level is that I’m pretty content.  It’s not like I’m ecstatically and joyously happy all the time, and it probably doesn’t make a great Instagram feed, but being content feels nice.  This morning I made a list of all the little things that make me happy, here is the shortened version…

Someone letting me out of a difficult parking spot, turning into my street because it has tall trees and is shaded, my Mum’s fruit scones, the sandwich aisle in M&S, a perfectly poached egg, the sound of my washing machine because it means I am getting things straight, prescription sunglasses, surfing with friends, road trips, people posting photos of their newly adopted pets on social media, beefy men in the whitewater learning to pop up, the prospect of Idris Elba becoming the new James Bond, knowing that the BBC is making a new series of Alan Partridge, Caitlin Moran’s Friday and Saturday columns in The Times, Caitlin Moran’s book ‘How to be a Woman’, anything that Caitlin Moran does, Serena Williams’ serve, podcasts, the cat licking my face, going downhill on a gentle slope on my bicycle, half price punnets of blueberries, a funny Twitter thread, the piano at the beginning of Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’, Ravel’s Bolero, the Spice Girls singing ‘Hy Cee Ya hold tight’, Bono’s line in Band Aid 1984, Kate Bosworth catching that huge wave at the end of Blue Crush (I always cry even though I know it’s coming), Susan Boyle’s 1st audition at Britain’s Got Talent 2009, standing in the rain waiting to cross the road and someone adjusting their umbrella so it’s also covering me, a glistening empty lane at the public swimming pool, the passport official at Heathrow Airport saying “Welcome home, Miss”, my older sister saying she’ll pick me up from the airport, my younger sister saying she’ll leave her flat key with the concierge, my dad saying “it won’t keep” and then finishing off a lasagna that would keep in the fridge for a week … and did I mention my mum’s fruit scones?



Congratulations to my friend Mona for going live with her swimwear website  This is what you want to be wearing when you are walking along the beach and you see your ex-boyfriend (who cruelly dumped you last week) and he’s walking towards you and he’s with his new girlfriend and she looks like a Victoria’s Secret model.  And you will walk past them and give them a cheery wave and in your head you’re saying “what a loser – I’m so glad I’m not with him anymore”.

The whole range is made from recycled ocean waste like abandoned fishing nets.  They ship worldwide from the US.  My favourites are the beach bum bottoms in black shell because they have a ‘let’s get burritos afterwards’ kinda vibe.  Also I like the meraki top because that says ‘don’t mess with me dude – not unless you want to see my riff on the Jack Nicholson speech from the courtroom scene of a A Few Good Men’.


NEXT MONTH – What to do when all your friends get married and have kids (hint – it involves going surfing)


  1. Sarah Thomson-Kennedy

    Helen, your writing is so excellent, this made me laugh out loud when you mention your dad – remember Glastonbury when we stayed at Hope House and he insisted on coming in with us!!!! A brilliant piece of writing x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. helenbowditch

      YES!! You have captured the exact essence of my Dad. We were teenagers at our first Glastonbury, eager to meet long-haired louts and take Class B drugs with them – and my Dad wanted to clip our wings. Also I have fond memories of the elderly woman (she was probably at the most 35) at Hope House who gave us the anti-drugs lecture


  2. Ryan in Florida

    Hi Helen.I came here for surfing tips but wound up reading your blog and found it quite amusing and very relatable. I just turned 43. I too have learned a few things in my life and my very short surfing career. Firstly surfing is harder than it looks especially if you are learning when you are old(er). Trying to pick up girls in the lineup when they are paddling for a wave is generally a bad idea. There is an inordinate number of older single guys at most surf breaks….could we all be man children? Surfing over 40 requires recuperation time and pain reliever between sessions. Dating after 40 sucks. And lastly if I’m ever in your part of the world I would love to buy you a drink, I find you fascinating and quite attractive. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. helenbowditch

      thanks Ryan that’s very kind of you. There are certainly a lot of Peter Pans and Tinkerbells here in Costa Rica. I think yoga or some sort of stretching program is important for us surfers over 40. I hated yoga when I first started doing it because I am NOT a naturally flexible person, but I’m getting quite into it now


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