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How Surfing Helped Me Reclaim My Spontaneity

A few years ago, I fell into what I call “an aging depression.” I missed the days of overspending on a pair of shoes I didn’t need, dropping everything for a last-minute trip to Palm Springs, drinking martinis and dancing until 2 a.m. when I had to go to work the next day. I found myself consumed by nostalgia for my younger, more frivolous days.

Women over 40 are expected to be sensible, reliable, dependable, responsible. I embraced this role in capital letters: I was a good wife and a better mother. I was a Girl Scouts leader and a homeroom mom. I paid the bills on time, cooked healthy meals, even made gift jars of homemade pesto replete with gingham bows and handwritten labels.

Yet when my son was 16 and my husband had long flown the coop for a younger woman, I thought, What has become of my life? Where is the me who is adventurous, impulsive, and inspired?


When my son was 16 and my husband had long flown the coop for a younger woman, I thought, What has become of my life? Where is the me who is adventurous, impulsive, and inspired?


Bogged down by the duties that accompany age and parenting, and caught between what I should do and what I wanted to do, I chose the latter. Depression would not stop the clock, I reasoned, and so I sold my defunct engagement ring, grabbed my temperamental teenage son, and set off for Costa Rica to surf. Never mind that single-mom money worries had taken up the side of the bed where my husband used to sleep. Never mind that I didn’t like the way I look in a swimsuit. Never mind that I didn’t know how to surf.

It took only a few strokes on my keyboard, a few hours on a plane, and two hours in a car to arrive at a tiny, halcyon town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica not yet smudged by development. Nosara has very little litter and little crime, save for the occasional sandals stolen from the beach, a nuisance experienced by most first-time visitors. I saw one cigarette smoker, one cigarette butt, and few clothes. Often called, “No shoes, no shirt, Nosara,” it is a place to lounge half naked, visit with strangers, and drink tropical drinks from sugar-rimmed glasses. In other words, it’s a place to be carefree.

I applied copious amounts of sunscreen to my snow-white body. We rented surfboards. I rented a surf instructor. And off we went. My son surfed “the outside,” in the big waves, while I flailed and failed on “the inside,” in the whitewash.


 I was terrified, taking in mouthfuls of water, smashed by waves from every direction. I feared I would drown. I didn’t feel adventurous. I felt old and dumb.


I couldn’t catch a wave. I couldn’t stand up. I was terrified, taking in mouthfuls of water, smashed by waves from every direction. I feared I would drown. I didn’t feel adventurous. I felt old and dumb. That night my body throbbed. My skin stung from sunburn. And my neck was so stiff I couldn’t turn my head. I can’t do this, I thought. I watched my son sleeping in the bed next to mine. That made me happy. I made him, I thought. I am raising him alone. If I can do that, I can do anything.

The next day, I wasn’t as afraid. My body didn’t hurt as much. The third day I was excited to hit the water, and my body didn’t hurt at all. And by the end of the week, I caught a wave. I stood up on my surfboard and rode it all the way in. I was as brown as a berry. I was strong and beautiful. In one devil-may-care week, I’d peeled away my clothes and the weight of the sensible me. I felt alive, light, and joyfully irresponsible!

My son and I left Costa Rica in silence. We left changed people. My son seemed less moody, and I’d reclaimed my right to be spontaneous. I knew in my heart that I would once again dance until 2, buy a pair of shoes I didn’t need and could not afford, and that somehow my son and I would adventure together again.

I don’t know where we’ll go. I don’t know how I’ll pay for it. But I will find a way.

Photo: Kelli Hayden / Kelli Bee Photography

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