Surfing as a Senior, Where in Washington, and 'Other Tidbits'

March 29, 2024 at 10:26 a.m.
Steve Warner (right) with his surfing buddy, Ralph
Steve Warner (right) with his surfing buddy, Ralph

Northwest Prime Time contributor Ralph Warner's name came up through one of our past WHERE IN WASHINGTON winners, Lauralyn of Kenmore. The March contest featured four Washington state lighthouses. It was the first time we ever had a contest offering four chances to enter the $100 prize. When Lauralyn submitted her four correct answers, she added a "Bonus Tidbit." She emailed me: "Northwest Prime Time author Ralph Warner and his wife go surfing not too far from Lighthouse #1," otherwise known as the North Head Lighthouse. 

Ralph Warner and his wife Marta with the North Head Lighthouse in the background


When I asked Ralph if he happened to have any photos of him surfing, this was his reply: 

"At the age of 73, I don't surf nearly as much as I used to. There was one period of time when I managed to catch a few waves 162 days out of the year. I'm much more picky about surf conditions now... Most of my essays have been about running, but attached is one about surfing written in 1992." 

You can read Ralph's "surfin" essay below, but first check out this photo of him in 2022 when he did a New Year's Day plunge in the ocean with the Pacific County Surf and Rescue crew. 

Ralph Warner in 2022 with the Pacific County Surf Rescue crew for a New Year's Day plunge in the ocean. He tells us, "I'm the guy with the hat at the far right of the photo."


 SURFIN' U.S.A. Ralph D. Warner

I've been known to scorn certain running magazines for carrying articles on biking and swimming in what is supposed to be a publication devoted to runners; however, I now find myself guilty of the same thing since I'm going to write about a cross training exercise which is a perfect cure for those summertime blues and wintertime blahs. In fact, my running has definitely taken a back seat to this alternative exercise during warm and not so warm weather. That's right dude, Surf's up! and it's time to get tubular.

Running and surfing actually have a great deal in common; unlike mind numbing activities such as baseball, basketball, football and so on, running is essentially a one-person sport. The same is also true for surfing, especially here on the Peninsula where there are still not all that many water hounds. Runners and surfers both tend to be semi-crazed and don't mind spending time alone, whether in pursuit of speed and fitness or in search of the perfect wave. Possibly one of the reasons more runners don't use surfing as a cross training exercise is simply because the beach isn't easily accessible to everyone.

Like running, surfing can quickly turn into an addiction of sorts; surfers and runners sometimes become so obsessed by their sports that they will often try to convert friends and family to their seemingly aimless lifestyles. Using specialized lingo and tooling around in beat-up station wagons or vans held together with duct tape and decals displaying bizarre messages ('Eddie Went', 'Ripcurl', 'Hotline', etc.), surf junkies can easily be identified by their scruffy appearance and glazed, bloodshot eyes caused by hours of scanning the horizon for just the right swell.

Surfers are usually thought of as people who stand up on a surfboard, but a surfer is anyone who rides waves. Whether body surfing, using an air mattress or a body board the principle is the same; paddle into the wave under your own power until you hit the "sweet spot" and find yourself hurtling landward with the full power of the ocean surrounding your body. Since I lack the coordination required to ride a surfboard with any skill or safety, my preference is for a body board or, as it's more commonly known, a Boogie Board. In the 1970s, Tom Morey revolutionized the sport of surfing by inventing the 'Morey' Boogie Board, a short thick chunk of foam and polyurethane allowing the average person to enjoy wave riding in relative safety.

Over 20 years later, body boarding has gained a dedicated following with a whole pro circuit of men and women who travel to and compete in many of the same events as stand-up riders. The beauty of boogie boarding is that nearly anyone can do it while skill and practice make a whole range of incredible stunts possible, many of them borrowed from and brought to the sport by skate boarders. That's one of the great things about where we live, it's possible to skateboard or surf in the morning then take off for the Cascades for some snowboarding in the afternoon.

Basic body boarding equipment is relatively cheap when compared to many other pastimes, although as in running, there are all sorts of accessories and gadgets to keep the pocketbook empty and the surf shop owners happy. A decent body board costs anywhere from $89 and up depending on the name brand; I would say that for about $130 you can buy a board that will last many seasons, since they tend to be almost indestructible. Because the Pacific Ocean can be quite cold in the Northwest a wet suit is the most important, and also the most expensive item required for safe and sane fun. Suits come in different thicknesses depending on the warmth required; however, I recommend at least a 4/3 millimeter suit - 4 mm in the torso and 3 mm in the arms and legs. Since I spend a lot of time in the water I generally wear a 5/4, but this can be a bit warm during the summer months so sometimes I wear a 3/2. This is one area where you don't want to go cheap; right now the Hotline Ultra Hot Combo Millennium zip front suit is probably the best suit on the market and costs around $319.

Other gear includes booties (soft soled are best since they must fit in a fin), gloves (not necessary, but sometimes wanted), and fins. There are many different styles of fins, so try them on with your booties, talk to the surf shop sales people, and get some advice from anyone you know who body boards. My favorite fin is the Churchill Slasher because it has an extremely comfortable fin pocket. Cleanline Surf, with shops in Warrenton, Seaside, and Cannon Beach, Oregon rents all the equipment you need for $35 a day and also carries used boards and wet suits. They will also provide advice on the best spots to go and on surfing etiquette (yes, in crowded waters there are 'rules of the road').

By exercising reasonable caution, surfing is no more dangerous than running and may even be safer; rather than erratic drivers, rabid dogs, and nasty people the surfer must watch for dangerous currents, debris in the water, sharks, and spine snapping waves. Statistically, shark attack is pretty low on the danger list, but unfortunately can't be ruled out completely. Unconfirmed rumor has it that no surfer has ever been attacked north of the mouth of the Columbia River, possibly because there are so few of us; however, I know of at least 2 instances in the Seaside area in the 13 years I've lived here. If you're unfamiliar with the sport, it's best to find someone fairly experienced to show you the ropes.

After a long run or hard race a surfing session is ideal for loosening tight muscles and easing aches and pains. A few hours of surfing is guaranteed to provide relief from insomnia too. For an out-of-the-ordinary cross training exercise, surfing is an exciting and fun option which will transform the most plodding runner into a Cowabunga Dude Epic Wave Rider.

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