Surfing is one of those ageless activities – people of all ages can do it and do. So if you think surfing’s just for the young, then you haven’t checked out the legendary long board bunch at Tourmaline in Pacific Beach.

This fun-loving group of self-described “watermen” have been surfing longer than some of us have been alive. With ages ranging from 64 to 88, most all of them have surfed for well over 50 years – starting out in the late 1930s.

“We surfed year-round with the unforgiving, old-time plank boards,” said Bud Caldwell, 79, of Point Loma. “No leashes, no wetsuits, and boards that weighed between 75 to 100 pounds.”

Surfing was certainly considered a workout in those days. Just getting those boards to the water, paddling out, catching a few waves, and then lugging that now wet and even heavier board back up the beach would be more than many surfers today could even begin to handle.

But time’s change and technology is such that today’s long boards weigh in around 20 pounds on average – making surfing a much more popular and do-able sport for the masses.

Yet while some aspects of this beloved sport have changed, many things have stayed the same, which undoubtedly is one of the reasons for surfing’s ever-growing popularity. The camaraderie, friendships, being outdoors and one with nature, while enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise and doing something fun that you love to do, are among the many reasons why these grandfathers and great-grandfathers all say they still surf.

“Hadj” formally known as William Hein, 85, of Pacific Beach, rode his first wave here in 1938, when Tourmaline was known as Mud Valley. Despite his heart bypass surgery, Hadj is still at it today surfing five days a week on a 9’8 Hanky Warner designed long board, and claims the friendships and keeping himself in shape is why he’s still at it.

At 88, Dan O’Connell of Pacific Beach, (who Hadj recently nicknamed “Piano Man” since there are 88 keys on a piano) is the senior member of the team and although his last board ride was at age 86, Dan still swims daily, paddles out with the guys and recognizes the benefits of being in the water and continuing to move around.

As one of the youngsters, Billy Goldsmith, 79, of Clairemont believes surfing has kept him alive. “It’s given me a will to live and the positive spirit through the camaraderie has been the best part,” he said. Busy working and raising a family, “Goldy,” as his friends call him, quit for about 20 years until his 50s when his children started surfing and wanted him to join them. Thirty years later he’s still at it and enjoying every moment of it.

For Les Bartlet, 68 “and a half,” he says with a smile and Ron St. John, 64, of Pacific Beach, just being around these guys is an inspiration in itself. “They’re the common thread, the history, and a great group of guys,” said St. John. “Age just isn’t an issue when you’re surfing – and they’re proving it.”

As the gang turned and walked away, headed for breakfast at a local diner, on the back of “Goldy’s” T-Shirt read a saying that captures it all, “Old Guys Rule!”

“If we’ve gotta age, we’ve gotta dig it!” said one of the bunch.

Never too old to be stoked, it’s obvious here, that continuing to do what you love to do is one of the secrets to growing older in a healthy, happy way.

Be sure to check out the new Surfing Legends exhibit at the Hall of Champions in Balboa Park, which just opened and see some amazing classic history of surfing in San Diego.


Kelly Ferrin is a local gerontologist residing in Carlsbad. She is a certified
AARP retirement specialist, motivational speaker, consultant, and author of a
nationally released book titled, "What's Age Got To Do With It?" For column
ideas contact her at (760)438-2126 or on the internet at
Kelly Ferrin, Gerontologist Lifestyles (760)438-2126 web:

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What's Age Got To Do With It?