Most busy women grab personal time whenever and however they can, a pedicure here or 30 minutes at the gym there. But recently, some have started to leave their earthly concerns—like, say, their kids and jobs—behind by doing something more adventurous: grabbing their boards, heading to the beach and paddling toward the horizon.
In search of a release and a sense of liberation from their ordinary routines, more women over 30 are taking up surfing. And the fact that the gear is incredibly cool doesn’t hurt. “I have a racerback wetsuit, and I see these young girls on their boards and I look hotter than them,” says Lauran Walk, 42, who lives in Tribeca with her husband, Charlie, a music executive, and their four children, ages 6 to 13. She took her first lesson five years ago. “The minute that I got up on a board, I fell in love,” she says. “It made me feel young and free and like nothing else mattered.”
Leilani Bishop, 36, an Amagansett, New York, model and creator of a fragrance line, and mother to a 10-year-old son, agrees. She loves how surfing makes her feel an ocean away from her daily responsibilities. “It’s like stepping out of reality and into a lifestyle that doesn’t have deadlines and conference calls,” she says.
More than many other sports, surfing demands your complete attention, “and that’s satisfying to a lot of people,” says Tony Caramanico, an instructor based in Montauk. “They can forget about all the bullshit. All they’re thinking about is coming to the surface or the feeling of actually riding a wave.”
And while it’s true that surfing is not an easy activity to take up when you’re older, that difficulty is yet another lure. Caramanico says the sport’s rough-and-tumble nature—you wipe out more than you stand; you get pummeled and tossed around by the waves—is why so many of his female clients are drawn to it. “It’s a new challenge that’s not as sterile as going to the gym or playing tennis or golf,” he explains. “A lot of women who excel in different fields want to pursue surfing and work through it, even though the ocean will kick their ass.”
But the satisfactions of surfing are more than mental. The sport tones the entire body, but paddling especially works the core, forearms, back and chest. Andrea Shapiro, a 45-year-old artist and DJ based in Los Angeles, says that after she started surfing, she dropped the gym. “I haven’t been in eight years,” she declares, “and I feel better than ever.”
Walk is planning to go on a surf retreat this year, to celebrate a group of her girlfriends turning 40. This summer, she wants to ride the waves as often as possible. “My kids can’t find me when I’m on that board,” she says, laughing. “There’s no phone.”