The surprising hobby that’s drawing 70-year-olds to the beach

Boardriding veteran Gwyn Haslock is living proof of this. At 76, she’s the oldest female surfer in Britain (that we know of!) and still hits the waves four times a week in Newquay, the birthplace of British surfing. Riding waves is “sort of standing on air floating past”, she said in her warm Cornish lilt. The same morning before a surf on Towan beach, next to the town’s harbour, she had scoured the hallowed Cornish coastline for the best waves between Porthcothan and Watergate Bay.

Searching for perfect conditions is part of her ritual: “Watching the sun shining on the waves, the colour and the white water, occasionally you’ll see a seal – there’s nothing like it. I could stand and watch the waves all day. It’s lovely.”

Haslock started surfing in 1965, and in 1966 entered the first ever British National Championships as the only female competitor. The activity has become easier in many ways, she says. “Now we have stretchy wetsuits. Years ago we used to wear a woolly jumper in the water to keep us warm, and my first wetsuit was a dive suit. It was really uncomfortable”. 

‘However you catch a wave – that’s surfing’

Surfing might even be better now than when she was younger. “I am slower getting up, if I catch the wave. But I’m enjoying it more now in some ways than I was before. I appreciate it more,” she says. Haslock surfs with grace and elegance and makes standing on a wobbly piece of foam look effortless, but her advice for older surfers is to know what you are capable of.

“As I’ve got older I don’t go out in big waves,” she says. “My ideal wave is 2ft offshore. That’s what I enjoy. You do it within your limitations; as long as you’re enjoying it, it doesn’t matter how big the wave is.” And she’s no puritan. “I still enjoy going out on my belly board, even if you’re riding a rubber ring or a lilo. If you catch a wave, that’s surfing – you still get the same feeling.” I can attest to this, having paddled out in everything from misty seas and snow to bright summer nights and even when there is barely a ripple in the ocean – the release is always the same.

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