For my 75th birthday, my daughter Angela, then 43, handed me a voucher for basket making lessons, a hobby I had wanted to pick up for a while.
‘Thank you, Angie,’ I said.
A year earlier, I had retired.
I’d worked for decades in the vineyard my husband, Angelo, and I established together in 1981.
But I felt my time at the vineyard was up, and my son, Robert, then 40, started working there alongside Angelo.
Saying goodbye to my busy lifestyle, I found it difficult to adjust to retired living.
I was at an all-time low because I felt like I’d lost my purpose.
My friends took me out for lunch to cheer me up, and I occupied myself with hobbies like knitting and sewing.
I also tried swimming, but realised I couldn’t swim 25 metres anymore without becoming breathless.
I should do something about that, I thought, keen for a new activity.
I went to the local community pool, and slyly watched a children’s swimming lesson from afar to pick up tips.
I’m actually starting to get better again, I laughed to myself as I practised.
Then in April 2018, I was driving when I heard a woman on the radio speaking about Granny Grommets of Albany – a 55 and over group of women who surf together.
Although I’d never surfed before, I felt this immediate urge to sign up.
'It was liberating!'
Two days later, I had the courage to ring her up and spoke to a woman named Lynn, then 64.
‘I’ll meet you at Middleton Beach on Friday morning for your instruction lesson,’ she said.
So that Friday I woke up early, grabbed my son’s old boogie board from the garage and drove the 40 kilometres to Middleton Beach.
No turning back now! I thought.
When I arrived, Lynn was waiting for me with a big smile.
She was with a middle-aged man and three other women around my age who’d also just joined up.
‘Ladies, this is Tony. He’s going to teach you lessons on rips and catching waves before you go out in the water with the Granny Grommets,’ she said.
Altogether, we paddled out with Tony.
‘Okay, Wendy, get ready to take the wave. Yes, well done!’ he said as I took a small wave into the shore.
It was liberating!
‘It’s like being back at school, isn’t it?’ I giggled with the other newbies.
Three weeks later, I bought a better, more streamlined boogie board at the sports shop, and headed to my first official Granny Grommets morning surf.
As I walked onto the beach, I saw 30 or so older women sitting on the shore in their wetsuits.
Altogether, we jumped into the water with our boards and paddled out while Tony kept an eye on us.
Right away, I felt the energy of the Granny Grommets.
They were chatting, laughing, and riding waves.
After our surf, we had takeaway coffees out on the sandbank.
‘Oh, I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name already,’ I said to one of the ladies as she passed me my cup.
‘Don’t worry, love. I’ve been here for 20 something years, and I still forget everyone’s name!’ she said.
We all roared with laughter.
'Fridays soon became my favourite day of the week.'
Occasionally, we bump into the young bloke surfers out on the water.
‘Oops, sorry!’ I said, after a mini collision.
They always smile and are respectful, and love to have a chat with us.
Fridays soon became my favourite day of the week.
‘I feel like my 10-year-old self again,’ I told Angelo.
There were no social pressures out on the water, I could just have fun.
‘How was the surf today, Gran?’ asked my grandson, Zavier, then 16, at a family lunch.
‘I caught a 10-foot wave today,’ I joked.
The whole family chuckled.
‘I don’t know what she’s going to do next!’ Angelo laughed warmly.
My spirits were high again.
I also loved when the team organised group camping trips.
In summer, we went for a weekend away at a caravan park in Bremer Bay, WA.
Every year is a different theme and we dress up and act out skits – and of course laugh, eat, and surf.
During the school holidays, we also bring along our grandkids for a surf.
It’s so fun having them involved.
For birthdays, we have home-baked cakes on the shore and sing our special group song to the tune of Davy Crockett.
‘We’re the Granny Grommets, wild and free,’ I sing along with the others.
‘Ladies, we’re celebrating my birthday early, just in case I don’t make it! Here, have some cake,’ I laughed with the Grommets in April 2021 – eight months before my 80th.
There are the sad occasions where we lose a member to old age or illness.
To pay tribute, we have a lovely ceremony where we get together and place flowers on our boards, surf out on the water, and wait for a nice wave to come and let the board go.
Being with the Granny Grommets for four years now, I realise it’s so much more than just surfing.
We are a family.
We may be a group of elderly women, but we’ve never felt so young!