Age is no barrier for local lady surfers

Through the ups and downs of raising families, building careers and suffering from illnesses and injuries, Taffi Parrish and Linda Little have always come back to the ocean - and their love of surfing.

Both women are now in their 50s, but they don’t plan to give up catching waves anytime soon.

“It’s a forever sport,” said Parrish, 53, a resident of Del Mar.

Little, also 53, who lives in Carmel Valley, said she might change boards or surf spots, “but I’m not going to stop surfing.”

The two women are members of San Diego Surf Ladies, a group of women surfers of varied age and experience, who band together for camaraderie and to chase waves. Parrish and Little were featured in the March issue of Open Skies magazine, which is published by Emirates airline, in an article about older surfers.

“It’s my passion, it brings peace,” said Parrish of surfing. “If you’re having a bad day you go out there and it wipes it all away for you.”

Little agreed that surfing transports her to a tranquil place, removed from the cares of daily life. Out on the board, she said, “I can’t check email, I can’t fold laundry. It’s our own time.”

Dan Mori, founder and co-owner of Fulcrum Surf school, said roughly a third of his clients are over 50. “They’re totally able to do it,” he said between lessons at Del Mar’s Powerhouse Park, yards from the beach.

Mori, who has coached Parrish, said that although surfing can be a challenging sport, “You have to get back on the horse and get back out there, just like life.”

Both Parrish and Little surfed as teens growing up in Southern California, then took long hiatuses from the sport. Parrish moved to Georgia for 15 years, and Little said, “I didn’t have time with kids and a job, there was too much going on.”

They rediscovered surfing several years ago, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing for either woman. Parrish suffered a concussion when her board struck her on the head four years ago, and she had to stop surfing for nine months after breaking her ankle.

Little interrupted her own reunion with the sport to undergo treatment for breast cancer. During her chemotherapy treatment or before surgery, she said, her nurses and doctors would tell her, “think of your happy place. (For me) it was the ocean,” she said.

The sport allows her to spend quality time with her family, as her husband and younger daughter also surf. “We have a really good time surfing together,” she said.

Parrish surfs most days with her son, a freshman at Torrey Pines High School. Both her son and Little’s daughter, a senior at Canyon Crest Academy, take surf P.E. classes at their schools.

While the two women are regular fixtures at Del Mar’s beach, the sight of women surfers in their 50s is still a bit out of the ordinary.

“People always seem surprised when we get up and ride waves,” Little said.

The women try to observe surfing etiquette, whether it’s getting out of a fellow surfer’s way as he or she catches a wave, or helping an exhausted beginner paddle back to shore.

“Just be kind and friendly out there,” said Parrish.

But they also know their limits, and when the surf is too “gnarly” or the waves are too big, Little said she is content to drink coffee from shore and watch others take their chances.

“It’s harder than it looks. It’s exhausting,” said Little. “The ocean is a force.”