Hanging Ten at 40

Wrapped in neoprene and balancing a 9-foot surfboard on my head--my arms are too short to hold it any other way--I breathe in a Saturday morning on Hermosa Beach's 6th Street: salt air, Coppertone, someone's scrambled eggs. It's so intoxicating a cocktail that, as I step onto the sand, I promptly forget my husband and two daughters stationed on the beach to witness the Mommy Surfing Event. ("Someday your kids will be 40," reassured my husband, "and I want them to remember their mother started surfing when she was this age.")

My teacher is Ronnie Meistrell, owner of Sea Jane Surf, a Redondo Beach gas station-turned-gals-only-surf shop. Part Lost Boy, part Billy Graham, the 44-year-old Meistrell has devoted his summer to shuttling groups of "girls,"--as he calls them--to nearby South Bay beaches for their surfing baptism. What started out in the spring as a one-weekend grand opening gimmick to take women out for a free surf lesson gradually took over Meistrell's summer; his tally has reached about 350 women so far.

Joining me for today's lesson are Beverly Reyes, a 31-year-old marketing analyst, and Michelle La Montagne, a 44-year-old teacher. We're Meistrell's last converts of the summer. (He's thinking of starting it up again next spring.)

"Once you start to surf, you time your whole life to the beach," observes Reyes' surfer boyfriend, who has come to watch us fall in love with the waves. "You'll never be the same."

At water's edge, Meistrell instructs us to lie belly down on our boards to practice paddling and standing up. "In the movies, you always see them doing this," Meistrell says as he hops on a board and wobbles dramatically. "No Gidget moves. Just lunge, find your center, stand and go with it."

We paddle out. My arms turn heavy but Meistrell does the hard work, divining the ocean swells for how and when each will break. One by one, he shoots each of us into a ripening wave, shouting, "Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!" I do. And suddenly I'm standing up, shooting through the water as if I'm balancing on the hand of God.

"I'm standing up!" I shout, although by now I'm saying this underwater. Resurfacing, I hear Meistrell hooting enthusiastically in the distance.

I stand up half a dozen more times. My husband waves his camera. My kids don't notice.

Later, at the surf shop, we three women exchange business cards. "Call me," says Reyes. "We could go surfing together sometime." I imagine pulling up to my 3-year-old's preschool in a minivan resplendent in board-laden surf racks.

"Yes," I say, mentally canceling my Monday morning meeting.

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