Supplied Photo by Sophia Patch
Cape Town - Think you’re too old to start surfing? Don’t tell Bernie Shelly that. At 70, she’s still hitting the big shore breaks in Cape Town, and has no plans to cut back on her cowabunga lifestyle.
Involved in the annual Wavescape Festival taking place in Cape Town, Shelly has been surfing since the 60s as a teenager after watching some people surf at Glen Beach in Cape Town.
SEE: Wavescape Festival showcases female-centric lineup
“I asked one of the chaps if I could have a turn on that thing and that thing changed my life. I went out for a paddle and I loved it and I just started surfing.”
“Surfing is not something that’s contrived, it’s not something you can explain, it’s just a freedom, it’s just a joy, it’s a challenge, it’s an entire way of life,” says Shelly about why she loves it.
She’s surfed all over including Bali, Madagascar and Mozambique, but her favourite surf spot is Huletts in Cape St Francis. “I’ve had some wonderful surfs there. Non-threatening, and a long line of surf that you really can have fun on.”
Like any surfer, Shelly hates those that hog waves and hassle other surfers, especially when they form big noisy groups and try to draw attention to themselves. Luckily, many surfers are friendly and there’s a mixture of the two.
SEE: A South African traveller’s perspective: What surfing can teach you about life
Photo: Travis McNeil
She may be older than your average surfer, but for her the sport is what keeps her young, as well as lets her meet all kinds of interesting people.
“I am in the autumn of my life and yet I can indulge in being part of the springtime of life. To some extent it keeps me youthful, it keeps me fit, it keeps me out there.”
“I mix with an eclectic bunch of people which is wonderful, that I would not normally do if I didn’t surf - people of all ages and races and ideas and philosophies, and that can only be good for you.”
ALSO SEE: #LoveSA: Surfing with dolphins in Durban is what Mzansi is all about
Photo: Alan van Geysen
When she started out, there were only a handful of women surfers in Cape Town, and although she feels like the surfing world is reflecting the changes of gender dynamics in society at large, the industry still tends to exploit women’s femininity and sexuality.
“A lot of the time you see pictures of women who are damn good surfers, but it would be shots of their bums, and that’s really not right. The industry doesn’t expose shots of guy’s bums.”
For those who have always wanted to surf, Shelly says there’s no time like the present to start.
SEE: Sunshine, seafood and surf: Everything awesome about the Western Cape
Photo: Grant Scholtz
SEE: Surf up the coast of Africa: Bashing stereotypes one wave at a time
“I found over the years that the people who say ‘Ooh, I’d love to do that’, but they don’t do that. The only way to get yourself into surfing is to go down to the beach, borrow or hire a surfboard and just do it.”
“And don’t take yourself so seriously.”
She also advises to choose a soft, easy break, like Muizenberg in Cape Town, and avoid days where the sea is at its roughest.
If you want to learn more about the surfing life, you can check out the Wavescape Film Festival playing at Labia from 7-10 December, which not only explores the surfing community but also raises awareness around ocean conservation.
“Wavescape draws attention to the plight of the ocean, its beauty and what the surf community is about. It shows what’s out there and shows the humanity of surfers,” explains Shelly.
You can check out the lineup here.
What to read next on Traveller24:
- New Ocean Life Festival set to kick off in Cape Town's Waterfront
- Ice baths and M&Ms: Secrets of the Rockettes revealed
- Family fun at Western Cape’s largest play-park + 5 other family events to check out