Stab Magazine | How To Rip In Your 50s
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How To Rip In Your 50s

With Tom Carroll and Rob Bain.

news // Feb 2, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

When Tom Carroll picks up the phone he’s predictably on his way out the door for a surf. He surfs as regularly today as he did in his 20s, and in a week’s time, will head back to the North Shore of Oahu for his second trip of the winter.

At 55 years old, TC is showing few signs of slowing down. Just last year he paddled into the biggest waves of his life at Himalayas, an intimidating offshore bombie on the North Shore. For all the praise Kelly Slater receives for his outstanding, longstanding abilities, it’s worth noting that even the generation above are still going strong. Just last week we ran footage of Hawaiian legend Michael Ho getting very tubed at Pipe and Backdoor. Tom Curren, aged 52, still features in film edits with the hypnotic rhythm and flow that has long been his signature. Barton Lynch still rips, and Simon Anderson (62) was spotted standing tall in a backside, hands-free tube on his 8’0” during last year’s east coast low (yeah, the one the Cape Fear Challenge ran in).

“We’re just finding out how we behave, we’re figuring out how generations move on,” says Tom. “We are realising that athletic excellence can improve as we go on into our 30s and 40s, and maybe into our 50s. Who knows, really?”

Some of the best sessions in Tom’s life took place in his 40s. He says that the secret to this kind of longevity is, in theory, pretty simple: “Just keep doing it (surfing)… Keep inspired in various ways. Change up the process, because the body loves being surprised. It doesn’t like the same thing over and over.” 

Tom surfs daily if there’s waves, hikes if there’s not, rides stand-up paddle boards, swims laps, snowboards when his knee isn’t playing up, and receives regular work on his body from a chiropractor, osteopath and acupuncturist, “to help the body in its natural healing process,” he says. “I’m only halfway through my 50s. I don’t know what the backside is like yet, it’s still to come, but at the moment there’s quite a bit of maintenance to come.”

As recently as five years ago, Tom was still holding himself to the performance bar he’d set himself in his prime. He’s learned to be less hard on himself these days, but that’s more the result of his body demanding it. “I’ve had to bring (my expectations) more into line with the reality of what my body is doing. My body is a little more stiff. I do work on flexibility but it doesn’t respond as quickly. Over a longer period of time, that sort of shortens it a bit. I’ve got pretty good endurance, I’ve got really good strength, but recovery time is a bit lagged. Fast twitch reflexes are loose and free, but it’s not always like that every day. I might have to bring myself into the reality of that expectation.”

The key is being flexible – not only of body, but also mind – and finding new ways to enjoy the pastime that has defined your life. “It’s the approach to change,” Tom says. “You just really allow the body to do the talking and really listen to it. Whereas I didn’t really listen to it when I was younger.”

Rob Bain is another in his 50s at the pointy end of the performance game. Unlike Tom, however, he’s got a full-time job and family to maintain, which limits the amount of time he can spend on his body and surfing. As a result, he cherishes his time in the water more than he ever has.

“Those little moments in the water – a lunch time sesh – I love it more now than when I was doing it professionally,” he says. “Whatever surf I don’t get now I’m not gonna get. I’m sailing towards older age, I’m sailing toward my body starting to wear and tear, and you start to feel the pain from injuries you once had. You gotta get it while you can.”

Every so often these physical limitations will slap him in the face. The older he gets, the harder he find the process of getting to his feet – especially if it’s draining and hollow. Everything else is pretty well intact.

“Once I’m up on my feet and I’m going, I’m fine, I’m wanting to go to the lip, I’m wanting to break fins, I’m wanting to do a big gouge,” he says. “But the problem is getting up. As you get older, your shoulders get older, sorer, slower, you put on more weight, your reaction time gets slower. People compensate for that with board volume, which changes your surfing. It’s that ability to get to your feet quickly and the mindset and the attitude is what keeps you moving forward.”

Having the right attitude is especially important, something he defines as: “a mindset when you’re riding the wave to wanna turn as hard as you can, go as fast as you can, and to put yourself in a position where sometimes you may come unstuck but wanting to still float that section, wanting to drive your fin through the back of the wave. It’s more about an attitude than ability, cos the ability is there. It’s about being physically and mentally motivated enough to do it.”

Like Tom, some of Bainy’s most memorable sessions have come post-40. Last year he returned to Cloudbreak for the first time in 20 years. It was six to eight foot with the occasional 10-foot bomb, the extra power, face and room in the bowl allowing him to turn back the clock decades.

“That was special,” he says. “That felt like I was back in the zone again, somewhere I had longed to be.”

On the flip side, he was also forced to back down from some of the biggest, best waves he’d ever seen on his stretch of coast during the memorable east coast low that battered Sydney, and set the scene for the Cape Fear Challenge. “That was the hardest day for me to accept,” he says. “I just couldn’t bring myself to jump off the rocks. I went back and forth from the beach that day 15 times. I couldn’t sit with myself ‘cos I knew I needed to be out there, I wanted to be out there.”

But that’s life, says Bainy. The ageing process requires the resetting of expectations, and it’s something he’s getting better at every day. “It’s that classic saying, ‘the best surfer in the lineup is the one having the most fun,’ and I think that applies across the board. And I think that is the most important thing about surfing. If you base yourself on your ability and how you just surfed, you’re gonna be a frustrated person. It’s gotta be about the people you’re surfing with, the nature of your escapism, it can’t be, I’m basing myself on how good I surfed, because you’re gonna get depressed.”

Tom agrees. He rattles off various examples of underground old school legends in their sixties and seventies that he’s come across around the world over the years, making the salient point that when it comes down to it, performance surfing is not about air reverses. He derives just as much joy from watching grace, dignity and good lines on a wave. 

“Watching that wealth of knowledge come into play, and the economy of movement is really cool. It’s not about busting airs.”

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