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GRAY DUDES BOARDS OF DIRECTORS\Surf's up, and so is age of many participants in this 'gnarly'\sport.

Byline: Jenifer Hanrahan

By day, Bruce MacDonald runs an electronics manufacturing company.

By dawn, the 46-year-old Agoura Hills businessman dons a wet suit, picks up a surfboard and catches waves.

Surfing isn't just for guys who say "gnarly" and "Hey, dude" anymore.

Frequently, those tanned teen-agers who vie for the prime sunrise curls up and down the coast are finding their competition to be middle-aged, white-collar professionals getting in a few rides before having to pull up to their desks and conference rooms.

"I think there is still the stereotype of the kid from 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High,' " MacDonald said. "That doesn't bother me. I just like being out in the ocean, away from phones. It's relaxing and a way to unwind."

Too often stuck in office buildings and meetings, these corporate surfers say surfing is not only good exercise but soothes their stressed-out psyches.

Several mornings a week, Shelley Merrick, 50, of Ventura, makes a pot of coffee, loads her board into the car and heads to the beach for an hour of surfing before going to work at an investment management firm.

She is among those corporate surfers who shower at the beach with a jug of warm water, adjust their ties in the rearview mirror or slip on a pair of nylons in the parking lot, and head straight to the office.

"It makes me feel really good that I can still do this," said Merrick, who began surfing at the same age as the teen-agers she sees hang-10 now, but at a time when few women participated in the sport. "I feel young and I feel healthy. It makes me feel alive."

Merrick said her morning ritual helps her deal with the challenges and frustrations of work.

"In surfing, you never know what the wave is going to give you. Every one is different. If you make a mistake, you get wiped out," she said. "It teaches you to make smart decisions quickly and think on your feet, things you need to know how to do in business."

Some of the more mature surfers, like Merrick, cut their teeth in the '60s, while listening to the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and other sand bands. Careers might have crimped their style, but their love of surfing continued. Others, such as Judy Oberlander of Ojai, picked up the sport later in life.

"There's something about being in the ocean that's really energizing," said Oberlander, a 52-year-old high school administrator and counselor who took surfing lessons two years ago to help overcome her fear of the ocean. Now she's at the beach every weekend during warmer weather.

"When I surf, I don't think about anything else," she said. "It's totally different than being in a lake or a pool. I like the cold and seeing the birds and dolphins. It's a very powerful experience."

Mark Halvorsen, 36, a program manager for a Northridge company that manufactures speakers, doesn't mind a little plankton in his ears while at work if it means he can squeeze in some surfing in the morning.

"I'm a classic yuppie surfer," Halvorsen said. "I have the Mercedes with the surf rack."

Mercedeses and MTV - it seems to be a happy confluence by the breakers, at least from the point of view of the old-timers.

"Sure, there are lots of drug-using teen-age airheads that surf, but I enjoy them as much as I enjoy the CPAs and Ph.D.s," said avid surf rider Gordon LaBedz, 49, a Seal Beach family physician.

LaBedz, who along with MacDonald, Halvorsen and many other aging wave-catchers, is active in the surf rider Foundation, an environmental group founded in 1985 by surfers to protect the beaches and ocean. Cardiologists and other medical professionals have also formed surfing groups.

And like their younger counterparts, the middle-agers are exhilarated by the risks of riding the surf and proud of their ability to spot riptides and rocks and to read the "mood" of the sea.

"Every time you go down to the beach, you really have to take a look at what the ocean is saying that day, what direction the waves are coming, how fast they're coming," said Delia Gorey, a 30-something Ventura chiropractor.

To some, the ocean has a mystical allure. Surfing gets them in tune with nature by facing down the elements and, consequently, helps them to relax on the job.

"Every morning I'm at the edge of the wilderness," LaBedz said. "I'm eyeball to eyeball with sea creatures that can be as big as a car and pelicans that are almost as big as I am. I'm riding waves that came from New Zealand or the southern tip of Baja California.

"And all this is done before I get to work. That gives me a connection to the natural world that a lot of people just don't have."

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PHOTO

Photo Business people Mark Halvorsen, left, Shelley Merrick, Rob Woods and Mark Scott are all avid surfers. Not just teens love the sport. Bob Halvorsen / Daily News
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 22, 1996
Words:840
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