SANTOS, Brazil – With the aloha spirit as their motto, a group of people 50 years old and older in Brazil has found in surfing a “new way of life” that, in some cases, has given them the perfect antidote for the problems of old age, loneliness and even depression.
It’s 8 am and it looks like rain on Pompeia Beach, in the city of Santos, but Francisco Verazani de Aguiar, 74, is here full of energy and with a radiant smile, despite the dark clouds on the horizon.
He knows that in a few minutes he’ll be out among the ocean waves on his surfboard for an hour-and-a-half surfing session.
“When you catch a wave it seems like you get younger. You have a better attitude. It gives us more life, more confidence. It raises our self-esteem,” he told EFE, accompanied by his wife and blind son, both of whom also surf.
Francisco, the father of two and grandfather of four, is the oldest student in the class designed exclusively for the elderly that is held here once a week.
The class was launched last October and is being run by the “Radical School,” which began its activities in 1992 as the first public surf school in Brazil.
The class begins with some warmup and coordination exercises while the group hums Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and then “it’s time to be happy,” as one of the students says grabbing his surfboard and heading for the water.
“The idea is to do what feels good, with your family, so that you don’t feel alone. We foster the aloha spirit, which is to work on love and get rid of loneliness, which kills ... and makes people feel sick,” said surfer Cisco Araña, the coordinator of the project.
They started with 30 students and now they have about 65 signed up for the morning session. Given the high demand, they had to open another session in the afternoon, where there are 45 more people signed up.
Araña says that among the “kids” in the class, as he calls all the veteran students, there are many personal stories about people who were “very sad, lonely and depressed” but who – in surfing – found a way to “escape.”
One of those cases is that of Maria Aparecida Mobrizi (Cidoka), 60. A fashion teacher for many years, she was without work in 2010 when school authorities began to close down all the courses she was teaching.
Out of a job and sunk into a depression, one day she was walking along the beach and ran into Cisco, who invited her to join the surfing classes. And that’s when everything changed for the better.
“Surfing gave me two options in life: either shut down completely or start again,” she said, and she decided to choose the latter, adding that the sport has given her “new life” and also helped her to overcome the great fear she had of the ocean.
“The gears of life begin to turn in another way, in a more harmonious, more relaxed, lighter way,” she said.
With a dexterity that is surprising for their age, the majority of the students, all dressed in purple spandex t-shirts, manage to get to their feet on their boards and ride a few meters (yards) on the crest of the waves.
Observing them are about a dozen monitors, including Franciele Lopes Matos, 28, who give them advice about how to get up on their boards and keep their footing, how to hold their hands, position their legs ... “It’s a constant learning process,” she commented.
At age 74, Francisco is a bundle of energy, and when he leaves the water at 10 am with his wife Edmeia Pereira Correa, who is two years younger, he says, “It was love at first wave, when I caught my first wave and saw myself surfing and sliding over the waves, I fell in love. I said I’d never stop, it was true love.”
He said that he thinks many people get to age 50 and say that they’re “old,” but it’s time to banish that attitude and “never” say “I can’t do it.”
“The first step is to want to and to try, and you’ll surprise yourself, and after that you fall in love and you’re never give up surfing again,” he said.