Waves of fun for all ages

If you've always wanted to learn to surf but have never got around to it, don't worry, it's never too late to learn, says Vaya Phrachanh, head instructor at Wollongong's Pines Surf Academy.

Phrachanh has taught people of all ages, from primary school kids to retirees.

"Once you get older, it does get harder trying to use that upper-body strength, but any age is fine," he says.

"The oldest one we had was a 75-year-old German and he went fine. It took him a while to pick it up, but in the end he got up."

As a fitness activity, surfing has a lot to offer to those of us beyond the first flush of youth. It's a full-body workout and it's fun.

"You're out there for two or three hours and you don't even realise that you are exercising because you are having so much fun," Phrachanh says.

At the same time it's something you can ease into; you don't need to be super fit to start and it's not the sort of workout that will leave you in pain for days.

"Your fitness doesn't need to be all that great, but the fitter you are the easier it is for you," Phrachanh says. "We don't take people out and give them a pounding, we only take them out where they are comfortable."

Phrachanh has noticed more people in their 30s and upwards signing up for lessons in the past couple of years.

Some have moved to the Illawarra from parts of Australia not so naturally blessed for surf breaks, others have come here from overseas and want to see what surfing is all about. And there are a fair few who start lessons at the same time as their children.

"They might have done it when they were a teenager and haven't done it since, and suddenly their kids are older and getting into it.

"That gives them the fire in their belly again," Phrachanh says.

For friends Jacki Stone and Rebecca Markey, both 40, it was something they had always wanted to do but had never quite had the time or opportunity. They started lessons in March, coming to North Wollongong Beach once a week for a session together.

"It was something I wanted to try but never quite got around to," Stone says. Markey nods in agreement, adding, "It was always on the to-do list but it is only now, with the kids at school, that we've got around to doing it."

For Stone and Markey surfing is more about fun than fitness, but they appreciate the workout it gives them - along with the time out from their daily lives.

"When you're a mum with a young family you don't get a lot of time to yourself," Markey says.

"When you're surfing, you're not thinking about everything else in your life.

"Mostly you're just focusing on staying above the water."

Jodi Edwards, 45, started surf lessons in March when her children expressed an interest in it.

"I surfed for a while before and then didn't surf for 20 years, then took it up again as something to do with the kids and to get fit and lose weight," she says. "I've lost nearly 30 kilos so I'm very happy."

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