Surf women reveal secrets to aging gracefully

Surf women
Age isn’t slowing down Sally Petrie from surfing every day that she can. Photo courtesy of Carly Lorente

Three Australian friends—64-year-old Marg Bryant, 58-year-old Sally Petrie, and 50-year-old Carol Stevenson—all discovered an unexpected side effect of getting older. They had more time.

Talk to the same lot 15 years ago, and they would have been busy sending their kids off to school, working on their careers, and doing laundry. Now with nearly empty nests, these older women in Lennox Head, New South Wales, Australia, found a second youth in surfing together every day they can.

Filmmaker Michelle Shearer documented the trio of friends in her short film "Women Who Ride With the Tides." As a woman of a certain age and a mother, Shearer wanted to show that the line-up is filled with more than the experienced men, boy groms, and young bikini-clad bombshell stereotypes. Michelle Shearer has assisted her husband, surf journalist Steve Shearer, behind the camera for years and says this short is her first “proper” film.

"Living with a surf journalist for a husband means that we are immersed in surf media at home. I was disillusioned by the portrayal of [surfer] women and felt that it had nothing to do with me, even though I am female and surf. [Bryant, Petrie, and Stevenson] bring an atmosphere of ease, generosity, and warmth," says Michelle Shearer of her surf women film subjects. "They smile when they surf. I love that."

Proving that it's never too late to start, their adoption of the surf lifestyle was a late development. In the case of Bryant, she learned to surf when she was 15 years old, but hung up her surf bikini in her 20s when work and family took over. She picked up her board again at 48 years old and has been at it ever since with renewed vigor.

Pictured from left, surf women Carol Stevenson, Marg Bryant, and Sally Petrie after a surf session; photo courtesy of Carly Lorente.
Pictured from left, surf women Carol Stevenson, Marg Bryant, and Sally Petrie after a surf session; photo courtesy of Carly Lorente

"Twenty years ago, surfing was the last thing on my mind," says Bryant, who owns a tea tree business with her husband. "I would never have dreamed I would be surfing again at 64 years old and feel so blessed that I 'discovered' the stoke again. I can't imagine life without a surf every day possible now. I want to surf ’til my body says I can't."

Wisdom came with age for Petrie, who continues to work as a physiotherapist. She started surfing at 43 years old on one of her husband’s surfboards and now rides her third custom-made longboard while wearing a helmet after a broken nose injury. Petrie accepted that she couldn't do it all in life, and didn't have to.

"I was super woman—or thought I had to be a homemaker, wife, mother, businesswoman, nurturer, organizer, and responsible for everyone's happiness," Petrie says. “I breathe, have a fresh look, take time to listen and share, and don’t take all of the weight onto my own shoulders."

Surf women aging gracefully; photo courtesy of Carly Lorente
Surf women aging gracefully; photo courtesy of Carly Lorente

Men or women, young or old, everyone knows the rules of the line-up. But Stevenson says women are generally less selfish and more into sharing waves—classic mom qualities that make ladies the best surf buddies.

"It’s been my experience that women tend to ‘see’ you better in the surf," Stevenson says. "Men sometimes surf as though they have those horse blinker things on. If they can’t see you, they don’t have to share the waves. It can be a beautiful thing to surf with both men and women who are friendly and respectful."

surf women
Photo courtesy of Carly Lorente

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