There is an old woman who surfs where I surf quite often. I see her a few times a week; she wears a two-piece wetsuit, webbed gloves, and a hood with a chin strap. She comes with her husband, who rides a kneeboard. She rides a boogie board, snakes everyone whenever she wants, hoots louder than anyone else, and is by far the coolest person on the entire coast of California. She is surfing (yes, sponging is surfing) for entirely the right reasons: she simply loves sliding around on waves. She doesn’t care who knows it, she doesn’t care about the stupid little quirks of localism, and she doesn’t care about anything other than riding waves.
I’ve seen her out on days that she probably should not have been out, smiling and choking and laughing and half-drowning, but happy as a pig in shit. Because she’s 80-something, she can’t stand up comfortably anymore. Instead of giving up, she took to the sponge and kept on keeping on. She’s amazing, and I hope she outlives me. And her stories! Oh, those stories! Stories of Malibu and Dora. Stories of the California coastline when the PCH was a single lane road. Stories of how we all wish surfing still was. And you know what? She genuinely doesn’t seem to have noticed how much it has changed.
All this is to say that, for me, quite often, age works as a sort of grindstone for surfers. Think of it like this: we’re a big, soft ball that’s made up of three layers. The first layer is all smiles and giggles and blissful ignorance about just how kooky we are. Then, as we age, that soft outer layer wears away, exposing a harder, crustier layer. It’s salty and sometimes bitter, stoic and proud, and can be entirely unaware that they were themselves, until very recently, engulfed in their own soft layer. That second layer is a thick one, too. It seems to last for many surfers’ entire surfing career, their failing bodies betraying them before they get a chance to get to the core—the place where the real soul of surfing (if there is one, that is) seems to reside. That core takes the youthful optimism of the first layer and realizes that surfing isn’t meant to be a miserable, angry ride. It’s meant to be a joyful, simple thing. To take it too seriously is to make it worse.
There are a few people like her who come to mind: Bruce Gold and Doc Paskowitz, for example, but there’s one who you may not have heard of.
Kevin Merifield is 80 years old. He has found that core. Back during the ’50s and ’60s, he was part of a small group of surfers who were at the forefront of a movement they didn’t even realize was coming. They were explorers, and their treasure was waves. They spent years traversing Western Australia’s coastline, pioneering places like Margaret River.
For six decades, Merifield has been doing what he loves. He’s a local legend in the area, but, although it should, his legend status doesn’t go much farther than that. His words in the short video above are a sign of a life lived well; a life lived learning lessons. He’s humble, happy, and doesn’t seem to understand what all the fuss is about. He is, though, surfing royalty, and we could all learn a lot from the generation that’s whittled down that ball to its very core.