Take everything you think you know about the surfers paddling out every morning, and meet Kim Shockley

She’s living her own golden age of surfing.

  • Category
    Health, People
  • Written by
    Amber Klinck
  • Photographed by
    Nancy Pastor

If you were asked to picture a second-generation Southern California surfer, what image would come to mind? Maybe a brawny, sun-worshiping blonde with a shortboard under his or her arm? Did you picture someone younger or older? A man or a woman?

Covered from head to toe, Kim Shockley seeks shelter from the summer sun in one of the few shady spots along The Strand. She’s wearing a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and gloves.

At first glance you might think Kim was a sun-smart local heading out for a morning stroll along the coast. But the surfers at 26th Street in Manhattan Beach know her by name. For 22 years she’s been catching waves alongside them.

Growing up with parents who surfed Malibu long before surfing Malibu was a thing, Kim, now 66, has always been active in the water. “I surfed when I was a kid, when I was a teenager. My dad actually cut down his old surfboards for my brother and [me],” she says. “But for a long time, I didn’t get back on a board.”

It wasn’t until 1996, while swimming in Manhattan Beach, that Kim was encouraged by some local surfers to give the sport another shot. “Before I knew it, I got a used board and got out there.” And just like that, Kim was hooked.

“It’s pretty much the power of the wave underneath you,” she explains. “The wave carries you and you’re part of nature, and at that point you’re going, ‘Oh, this is pretty exciting.’ And then you experience different waves from different places … it becomes very addictive.”

Adding to the exhilaration Kim was experiencing in the water was the warm welcome she received from the regulars surfing 26th Street. “People were really friendly,” she notes.

There was a steady crew in the water on any given day, all year long. “I’d started [surfing] in April or something, and then came September. I said, ‘So what do you guys do, just sort of lay off for the winter?’ And they said, ‘Oh no, Kim, you just have to get a thicker wetsuit.’”

So she did, and now she’s part of the crew. “I can surf any day of the week and name 20 to 30 guys out here,” she notes.

Now retired after working in education, Kim starts every morning in a pool swimming from 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. If the surf conditions are good, she paddles out. If they’re not, she takes her bike and heads up to Palos Verdes. A good day in the water for Kim isn’t solely based on the surf conditions, however.

“I’ve just taken my board and gone and seen the world through surfing.”

“Today, for instance, it was just 1 to 2, not that big,” Kim notes. “But there was huge pod of dolphins. You could almost touch them. And they had their babies—they’re about 20 pounds. You see this little fin, and you’re like, ‘A miniature! There goes a miniature!’ So OK, I didn’t catch that many waves. But I got to have this experience. There’s something very contagious about just being in nature.”

Pods of dolphins, whales, seals that opt to rest on the tail end of your board—Kim’s been fortunate to have these experiences in the water. She’s humbled both by the beauty and the power of the ocean … never naive to the risks she takes with every paddle out.

“It’s one of those sports that I’ve got to do now, because it’s pretty demanding. It can be rough,” she explains. “Whenever I fall, I think, ‘Anything could happen, so you don’t have that many years to do it.’ You go out, you get beat up … how long can you do that? Maybe into your 80s?”

It’s not just the hat, her glasses or the gloves she wears that make Kim stand out in the water. Her gender keeps her in the minority, but so does her age.

“You really don’t see that many [older people out here],” Kim says. “I’m kind of counting my years. People look at me like, ‘She’s still here?’ Or say, ‘You come here a lot.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, what’s your point?’”

In other words, Kim hardly seems fazed. “I can dazzle a few, if I get a really good wave. And I’m pretty spry because swimming is my base sport … it gives me so much endurance.” It’s that foundation as a swimmer—that endurance—that gives her a leg up in the water.

Over the past two decades Kim has surfed in 13 countries. “I’ve just taken my board and gone and seen the world through surfing,” she says. She’s become part of a community that shares an appreciation for both the ocean and each other.

And while she jokes about her longevity in the water, she shows no signs of giving up her board anytime soon. “I really don’t want to be the old hag out here surfing. But as long as I can do it, physically get up on the board,” Kim says, she’ll be out there. “And then, you know, I could always take up yoga.” n