Dream of Learning to…. Surf? Rock Climb? SUP? Golf? Here’s How!

A Paddle Diva hits the water

Recently I wrote a feature on how to learn a new sport for The Motherboard, a website serving readers of all the Meredith women’s magazines, which include More, Family Circle, Parents, and many others — many of which I write for as well.

It was super fun to report because I got to interview fabulous women who are deeply immersed in the sports they love, including kayak and stand-up paddle (SUP) guru Gina Bradley, owner of Paddle Diva, surfer extraordinaire Lexie Hallahan, who runs Northwest Women’s Surf Camps, and internationally known golf pro Cindy Reid.

And of course, as often happens when I write these stories, I over-reported and ended up with all sorts of great tips and info that landed on the cutting room floor, so to speak.

To get the full story on each sport, I highly recommend reading the story itself — the “s slide show” format makes it easy to quickly jump to the sport you’re interested in. But here, for the generalist, are some truly helpful suggestions from these great gals in the know.

1. Learn from a woman. Sorry guys, I know this is going to rattle some chains, but it’s the truth. Women do pretty much everything differently, and learning is one of them. Every single teacher I interviewed made the point that male teachers have trouble teaching women effectively, especially first-timers, because they have less understanding about women’s bodies, and what they can and can’t do easily. Also, if you have any kind of “irrational fear” such as a fear of dark water (mine) or a fear of heights (also mine), a guy teacher just isn’t going to “get it” as well and help you work through it.

Happy smiles at NW women's surf camp

2. Learn in a group. And, preferably, a group of women or a group that includes plenty of women. There are a couple of exceptions to this one; practicing your golf swing may well be better done one on one. But in general, learning in a group is the best way to conquer intimidation, overcome beginner jitters, and just plain make it all more fun. Plus, when you take a class you’re almost certain to meet other like-minded women who can then become your sports buddies when you pursue your sport of choice on your own.

3. Rent, don’t buy. For starters, you want to be on the best possible equipment; showing up to a class or lesson with an out of date bike or a surfboard not properly sized is going to immediately sabotage your experience. But you don’t want to pay for said equipment until you’re sure you like the sport in question. So start by renting; if you take a class, it’s likely equipment is provided, or rentals will be available on-site, often for a discounted rate. With a sport like rock climbing that may not be possible, but the teacher will recommend an equipment source and provide a list of what you need.

4. Don’t skimp on equipment. When you’re ready to buy, you’ve already developed a passion for your sport and sufficient commitment to pursuing it on your own. Honor that passion and commitment by getting the right stuff. With many sports, like mountain biking, SUP-ing, surfing and others, gear changes quickly and a bike or surfboard that’s five years old may already be out of date. Craigslist is great, but if you go that route, be prepared to look long and hard, and check sizing and quality of materials in person before committing to buy. The consequences of using poor equipment are much more serious than most people realize; riding a bike that’s even a small amount too small can wreck your knees, for example, which I found out from personal experience.

But most of all, make it fun! Whether you’re signing up for a one-day class or heading off on a week-long vacation adventure, this could be the start of something really big in your life. It’s worth getting excited about! Treat it as a commitment, not an indulgence. (A weakness of us women when it comes to fitness.) Find buddies who love your sport as much as you do, and set up a regular schedule of outings so you’re not always pulling out calendars. Then keep at it! Remember, it has absolutely nothing to do with how “good” you are at your sport of choice; it’s all about what you’re getting out of it.







17 responses to “Dream of Learning to…. Surf? Rock Climb? SUP? Golf? Here’s How!”

  1. Jane Boursaw

    Reading this piece makes me want to go out and learn a new sport! Sounds like a blast, especially in a group of women. I really need to get out more.

  2. Living Large

    Great tips! I would like to get out and learn a new sport too.

  3. ruth pennebaker

    Second the notion about female teachers. I’ve had too many male yoga instructors who pushed me further than my body could go. However … I consider fear of heights and dark water to be perfectly *rational* fears.

  4. NoPotCoooking

    These are such great tips!! You are so right about how women do things differently so learning from a woman changes the experience. I will remember this.

  5. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart

    For my b-day in 2001, my hubby bought me (actually both of us) scuba lessons. Our instructor was a man, but all in all … it went OK.

    I did sort of freak out though, the first time I had to step off the ledge (with all the heavy gear on) and into the pool. I stood there for a LONG time and shook. Literally shook with fear.

    But eventually, I jumped in and was fine.

    When we took our test, though, we did so together, and at one point, my hubby didn’t know which way was UP (poor water visibility), so we now have a hand signal for “I’ve lost my bearings.”

    It’s probably important to know that I did NOT know how to swim, until I was an adult. I learned … after our honeymoon. I snorkeled in Hawaii and was fine, so I learned to SWIM … then a few years later, I learned to SCUBA.

    Not to shabby … if I do say so myself.

  6. Vera Marie Badertscher

    I’m not a sporting type–never was. When I was a child I had asthma and they didn’t know that being active was actually GOOD for asthmatic children. Sigh! But I do love your advice and know lots of people will profit from it.

  7. Casey

    as the most non-athletic person on the planet, I’m going to take your advice and apply it to guitar lessons, something I’ve always wanted to do… anyone willing to teach me?

  8. Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi

    Great advice. When I started going to a local rock climbing wall, I noticed there was a women’s group that got together regularly. I never quite made it to that night, but it always seemed like a fabulous idea!

  9. MyKidsEatSquid

    I remember learning to snorkel. I’m a better than average swimmer so I thought I’d do fine but my mask didn’t fit right, the guy kept telling me just to deal with it. Not fun. I switched masks and then had no problem. I do enjoy learning new sports.

  10. Sheryl

    I enjoyed reading this post. It’s so true that women communicate differently with women than men do. They understand one another not only physically but emotionally, which factors into learning a new sport so heavily.

  11. sarah henry

    Okay, you, when are we gonna go kayaking or stand-up paddling together? I’m game and appreciate this piece, which makes learning something new in, ah, middle age seem doable.

  12. Cruise deals

    Totally agree with the women teacher’s, im always abit put of when i see a man taking a class. But walking into a class with a woment teacher and lots of women taking part puts me at ease straight away. I would love to learn how to surf, so might have to bite the bullet and look into it :)

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