Playing into old age will require some hard work

WESTPORT - Surfing has a reputation as a slacker sport, but paddling through beefy waves, paddling to catch waves and then managing to pop to your feet and steer a surfboard demands fitness and energy.

I was reminded of all of this last week as I paddled like a maniac to push my 9-foot-long surfboard over a 4-foot swell that was about to become a breaking wave.

Paddlers who don't make it over the swell get the kind of ride no surfer likes. The wave flips you backward into a churning mass of saltwater. It's feels like you're trapped in a giant washing machine.

If you do make it over the swell, you sit up on your board and bob up and down on the incoming swells. You're supposed to be looking for a good wave. I found myself passing up decent waves because I needed to rest.

I did catch some nice waves - despite a strong afternoon onshore wind that cooled off the beach and messed up the swell. One wave gave me about 20 seconds of pure, weightless bliss.

I ski and snowboard and run my driftboat through rapids, but the feeling of power and speed while riding a surfboard on a wave is intoxicating. Sometimes you feel as though you'll fly right off the wave and into the clouds.

My whole body glowed after that ride, even though I swallowed a sip of saltwater when the wave broke in front of my board and knocked me into the water.

But I wasn't paddling as well and as strongly as I should.

Now, I'm in pretty good shape - I work out and swim several times a week - but I wasn't in good surfing shape. My shoulders and the backs of my arms felt rubbery. The small of my back felt tight - like a rubber band that has been left out in the sun and then stretched.

Surfers keep their backs arched when they paddle - to be able to see those waves and have a stronger stroke with our arms. The problem is, you have to paddle a lot to keep those back muscles, arm muscles and shoulder muscles strong and loose.

I bounced around in those messy waves for about three hours, and I was wiped out on the drive home. I knew I had to do something.

But I can't go surfing every day - until I retire, anyway.

But I want to keep surfing well into retirement age. I want to keep surfing with my daughter, who is 17 and beams with joy every second she's on her surfboard.

I wanna be an old surfer.

Old surfers just keep buying longer boards, which is why I'm riding a nine-foot longboard these days. It's a lot easier to catch a wave on a longboard.

But old surfers also have to stay in surfing shape. How could I do this 70 miles from the nearest wave?

I got the answer in an unexpected place.

I found myself standing at the finish line of the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic on Saturday afternoon for a story. I've ridden the 204 miles of Seattle to Portland a few times - in two days - but it was amazing to see the lean, fit bodies of most of the one-day riders.

And get this: Most of the elite, one-day riders - crazed cyclists who relish riding 204 miles in one day - were middle-aged people. Some of the top finishers were in their 20s, but most were in their late 30s to early 50s.

I asked one rider - in his 50s - what made him crazy enough to ride so much and so far.

"I like how it makes me feel," he said.

At that very moment, I realized I had to do whatever it takes to keep surfing into my 70s and 80s. I want to be an active surfer, snowboarder, skier, angler and hiker until I die. I might slow down, but I don't want to stop.

So, I strapped my surfboard to the car early Monday morning, and drove to that little lake near my home. No motorboats are allowed on this lake, which makes it safe for paddling a surfboard.

I pulled myself into a wetsuit, got on my board and paddled the half-mile to the end of the lake - and then back to the launch ramp. The round-trip took about 30 minutes.

When I got back to the launch ramp, two anglers launching a boat stared at me.

I looked like a goofball - or maybe some black, slimy lake monster.

"Well, the surfing is terrible, but the fishing is pretty good," I said.

We all laughed.

I'll paddle that lake at least three times a week for the next few months. My arms and back feel a little sore right now, but it's that good, slightly crazy kind of sore.

Chester Allen's Outdoors column appears Tuesdays in The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-4226 or callen@theolympian.com.