Surfing: “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee!”

Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee!

OK. I stole that from Grease. But Sandra Dee did star as Gidget in the late 1950’s movie, Gidget. And I remember, as a young girl, wanting to be Gidget so much. Gidget had all the fun. Gidget went to Hawaii and Rome. Gidget went Parisienne. Of course, Gidget went surfing. Gidget even went to Sally Field in the 60’s. And I “went” everywhere Gidget went…

In my imagination, that is.

I won’t say that my 57 and a half years have been a complete and total ick. After all, I have my own Moondoggie in Barry. And I have 4 totally boss kids and 9 killer grandkids. But I had never gone surfing. Jazzed the glass. Hung loose. Been in synch… you know,with the glide.

Well, all that changed yesterday.

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in a hairdressing chair, all calm and 57 and a half, when I read these words in a Rhode Island publication: Winter Surfing separates the men from the boys (or the women from the girls). You’ve got 2 chances left to see if local pro Peter Pan thinks you’ve got what it takes.

I thought, “Got what it takes to what? Freeze my backside air?”

But then I thought, “Holy hot-doggin’! This is my chance to be Sandra Dee. Sally Field. Gidget, for heaven’s sake! Why be the old mole in the hole when I can be a bitchin’ surfer boomer?” Did I have what it takes?

I registered for the Winter Surfing lesson that afternoon. The class was supposed to be this past Saturday, but on Thursday I got an email from instructor Peter Pan (yes, that’s his name) that the surf was going to be too gnarly (yes, this was the word), so the lesson would be held on Sunday. Unfortunately for everyone else, but very fortunate for me, I was the only one who could make the switch… so the class with the legendary Peter Pan would be a private one. For me. And let me tell you something here, folks… Peter Pan is a legend. He’s been competing since 1967 at local, regional, national and international levels and was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 1996. Yep. I got myself a legend as a surfing instructor at Peter Pan Surfing Academy.

So back to yesterday. I showed up at Peter’s Gansett Juice, Narragansett Surf & Skate Shop at 11:00 am. By 11:15, this schooly was wearing a full body armor dry suit… guaranteed to keep me warm in the water on that balmy 35 degree afternoon in Little Rhody. Peter immediately went into a dry land training, telling me things like I had to approach waves at a 90 degree angle. Lay on the board with total balance. Paddle fast. Keep the tip of the board an inch over the top of an approaching wave. Sit back on the board like this. Turn fast. Listen to every word he said as he called directions to me. Raise up on my board when catching a wave. Phew! Then Peter said that I would most likely not be attempting any standing on the board during this lesson. No. If I caught a good wave laying down on my belly… that would be awesome. But if I did get the opportunity to stand, do it like this. Fast. 2 seconds is all you have.

OK. I was ready. Barry and I hopped into our truck and followed Peter to a remote beach a couple of miles away. It looked kinda rocky to me… and I asked Peter about that. You know, being 57 and a half and all. But he said that I would not be smashing my head on those rocks. OK. Then he took 2 surfboards from the back of his truck and the rest was pretty much up to me to listen.

I carried my board, on my head as directed, to the shore. We did a bit of stretching as Peter showed me where we’d be heading. Way out. OK. It was time for my go-out. Then we were in the water. There were 2 other surfers out there. OK. Peter kicked into high octane.

“Paddle, Sharon. Faster. Faster,” he called to me.

But. But. That first wave hit me like a ton of bricks and I went blind with salt water. I immediately discovered that my thick rubber-kind-of mittens didn’t wipe water from eyes all that well.

“SHARON. Get out here. Fast. C’mon. Faster.”

I paddled like a maniac. Not fast enough. I tried to get my board that 1-inch over the next crazy wave as I paddled over it. All I got was a mouthful of salt water. A Neptune Cocktail, so to speak.

“SHARON. FASTER. The waves are not going to wait for you.

I convinced myself… I’m gonna do this. I’m freakin’ Gidget, for God’s sake. No wiggin’ out for me. And then I was out there. Way out there. Where you wait for the waves. I was so proud. Kickin’ awesome. Whoops. No time to revel in my righteousness.

“SHARON. Now listen to me. Sit up.”

I did.

“NO. Back further. You’re not balanced. Back. BACK. TURN THE BOARD.”

Tryin’. I’m gonna fall right off the back of this board if I back up any more.


I did. But I ate it. That is not a good thing. I went flying off the board. The rope connecting the board to my ankle got wrapped around both ankles. I’m thinking… well, you probably don’t want to know what I was thinking way out there all tangled in rope. But through all the water lodged in my ears, I could hear Peter…


I paddled. I honestly did.


I reached Peter. Again. Way out. I said, “You’re a hard ass, you know.”

“I know,” he said. “You wanna learn how to do this? LISTEN TO ME.”

I listened. I wiped out. I listened. I wiped out. For an hour.


And suddenly I could feel the wave underneath my board. I picked up my chest and hung on for dear life. I’ve never felt anything like it in my life and I was feeling my Chi, Bruddah. I honestly, honestly have never felt such a surge of power… out of my control, yet totally within my control. Maybe to an experienced surfer this would be considered small airbaby air even, but to me, I felt… well, like Gidget herself.

That wave seemed to go on forever as it blended with wave after wave after wave. And then I was back at the shore. The ride was totally gnarmax.

I knew Peter would have stayed there for hours if I wanted my lesson to continue, but I was so happy with my wave that I wanted to end on that high note. He came to the shore and I thanked him for the most awesome lesson. Incredible experience. I knew then that Peter’s hard ass instructions were for this very experience. This Chi. This Karma. I got it.

This Winter Surfing will be included in my 57 in 52 for sure, dude.

And I will be back for more lessons. Surfing is a soul-touching experience and I’m gonna get me some more! Yep. I’m stoked.

About Audrey

Audrey McClelland has been a digital influencer since 2005. She’s a mom of 5 and shares tips on her three favorite things: parenting, fashion and beauty. She’s also a Contemporary Romance Author.

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