How learning to surf at 50-plus changed me

Danielle Cass began surfing age 50 plus and turned from invisible to strong and beautiful

Danielle Cass lives with her dog and husband in Northern California, where they raised their 21-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter. She leads Activation on Microsoft Ethics & Society and dreams of surfing every day. Watch this 2-minute film in which Danielle talks about her surfing journey, chronicling her first six months of learning to surf at age 52.

One year ago, after decades of enviously watching surfers ride the waves off the California coast, impending menopause and empty nest syndrome drove me to decide —  at age 52 — that it was finally time to stop sitting on the sidelines and join them.

It wasn’t easy – the obstacles of learning to surf were daunting: the icy 50-degree water of Northern California; the scary, unpredictable waves; the wobbly, narrow surfboard, and the unceasing negative, hypochondriac voice in my head.

It helped that my surf coach for the first six weeks was a flirty 51-year-old Australian who lavished me with praise and encouragement as I flailed and thrashed trying to paddle into incoming waves, pop up and stand on my rented board.

Danielle Cass paddling out ono a surfboard

In those first punishing weeks of falling and getting sucked under by crashing waves, I had 2 rules:

  1. Trust my surf instructors when they told me what to do, and
  2. Keep driving back out to Marin County for more lessons no matter how discouraged and beat up I felt each time.

Now, after two dozen lessons, two women’s surf retreats in Malibu, California and Nayarit, Mexico, and many hours driving 40 miles in the dark from Berkeley over Mt. Tamalpais to reach the beach at dawn, I can paddle mightily into rising green waves, pop onto my feet and ride a wave as it peaks and rolls, often hooting with joy, my arms up-stretched in victory.

Me and my fellow older surfers

I now surf religiously 2-3 a week with a group of fellow middle-aged moms who also found surfing in recent years. We are the “Surf Club”: One is a marine researcher with deep respect for the ocean after decades of studying it; one learned to surf in her late 40s after overcoming Stage 4 breast cancer; one is my best friend of 30 years who has revived her brief teenage surf experience from Long Island, and one says the day she gives up surfing is the day she wants to stop living. 

We trade text messages all week long about wind, swell and tide forecasts, then meet at the beach parking area at first light. We wrestle into our thick wetsuits, wax our longboards, and scamper across the freezing sand to the water’s edge to stretch our creaky bodies while surveying the best spot on the horizon to take off into waves.

What I didn’t expect from surfing

When I set out on this beginner’s journey a year ago, I suspected that surfing would bring me joy. What I didn’t anticipate was how quickly I would become obsessed by it.

How surfing for even just an hour or two wipes my mind clean and fills me with a Zen-like body calm that lasts all day.

Danielle Cass surfing in California

I didn’t realize how intensely I would want to surf every day — or how quickly I would turn my life around to center on surfing. 

Or how I would lose myself into the world of videos of my longboarder idols Kassia Meador and Leah Dawson, surf writing by William Finnegan, Diane Cardwell, Bonnie Tsui, Daniel Duane and Peter Heller, the 23,000-strong Women Who Surf Facebook Group, Instagram feeds of women surfers and Traveler Surf Club.

How I became addicted to surfing

I think this sudden fall into surfing addiction is because as my middle-aged ovaries shut down and collagen drains from my face and color from my hair, there is something new and powerful blooming inside me — something that grows stronger each week. 

For the last decade I was becoming invisible as a middle-aged woman. But now I feel more beautiful and stronger than I have in decades. 

For sure, the fear, self-doubt and hypochondria persist. The negative, doom-expectant voice in my head remains in constant battle with my desire to improve my surf skills.

The transformation I feel from surfing

Each time I surf – especially at a new beach where I’ve never surfed before – I experience this roller coaster of emotions: “I can’t do this. How can I even call myself a surfer? Why do I tell everyone I can surf? I should just quit now.”

For the last decade I was becoming invisible as a middle-aged woman. But now I feel more beautiful and stronger than I have in decades. 

And then — after taking deep breaths and placing my palms on the surface of the water to pause and reset — I catch my first wave of the day. As I paddle back out to the lineup after that first ride, I weep tears of joy and say aloud to myself: “I can surf! Mommy can surf!”

Then at the end of each surf session, as I paddle back to shore with arms limp from exhaustion, I am haunted by last summer’s memory when I was walking out of the water carrying my board on my head and was knocked into the concrete seawall by a wave, landing me in the Emergency Room with a head gash the doctor glued shut and a CT scan for concussion.

Since then, each time I safely reach the shore after a surf session, I lumber onto the sand with my board and rest a moment to catch my breath and say a prayer of thanks that I live near the Northern California coast and have the means and ability to surf another day.

What I take from surfing

I have no idea what the next 12 months holds for me in terms of surfing. If I am lucky, I can stay healthy and safe so I can keep surfing with my friends and grow my skills and bravery. 

One thing I know for certain is how grateful I am that I turned my long-held dream of surfing into a reality. It’s worth looking inside yourself to find your own long-held dreams, choose one and act on it. Start today — your time is now. 

Watch Danielle’s surfing journey

Danielle Cass

Thinking about learning to surf? Check out these resources:

Jennifer from Noon loves: Gwithian Academy of Surfing

The Polzeath Ladies Surf Club

Women + Waves Society, based in Newquay, Cornwall

Surf Sistas

Women’s Health Mag: The 8 coolest surf schools in the UK

Outer Reef Surf School women’s surfing in Pembrokeshire

Wild and Free Adventures in Cornwall

The Salt Sirens pick their favourite surf schools for women worldwide



View All

Learning to run saved my life

After recovering from brain surgery, Rosie Millard ran the London Marathon in less than 4 hours

See yourself differently in midlife

For the #seeyourselfdifferently campaign Noon features 7 women, including brand ambassador Jo Whiley, and how they see themselves differently.

Pictures: Getty Images

How to improve the way we age

Small regular habits can make a big difference in how we age…and feel. The Age Well Project tells us how.

Picture: Getty Images

What I’ve learnt about walking in nature

Women have been walking in the wilds for hundreds of years. Here, a few lessons on walking that they can teach us.

Cold water swimming cured my panic attacks

Breathing, immersion in freezing lakes and comraderie helped Sharing Miranda Bailey heal herself

Sexier with age: I feel sexier at 55 than at 29

Long-lost photos made Rosie Millard realise that despite her wrinkles, she’s gotten sexier with age

More Health & Mental Health

One response to “How learning to surf at 50-plus changed me”

  1. Awesome! Now come to get your ISA surf instructor certification! My partners and I are running a course at our surf Camp in Morocco! I too, learned to Surf at a mature age, 50. Got certified last year at 57!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join us