Peter Pan Syndrome

A typical scenario for this boardhead is to be skimming back and forth across the lake on Misty, my aging MistralCompetition, in a 12 knot breeze gusting to 15. I’m hanging onto a 7.6 rig, riding a gentle natural swell occasionally punctuated by the man-made chop excreted by jet skis and stinkpots. In my adolescent ears are a symphony of boardsailing sounds: the vit, vit, vit of the board, which sometimes becomes a throbbing hum, the luffing of the sail, the gurgle of Misty’s wake, the yahoos of other longboard sailors and the basso growling of those who are sinking on their nine-foot boards. Like other pubescents who suffer the embarrassment of unexpected arousals from such miscellaneous sources of excitement as vibrating school bus seats, I find that an especially enjoyable ride has produced a certain spontaneous tumescence and decide to stay far away from the onlookers ashore until fatigue has tamed it down. Hands up all those who have experienced the same! Sorry, didn’t mean to make you wipe out. You could have just nodded.

Back on shore I look up trustingly into Al’s face as he explains to me how to rig without breaking my new camber inducers. He is an aging boardsailor of about 29, and is much more experienced than I.

“By the way, Bob,” he says. “You really ought to sign up for the Seniors’ Race next month.”

“Huh?” Is he talking to me? I realize that he is. Suddenly , I’m looking down at him because I’m six foot three, and he isn’t. I look further down at my glabrous thighs. Where did that hair come from? Oh yeah, that’s right. Shucks! I grew up…about forty-five years ago. I forgot.


Weird? Not really. Eric Berne, the psychiatrist, explained it all long ago. The idea that a grownup is sort of a triple personality consisting of the Child, the Parent, and the actual self: the Adult. We are constantly switching among these three modes, and communication tends to get confusing to say the least, when one’s Parent, for example, is talking to someone else’s Child or Adult. Just thinking about windsurfing puts me into my Child mode.

Several factors help to keep me there. I was fifty-six when I acquired Misty and became friends with an assortment of boardheads who, while born later, started windsurfing up to fifteen years sooner. To a wet-behind-the-earsbeginner who was still sailing out and swimming back, they all seemed Methuselahs of wisdom! Consider too that the delicious lightness I felt as a child when my dad would grab me by the arms and swing me around as I shrieked and giggled, surrendering to his awesome power. That’s how I feel when I’m barely in control of the rig. Dad used to throw me into the swimming pool. Getting launched is just like that. I fear it. I try to avoid it, but when it happens, and my body is spanking over the waves ahead of the board, I love it.

Non-windsurfing friends add to the effect. “Windsurfing?” asks one friend who is twelve years my junior, “Isn’t that dangerous?” She sounds like my mom telling me not to go too near the edge of something. Talk about Parent to Child! How can I possibly feel sixty-five?” “Doesn’t it take an awful lot of strength?”
“Nah,” I say, looking modestly at my forearms which are twice the size they were at fifty-six.
“Aren’t most of those windsurfers younger?” she asks.
“Just call me Peter Pan,” I say.

Well, they are younger, but here’s an encouraging social phenomenon. They have accepted me unreservedly. Back in the Sixties, Tom Wolfe wrote an essay, The Pump House Gang, about some California surfers (the ones without sails). Anybody over the age of 25 was a persona non grata, “a old black panthuh,” meaning he probably wore black leather shoes on the beach. This would result in a “Mexican standoff” in which both parties squinted at each other until the geriatric 30-year-old found a stretch of sand elsewhere. Surfing was a cult of youth.

Not so in windsurfing! Let no senior citizen desirous of the instant rejuvenation I have heretofore described hesitate a moment in approaching his or her local windsurfing group. My search for the wind has taken me from my local lake on the Outer Banks and to Greece, Austria, France, Germany, Aruba, Guadeloupe, and the British and American Virgins; and I have encountered nothing but friendship and respect. Young guys have said to me things like, “Sir, I hope and pray that I’ll be able to be active and adventurous like you when I get to be your age!” That sort of thing gives me a warm glow, once I’ve shifted into Adult mode.

Certain things contribute to the false impression that boardsailing is mainly for youth. Windsurfing films and publications concentrate on the spectacular, so one mostly sees record-breaking champions upside down and high above a wave big enough to destroy Japan. You don’t see the vast majority of windsurfers: those who are quite ecstatic if they have just completed a waterstart, have nearly completed a carve jibe, or have just managed to stay on a plane. Equipment catalogs tend to stress the boards which sink unless a beach evacuation is in progress, and rigs which stand up to being towed behind a Boeing 747. Sometimes finding the stuff that meets my modest needs is like looking for a mule at the Kentucky Derby.


What probably jars me the most as a senior windsurfer is the music on most windsurfing videos. No matter what the boards are doing, the music goes kablunka, kablunka, kablunka, kablunka. I am no cool cat, so I don’t even know what to call such sounds, but they are exactly the same as the soundtrack of a porno film.

Kawanka, kawanka, kawanka, kawanka. The performers fornicate with a dogged workday persistence which has nothing to do with romance. Kawanka, kablunka, kawanka, kablunka. this music is for prurient, frustrated youths who have not yet found real love.

Misty dances to the music of the Romantic Period, no less! She doesn’t do the bump and grind, she waltzes to Strauss. When I’m coasting down a long swell, I hear a glorious, sweeping Tchaikovsky ballet or a surging Rachmaninoff concerto. When Misty is planing on flat water, it’s the rushing, galloping Symphony. Often she’s in sync with the flow of Smetana’s Moldau. Fleeing ashore ahead of blitzing cumulonimbus, it’s not Beethoven or Rossini of course. And if ever I learn to lift high off a wave, it will be to the soaring strains of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. If that stamps me as an old mossy-back, so be it! Kawanka forsooth!

by Robert Mahood