From grommet to gran, on the crest of a wave

It's a gift, a banquet, a playground. It's the ocean, and it's been Elaine Reid's daily bread for more than 50 years.

At a sun-ripened 66, Ms Reid is the Queen Mum of Australian surfing, matriarch to three generations of wave-loving ladies, including her daughter Alison, 42, and granddaughter Abbey, 11.

"Not everyone has that chance to share waves with their daughter and granddaughter," says Ms Reid, who lives around the corner from her ''girls" in Byron Bay. "I'll be paddling into one and Abbey will say, 'Go Nan!' Or I'll say 'Go Abs! This is your wave!' I can drop in on her too, because I can read what she is going to do."

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Surfing Australia, with female participation in the sport at record levels. The senior and junior women's world champions - Stephanie Gilmore and Nikki Van Dijk - are both Australian. Even so, few families boast a triumvirate of such accomplished water women.

"It's precious to have that connection," says Ms Reid, whose relationship with the ocean began when she was a girl in the early 1950s. "Mum would take us down to Clarke's Beach and throw us in. We'd get pounded, get salt and sand all through us, but we loved it. Later, at school, I couldn't run, and I didn't play basketball, so surfing became my love."

Then, in 1963, when Ms Reid was 16, her father bought her a new 9'2" Barry Bennet triple stringer, shipped up especially from Sydney.

"Surfing was different back then," Ms Reid says. "There were no leg ropes, no wetsuits, less crowds. When you lost your board, you had to swim."

When it came to raising their children, Elaine and her husband Allan "Algae" Reid chose the ocean as a natural nursery.

"I remember Mum and Dad would have us on the front of their boards, when we were babies, coming in on waves at The Pass," Alison says. "We were in the water before we could walk."

Alison continued the tradition with Abbey. "It has made us all very close, even with my sister too. We all used to surf together," Alison says. ''Abbey's even giving advice to her nan now, thinking she knows it all."

Ms Reid used to compete, surfing every year in the Byron Bay Malibu Club contests. In 2004, she came third in a masters tournament in Hawaii. (Algae came first in the men's.)

But due to a recent illness she doesn't get out as much as she used to: her bones ache, her skin has grown thin. She tires more easily than she used to, and sometimes gets caught in the white water. That's when Abbey will call out, "You all right there, Nan?" One of the local boys will paddle in and give her a push back out into the line-up.

"I used to surf for hours but I know my limits now,'' she says. ''Now if I can get one or two waves, it's good. If I can get six, I'm laughing."

The story From grommet to gran, on the crest of a wave first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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