There is no doubt about it; the lineup is shifting. Sitting out the back, you are less inclined to be the only female out there. More women are surfing than ever before. What’s even more interesting is that many of us are starting to surf later in life. Data shows there is a pulse increase in the number of women commencing surfing in their 40s and even 50s.
The thing is, if you start surfing later in life, you can experience unique challenges that you would not have faced as a teenager or young adult. That’s because our bodies fluctuate significantly across our lifespans, and it can be particularly tricky for women between 45 and 55 years old.
This age bracket typically goes through perimenopause (when the ovaries start producing less estrogen) and the onset of menopause. While this stage is one of the most significant periods of fluctuation within a female’s life, there are advantages to beginning surfing at this age.
This is a great time to get to know yourself better and use this knowledge to optimize your surfing and surf training.
So how to start or keep surfing in your 40s or 50s? What should you watch out for, what are the benefits, and how do you bulletproof yourself against injury to prolong your surfing journey? Simply follow this 5-step process, which will help you surf better during perimenopausal and menopausal life phases.
Step #1: Know yourself
It is super important for women to understand their hormone cycles. I always start here when working with a female surfer, regardless of menstruation age, board length, or level of surfing. Understanding your cycle helps you see your unique rhythm and how it impacts your performance, both positively and negatively.
During perimenopause and menopause, women begin to experience a reduction in estrogen. This sex hormone plays a crucial role for women. It helps protect our nervous systems, fortifies our muscles’ response to exercise, regulates body temperature and weight, and keeps our bones healthy.
The journey from perimenopause to menopause is a particularly confusing time for women. We can experience adult acne, sudden onset of hormonal headaches, sleep disruption, increased severity of premenstrual symptoms, unexpected gains in body weight and an increased incidence of depressive symptoms.
If you are in your 40s and observing any of these symptoms, don’t worry. Your body is changing, and you may feel like a completely different person. This is a great time to get to know yourself better. So give yourself a hug and use this knowledge to optimize your surfing and surf training to suit this life phase.
Step #2: Become your own cheerleader
As women, we can certainly be hard on ourselves. And learning to be our own cheerleaders can be difficult. By the time you reach your 40s, though, this is something you might have become better at. You also begin to understand why some days you feel a little off in the surf, why you are more anxious or even more pissed-off in the lineup. This is all because your sex hormones impacting our surfing.
Knowing your hormonal cycle helps you to understand why your surfing can feel different at times. If you’re not surfing well, there’s likely more going on than a bad performance day. Once you understand these gender-specific issues, your response will be different. It will come from a place of self-understanding and appreciation rather than self-depreciation.
Step #3: Take action
Once you have the knowledge, the next step is to take targeted action. Below, we listed some common physical challenges that female surfers face in their 40s, 50s or even 60s, along with specific action tips for your surf training.
Paddle power to get onto waves
By the age of 45, most women will have lost at least 4% of their muscle mass. Most of that loss will be from our fast-twitch muscle fibres. The good news is that we can have a positive training effect at any age. In other words, if you train your fast-twitch muscle fibres, you will see a training adaptation. Explosive paddle efforts in the water can be a fun and specific way to train your paddle power.
I often set myself a goal of 8 explosive paddle strokes out of every 20, back to the lineup. Explosive and strength-based land training can also help, with repetitions, sets, weight and rest periods geared towards increasing muscle size and fast-twitch fibres. You will need to be consistent with this, but the work you do now can offset further muscle loss as you age.
It is also important to train smart. As women, we can access more power by using our whole body and big muscle chains much more efficiently. Achieving this requires smarter strength training and the help of a good exercise trainer or physiologist.
Strength, particularly for pop-up and duck diving
As women, we start with smaller shoulder mass. By the age of 45, we also do less overhead activity, meaning we don’t use our shoulders as much and lose mass. Frozen shoulders are common amongst females within this age group, along with all sorts of neck and shoulder concerns.
