Aging Surfers Find Vitality in the Waves
Author : By JAYMES SONG, Associated Press Writer    -   Subject : Life

    HONOLULU - Kenneth Chun can't paddle as fast or carve the waves the way he once did. But even at 70, he still loves to surf. Wearing a soaking wet baseball cap to protect his partly bald head from the sun, Chun hits the warm, turquoise waters off Waikiki Beach about three times a week. The retired electrical engineer from Honolulu is one of many silver-haired surfers that say the sport keeps them young and sharp physically and mentally.

    "I'm slower now and can't keep up with the younger people, but it's just a lot of fun to ride the waves," said Chun, who has surfed for nearly five decades.

    Even a nasty accident in which the surfboard gashed Chun's head couldn't keep him out of the waters for long. "The next week I went surfing with stitches in my head," he said, pointing to his scar.

    Chun is tan and toned like most surfers old and young. Many say their primary reason for surfing is not the workout, but their love of the ocean, being at one with Mother Nature and the addicting thrill of riding a wave.

    Fitness is "a side benefit," said 57-year-old Susie McGuire of San Diego. "Being in the water is uplifting. It's better than Prozac and beats any antidepressant on the market."

    The petite and energetic McGuire, lugging around a board that seems nearly double her size, has surfed since she was a teenager and says it gives her "spiritual freedom."

    "It's a new canvas every day," she said. "Every ride is different."

    Still there are challenges for older surfers. James Panas, 55, notes that hips and knees can get weaker, which prevents surfers from popping up on their boards as fast and from maneuvering as expertly.

    "Some guys stop surfing because they realize they don't have what they used to," he said. "But I figure whatever you got, just go out and do it. Even if you can't rip like you used to, at least you're enjoying yourself."

    Dr. Bernard Portner, a non-surgical orthopedic specialist in Honolulu, said older people who surf are no more prone to injury than younger wave riders.

    "Older people who surf generally started when they younger," he said. "All those years, those who got injured significantly fall by the wayside. These old guys have survived and they know what they're doing.

    "The surfing and being active in general is preventing them from injuries," Portner said.

    Panas surfs about five days a week before his night shift at a local health food store.

    "It's so magical to me. Even if I don't catch a wave, it's still a great day," he said. "The spirit of the ocean, there's something about it."

    Super-fit Nathan Kapule, a Honolulu firefighter, is less than two years away from turning 50, but looks young enough to get carded at bars. The father of an 8-year-old daughter and 6-year-old triplets has been an avid surfer since childhood.

    He describes the sensation of being in the water "soothing and refreshing." But for his brother-in-law, Bill Clements of Seattle, surfing is a totally different experience.

    "It's challenging and demanding," said Clements, 47, who has run several 100-mile endurance races and started surfing a few years ago. "But that's what I enjoy."

    Surfing works out different muscles than running, he says, such as the shoulders and back.

    The sport also seems to be a necessity for these graying sea warriors.

    "Most people that I know that are older, can't quit," said Steve Funk, a 53-year-old pediatric nurse. "If I don't surf for a week or two, I get grouchy. I start whining. There's something missing."

    For youngsters, watching the older surfers can be inspiring. Fifteen-year-old Keoni Moore always allows his elders to have first dibs on the prime waves. Even though they don't do "any radical moves," there's lots of respect, he said.

    "I see them and say, 'Whoa. That's super cool. I hope I'm like that when I'm older.'"

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