- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

HONOLULU (AP) — Kenneth Chun can’t paddle as fast or carve the waves the way he once did. But even at 70, he still loves to surf.

Wearing a soaking wet baseball cap to protect his partly bald head from the sun, Mr. Chun hits the warm, turquoise waters off Waikiki Beach about three times a week. The retired electrical engineer from Honolulu is one of many silver-haired surfers who say the sport keeps them young and sharp — physically and mentally.

“I’m slower now and can’t keep up with the younger people, but it’s just a lot of fun to ride the waves,” said Mr. Chun, who has surfed for nearly five decades.

Even a nasty accident in which the surfboard gashed Mr. Chun’s head couldn’t keep him out of the waters for long. “The next week I went surfing with stitches in my head,” he said, pointing to his scar.

Mr. Chun is tan and toned like most surfers old and young. Many say their primary reason for surfing is not the workout, but their love of the ocean, being at one with nature and the addicting thrill of riding a wave.

Fitness is “a side benefit,” said Susie McGuire, 57, of San Diego. “Being in the water is uplifting. It’s better than Prozac and beats any antidepressant on the market.”

The petite and energetic Mrs. McGuire, lugging around a board that seems nearly double her size, has surfed since she was a teenager and says it gives her “spiritual freedom.”

“It’s a new canvas every day,” she said. “Every ride is different.”

Still, there are challenges for older surfers. James Panas, 55, notes that hips and knees can get weaker, which prevents surfers from popping up on their boards as fast and from maneuvering as expertly.

“Some guys stop surfing because they realize they don’t have what they used to,” he said. “But I figure whatever you got, just go out and do it. Even if you can’t rip like you used to, at least you’re enjoying yourself.”

Dr. Bernard Portner, a nonsurgical orthopedic specialist in Honolulu, said older people who surf are no more prone to injury than younger wave riders.

“Older people who surf generally started when they were younger,” he said. “All those years, those who got injured significantly fall by the wayside. These old guys have survived and they know what they’re doing.

“The surfing and being active in general is preventing them from injuries,” Dr. Portner said.

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