Instead of just hitting the floor and pumping out push-ups, consider the quality of that movement and focus on the shoulder blades.
It is easy enough to suggest push up exercises for popping up and duck diving. However, I rarely see women (or men for that matter) working well mechanically in their upper bodies. What does this mean? It means that I would begin with the bony framework on which your muscles must work. I always explain to my clients, “Do you want shoulder strength? Well, you need good shoulder positioning, and your shoulder blades need to be gliding along that rib cage”.
Shoulder blade stability is essential to distribute load and power up your push capacity. So instead of just hitting the floor and pumping out push-ups, consider the quality of that movement and focus on the shoulder blades. Are they gliding and moving around the rib cage as you slowly lower? Can you feel them engage and wrap around the rib cage again as you press back up? Form first – grade your push-ups from good quality movement and then aim for 10-12 repetitions, working your way up to three sets. If you have a history of shoulder injuries or shoulder pain, have an assessment first.
Hip mobility, particularly for pop-up
Several things can happen here by the time you reach your 40s. Firstly, our muscles begin to stiffen, which is not a women-only issue. However, what I do see with females, particularly in this age group, is a lack of pelvis stability and adaptability, which then restricts hips’ mobility.
During the lengthening phase of a movement, exercises that load the buttocks muscles are great for pelvis stability and hip mobility, particularly in relation to the pop-up. Think about the lowering phase of a squat or sitting down – this movement is like a bottom turn. The trick is to keep your lower back and pelvis stable and allow movement from the hips.
Several changes can be happening within your body that can impact your fitness during this life phase. How your body converts energy from food changes. Lower estrogen can reduce motivation for exercise. Fatigue can set in. Your body composition and fat mass begin to be distributed differently. And your cardiovascular response to exercise becomes less excitable, less responsive. “Ugh” can be the overall feeling during this life phase, with a sense of slowing down.
The best thing about surfing is that it’s fun, so it doesn’t feel like exercise. Use this to your advantage.
As I said above, we can have a positive training effect at any age. So, keep surfing! The best thing about surfing is that it’s fun, so it doesn’t feel like exercise. Use this to your advantage. Surfing with friends can also boost the fun factor and motivation.
You can bump up your fitness training with goals around the number of waves you want in a session (it’s amazing how this makes you paddle back out a lot faster). You can also add short burst paddle sprint efforts during your surf, with increased paddle efforts for 20 paddle pulls, for example. Your surf session then becomes targeted interval training.
Step #4: Cross-train
While surfing has you working against gravity when standing on the board, it is not a strong weight-bearing sport in terms of additional ground reaction force. Therefore, it may not bulletproof you against bone mineral density loss and osteoporosis.
Keep this in mind and include some cross-training in your life. The body lays down more tissue in response to stress, so you want to stress your bones in a good way. Walking, running, dancing, tennis, or hiking regularly will do this, along with strength training and lifting weights.
Step #5: Congratulate yourself
The fact that you are participating in regular activity at this age reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes later in life. Both conditions increase their prevalence for females following menopause, because of changes to the vascular system and how women process carbohydrates.
This can contribute to reducing your risk of anxiety and depression, which can occur with loss of estrogen and hormone fluctuations.
You are also increasing your vitamin D intake and feel-good hormones. This can contribute to reducing your risk of mental illness and symptoms of anxiety and depression, which can occur with loss of estrogen and hormone fluctuations during this life phase.
Surfing is a wonderful thing. There is no better playground for freedom, adventure, joy, playfulness, empowerment, and the opportunity to be wild. Embrace the nature of the sea and, in the same way, embrace your journey as a woman. The ocean will always be there and surfing an option, no matter your age.
Want to learn more about how to manage surfing in your 40’s, 50’s or even older? You can book an individual consultation with Candice Land from The Female Surfer, whether in-person or online. To get 15% off, use the promo code JOYCE15 valid across all of her services.