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Carol Standish, 72, laid on a long surfboard as it floated off Gooch’s Beach. She watched the incoming waves over her shoulder, looking for a certain type of ripple on the horizon. Soon enough the instructor was yelling.
“Paddle, Carol, paddle!”
With a push from her instructor and a shove from the wave, she was surfing. Before Tuesday, she’d never touched a surfboard.
“That woman is 72,” Nanci said while standing waist-deep in water, watching Carol pull her board back out to the ocean to try again. “That’s amazing.”
Carol, Megan, Bobbi and I were the four lucky ladies who registered fast enough for Mom’s Morning, a weekly free surfing lesson put on by Aquaholics. Nanci Boutet, 57, of Saco, owns the surf shop and teaches the group lessons.
“When I started surfing it was a guy thing,” Nanci said. “If you walked into a surf shop, the bikini department was what they thought you were there for.”
Not so in Kennebunk.
Here’s how it goes: You go to the shop and Nanci will look you up and down, then pull the exact right size wetsuit for you. You’ll wrestle it on — literally. Then Nanci brings your board to the beach and gives you the “ways you can die with a surfboard” safety talk (always watch the ocean, keep your board pointed to the ocean instead of sideways, cover your head if you fall, don’t dive) and then demonstrates how to lay on the board, put your knee forward, pop your foot forward and stand. Then you’re released into the water where you wait for a wave to come. When a wave approaches, you have to paddle as hard as you can (and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a push from Nanci) until you feel the wave push your board, which is when you pop up from your belly to your feet. And that’s no easy feat.
The four of us had never surfed before and, to my surprise, each of us got on our feet a few times in the two-hour session. It was a blast.
Nanci started Mom’s Morning 12 years ago to introduce more women the sport. In the winter she takes out up to five women a week (it’s limited by how many wetsuits, gloves and boots setups she has. Each winter set can run up to $800). In the summer she’ll take 20 women and boards to Gooch’s Beach – a one-mile drive from the shop on Port Road. It’s free, but people have to sign up online the week before (registration opens once Nanci gets back to the shop on Tuesdays). Each surfer can come twice for free, but after that she’ll need to buy her own wetsuit (she can still borrow a board for free). If a surfer has her own gear, she can come every week, no need to sign up. And yes, men are also welcome.
“It’s good to have a beginner community,” Nanci said.
Nanci sees a lot of women bobbing on boards next to their boyfriends, who promise to teach them to surf. The problem is experienced surfers will go out on great surf days. For beginners, it’s easier and more fun to go when the waves are tiny (they look bigger in person).
“Men can come, but they have to put up with my jokes. I have a lot of man jokes,” Nanci said.
-You have to be 21 or older.
-Sign up here: aquaholicsurf.com
-Show up 30 minutes before the lesson so you have time to gear up. (Putting the wetsuit on and taking it off were the most physically draining part of my entire experience.)
-When you’re in the water, stay near Nanci. She will push your board so you don’t have to paddle as much (but succeed more).
-You will paddle a lot, so be prepared.
-Bring water, ibuprofen and a snack for after.
Try it a time or two and you’ll be able to rent a board and go out on your own in no time. What better way to enjoy Maine’s summer? (…. or winter.)