I wasn’t even a good swimmer! I hit the waves at 50 and learnt to surf

Brenda Hare takes to the sea and overcomes her fear of waves, wetsuits and wipeouts

Brenda Hare loves looking at the sea but until recently was been less keen on getting immersed in it. When her best friend Julie bought her a surf lesson for her birthday, she was excited about the prospect but doubt soon set in.

“Both my daughters love surfing,” says Brenda, “but I had a number of worries – including a strong fear of looking ridiculous in a wetsuit, feeling cold in the open water, and being self-conscious of people watching me learning to surf.

Despite some reservations, on a misty day in September, at Bigbury-on-Sea on the south Devon coast Brenda took to the waves.

“Just carrying the enormous surf board to the water’s edge was a mission, and as I got closer, the sea looked a bit wild!” describes Brenda. “I could hear shrieks of delight coming from the waves but the first half of my lesson was spent on dry land, attempting to jump up on the board in one smooth motion.”

Trying a surf school in Devon

Discovery Surf School’s instructor was enthusiastic and encouraging, and Brenda relaxed into it once she saw everyone else was wearing wetsuits, and completely absorbed in their own lives.

“With my wetsuit-clad bum up in the air trying to look elegant, I eventually mastered ‘popping up’ on the beach. The next challenge was to catch a wave. That’s when the fun really began!”

Learn to surf Devon 50 Firsts Travel Fitness 620
Brenda braves the cold and the waves and loves it!

To start with, the instructor held Brenda’s surfboard and launched her into the surf to make sure she caught a wave at just the right moment.

“It was quite terrifying initially, but after three or four launches I managed to kneel on the board, and within just one hour of surfing I managed to stand up twice whilst speeding through the white water.”

Despite a few dramatic wipeouts, she loved it. “I’m proud to have done it for many reasons – from overcoming my fear of looking like an idiot, to getting into a wetsuit for the first time in my life!”

She’d definitely recommend surf lessons to others. “Just make sure you go with a patient, qualified instructor – it made all the difference to my experience,” she advises.

Brenda’s muscles hurt for two weeks afterwards: “a delicious kind of aching you only feel when you’ve pushed your body to its limit and achieved something out of the ordinary.”

The power of the paddle board 

It wasn’t easy though, and she’s now keen to have a go at bodyboarding (surfing without standing up) and stand-up paddle boarding (surfing without the waves).

“I loved getting back into the ocean – I hadn’t been in the sea for about ten years in this country,” she says. “And when I first moved to Devon aged seven, Bigbury was the first beach my parents ever brought me to, so it’s an incredibly special place to me personally.”

Surfing also gave Brenda something she didn’t expect. “I got enormous joy from viewing this stunning seascape from the waves – it gave me a completely new perspective – and it was very powerful to really feel and acknowledge the power of the ocean.