Senior surfers chase 'the stoke'

Longtime surfers who know their way around a wave congregated on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier on Saturday morning for the third annual Senior Surf Invitational.

The 72 riders were greeted with 4- to 6-foot waves for this foggy, yet warm, session. And the best part was the waves were theirs for the day.

"I'm not really into competing. I just like surfing," said Steve Berger, a 63-year-old competitor in the Division 3 category, for ages 60 to 64. "It gives me a chance to get out there on south side with nobody out. That's the main reason I go."

The Huntington Beach resident has competed in all three events in the contest for surfers 50 and older, placing first for the Division 3 category the first year.

The contest has four divisions for men — the highest category is for ages 65 and up — and one for women. Winners are announced for each division, with no overall victor.

Berger has since coaxed his long-time friend Hugh Pierpoint to join the competition.

But it isn't as easy for Pierpoint to enter the event every year as it is for Berger. Pierpoint, 64, lives in New South Wales, Australia, but he made it out last year and again this year.

After placing second in last year's competition, Pierpoint made sure he scheduled his vacation time around the Senior Surf Invitational, but also made sure to sneak in a three-week surfing vacation in Mexico with Berger.

"The incentive to come [to Huntington Beach] was to catch up with Steve and P.T. [local surf icon Pete Townend] and all the other mates I got over here," he said.

Berger and Pierpoint have surfed together for more than 30 years, but Berger has yet to beat his friend in competition.

"I hope I'm not in the same heat as him until the finals," Berger said with a chuckle. "Because otherwise, only one of us is going to surf twice…. But if I ever do beat him, he won't live it down for a while."

Townend said he has known Pierpoint for about 50 years and is glad that such an event exists.

"It keeps old guys like us in the water, keeps us motivated to go out and catch a couple and it gives us annual bragging rights," he said. "And if you don't win, it's not the end of the world, so you try and get in better shape the next year and have another go."

At the end of the day, Pierpoint took second place while Berger placed sixth in Division 3. But regardless of where they finished in the competition, being able to surf at their age is a blessing, Pierpoint said.

And even as he heads into his mid-60s, Pierpoint said he still has the enthusiasm for surfing as he did when he was a teenager.

"It's the stoke, mate. It's all about the stoke," he said. "There's no other way to describe it. It's just the adjective that describes the sport. You're always hoping for that perfect wave."

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