Surfing for Beginners

Having shown the greats of surf photography in my gallery for more than a decade but never having surfed, I was starting to feel like I was all hat and no cowboy. So last year, at the age of 50, I signed on for the San Diego–based Paskowitz Surf Camp, which had received top marks from the experts. Founded in 1972 by surfing legend Dorian Paskowitz and now run by his 44-year-old son, Izzy, the school holds one-week courses in San José del Cabo, Mexico, every May and October, and they’re perfect for beginners. (The camp does six-day classes from June to September in San Diego and a one-day clinic in September in Montauk, New York.)

Checking in to the Tropicana Inn, a charming and mostly quiet hotel in the center of San José, I discovered that we campers represented an upscale-boomer cross section of America—Survivor: The AARP Edition. We surfed for about two hours at a stretch, taking much-needed breaks in between, and instruction was low-key but effective, with a student-to-instructor ratio of no more than two to one. For the first few days an instructor pushed us into the right waves, but by phase two we were on our own—and I was shocked when I popped up on my first try and rode all the way to the beach. Beginner’s luck! After that my batting average was about .500, on the low side for the group, but the other “beginners” seemed to have had some experience. By day three we were bonded with our new peer group, bronzed, and beaten up but growing in confidence. By camp’s end we were amazingly surferlike—and we didn’t even have to talk in surfspeak.

One note of caution: Surf camp is not like golf camp or a beach vacation. There’s a chance you will get hurt—either hit by a board (most likely your own), cut by rocks or coral, or, if you’re lucky, just chafed from paddling out to catch those waves. So take the idea of surf camp very seriously. And then get stoked.

The next five-day camp is in early October. The $2,900 rate includes instruction, hotel, and some meals (