Today's Surf Story is a real treat! In the spirit of telling stories that need to be told, we interviewed Lisa Alfano (@womenwhotri2surf), an inspiring 61-year-old surfer who began surfing at age 57 and runs retreats for women ages 50+ who want to re-discover their active selves and claim their power.
DG: Hi Lisa! Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started surfing.
Lisa: I live in Portland, OR; moved here in 2004 from the east coast. Technically since I bought my board is when I consider I started surfing - 4 years ago when I was 57. However, I did a week long surf camp in 2014 in southern Spain yet didn't get back in the water until 57 when I bought my first board, the 5/4 wetsuit, booties and gloves, grabbed a surf lesson at a local break. How did I get started surfing – by doing the surf camp yet my thoughts register back to when I was a kid and used to see my cousin’s surfboard leaned against the side of my grandmother’s house. I was curious then but never acted upon it. Fast forward, 2014 surf camp then 2019 fully hooked! Starting my triathlon training at 50 started me down the path of challenging myself physically again and despite there being a 7 year lag, surfing was the next challenge that I knew would not only challenge me physically but mentally as well.
DG: That's amazing! What does surfing mean to you?
LA: Surfing means courage to me. Surfing means community and support and encouragement from complete strangers who end up being life-long friends -both in and out of the water. Surfing means that I get to challenge my body and mind every time I suit up and get into that body of water with my board. I know this saying is overused but it’s true: Surfing is Life! It means I get the chance to meet new people who have something in common with me. Some of the benefits of surfing are the same as I’ve mentioned in what surfing means to me. My mental capacity for extending myself and being scared gets put out there with every wave and that allows my brain to focus solely on the moment. Connection with others, primarily women, is a benefit that is so powerful, strong and very much needed. Surfing means freedom and joy to me. I am truly in the present moment when I am on that board. The benefits are more spiritual and mental than physical for me. The chatter and to-do lists and life challenges are no longer present from the time I put the surfboard on my car till the time I put it back on and get home. Surfing brings humility and connection.
DG: Totally agree. Surfing is so powerful and has so many benefits physically and mentally. Speaking of physical benefits, how do you train and stay in shape in your 60s?
LA: The training and nutrition focus I have incorporated into my life these past 11 years as a triathlete is the plan I use to maintain fitness as a surfer. The one exercise which I consider surfer-focused are the burpees, yet everything I do is to maintain both my triathlon and surfer lifestyle.
My training plan overview: Swim 2-3 times/week and beginning around May I am in open water as much as possible; Bike 2-3 times/week, however this season biking has taken a back seat for some reason; run 3-5 miles twice a week; functional strength training and weights. Nutrition - I try not to eat much processed sugar; I’ve been told at my age and with a recent osteoporosis diagnosis to get a lot of protein into my diet so I supplement with pea protein powder smoothies (non dairy milk), veggies, hardly any red meat by choice and very little processed foods. My diet since I could remember follows more of a mediterranean style diet. I am an Italian-American so I had the privilege of growing up with Italian-focused homecooked meals (and lots of the best pizza!)
DG: Who doesn't love pizza? And thank you for all those tips for diet and fitness. You are honestly way more active than I am lol. Are there any barriers you've encountered as an older surfer?
LA: I don't believe I've encountered barriers as an older surfer except for the ones I place on myself. The challenges of being a beginner surfer in the lineup with surfers more experienced than me is a challenge regardless of one's age.
DG: Any fun stories/wipe outs?
LA: Gratefully, I haven’t had any wipe outs. I do remember being caught in a washing machine type of white water when I first started surfing. My friend and I shouldn’t have been out in the water but there we were and the white water waves just kept on coming and were big and swirling around me. It wasn’t funny at the time! Fun stories- Seeing my friend Sarah surf with her yellow kayaking helmet on - I always know where she is! Surfing with a group of women who joined me for a session from my Meetup group - one woman never got on her board via the pop up and she did that morning. I was there to see her face light up -it was awesome! Surfing at one of the best left breaks ever with one of my dearest friends for her 50th bday -for 2 glorious weeks; the 2nd week 9 of her dearest friends joined us and we had the most wonderful, fantastic, fun time together!
DG: That sounds great! I absolutely love getting stoked with good friends in the line up and seeing them get stoked! If you could tell the younger generation of surfers anything (surf or life advice or both!), what would it be?
LA: Do not wait to do something until you are: “in better shape, lose x number of pounds, can do x number of burpees, fit enough to do something (who defines ‘fit’ anyway!) Especially do not wait to surf, or do anything that you want to do or are called to do, because you think that you are too old!
- You are not too old, too thin, too fat.
- Do not listen to anyone who says you can’t do it because of xyz - there may be valid reasons why something can’t be done yet listen to your heart and gut first before making that decision.
- Include your supportive friends or coach or teacher or expert in the field to talk things out when you’re unsure of something.
- You are strong and powerful and are enough.
- Have compassion for yourself. Surround yourself with supportive women who accept you for who you are and who lift you up. Surfing is a wonderful community of many supportive and compassionate women - seek them out! Join a surf group of women.
- Surround yourself with women of all ages. Women are breaking down the barriers, stereotypes and rules meant to keep us quiet - continue with this movement and be an advocate, ally and accomplice to continue bucking systemic ageism, and any ‘ism’ actually. Just because a person is how society/American cultural norms deem ‘old’, ‘aging’, ‘fragile’, not rich enough, too poor, is not cis gender white,say screw that and recognize it’s been the man’s way of keeping women in ‘our place’. Remember that our place is everywhere and advocate for that.
- Your body is beautiful no matter what. It provides you with the sustenance, support and force to keep you alive. Nurture it and treat it with kindness.
- Take walks with friends who are supportive, good listeners and those who you can trust about intimate things - and be there and do the same for others.
- Surf till your heart’s content. Bathe in the magic of the ocean.
DG: This all such good advice. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today; it's been so inspiring and one of our favorite interviews!
To learn more about Lisa and her crew, follow her at @womenwhotri2surf and check out her website www.tri2surf.com.