“Want to learn to surf?” we were sitting on the cliffs above Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz and my new boyfriend, Rob, had turned to me with a quizzical expression. The sun was about to set and we had both been gazing in silence at the surfers in the water.
Without knowing, Rob had just tapped into a long held desire that I had harbored since I had been a teenager growing up in San Diego.
“Actually yeah, I’ve always wanted to surf! I tried in high school but back then the surf community wasn’t too welcoming to a girl trying to learn. Then I got married, had kids, a career, and things always seemed to get in the way. Now I’m 53! Is it even possible for an old woman like me to learn this late in life?” I joked, but a part of me really wondered, was it too late?
“Yeah, it’s definitely possible!” Rob said, “You swim a lot, don’t you?” we were just getting to know each other and what I gathered so far was that he was a very athletic, competitive, career military guy and nothing was impossible for him.
“Not a lot, a few times a week…” my voice trailed off as I continued watching the surfers and imagined what it might be like to be in that lineup. Would they shun me as they had back when I was a teenage girl trying to paddle out at Swami’s, the only girl in the water?
“We can do it. I’ll be learning too. You’ll be ok.” Rob said it so decisively and confidently that I believed him. And with that, our adventure began.
Within a couple of weeks, we were steeped in the art of surfing. He had bought me a wetsuit and a couple used surfboards and next thing I knew we were paddling out predawn, several times a week before work and on the weekends. We went mostly to Santa Cruz, even though it was a longer drive than the closer breaks of Pacifica. We had more options in Santa Cruz and the community there is nothing short of fantastic. Rob was disciplined and pushed me to extend beyond my comfort zone, particularly when it came to water temperatures! For a girl who grew up in SoCal, I was surprised to find that I began to enjoy the pre-dawn alarms and the cold water mornings. The spectacular sunrises from the vantage point of a surfboard in the water and the frequent interactions with otters, dolphins and seals (and yes, sometimes even the distant view of a shark fin) only deepened the sense of living our best life.
We got hooked very quickly and started taking as many road trips up and down the coast as possible trying out new beaches and different conditions. Soon, Rob had a full quiver of boards that we both got to try out. I was so grateful to this awesome man who became my surf buddy and did so many things to look out for me, both in and out of the water. Although we were both newbies to the sport, I found that he caught on quicker, had more endurance and could stay in the water a couple hours longer than I could. I admired his ability to navigate the variety of dangers in the wilderness that is the ocean and was inspired to build that kind of fortitude within myself.
We began meeting great people in the water and I noticed that some of them wanted to connect and share their experiences with gear, local breaks and general surf news. The points of discussion that were of primary interest to me, (eg, what breaks were easier for a long boarder, where the crowds were friendly versus territorial, which hair products and sun blocks were better for hair and skin, etc.) tended to be discussed more among the women surfers. So, naturally, I decided to seek out members of my surf tribe!
A couple months later, I found the Bay Ladies Surf Club (BLSC) on Facebook: a wonderful group of San Francisco Bay women from all surf levels and walks of life. I became fast friends with a couple of them right away, a fearless Iranian woman and a friendly South African who became my go to surf mates and friends. The founder of the group was a young woman by the name of Jenn. I met her at a Surfrider Art event in San Francisco and then later during the group’s first weekend road trip to Santa Cruz. Jenn was welcoming, warm, personable and had a magnetic enthusiasm for the ocean! The group of women I met that first road trip weekend were enlivened at the prospect of building a women-centric surf community.
I found the women of the BLSC were innately aware that being in the water is akin to being in the wild and that a certain level of respect and caution is appropriate. Every time I met a new woman in the water, I told her about the BLSC and our membership kept climbing. As my enthusiasm for the club increased, Jenn decided to transfer her administrative role to me as she went on to become a more active rock climber in a different group. I’ve organized some club events: weekend road trips to SoCal, a visit to Santa Cruz shaper David Vernor’s workshop, an educational talk at Traveler Surf Shop in Pacifica with longboard champion and wonderful Julie Cox, attendance at the Inertia Surf and Outdoors Summit in Los Angeles, and like every other BLSC surf mate, always the invitation to paddle out.
Seeing friendly faces in the water and sharing relevant information is what building this community is all about. And sometimes there’s that bonus, euphoric smile you get to see when your surf mate has just caught the best wave of her life!
We all recognize there is a different dimension of reality when we are in the water. It’s strong, pure and beautiful and so damn real that dry land perceptions of reality fade into the background. I think the ocean has something to teach us all. She has taught me that while I am not yet a good surfer, it’s not too late for me to live my best life! Keeping it salty!
- Patti Orozco Cronin
Find Patti’s club on Facebook as Bay Ladies Surf Club