Evelyn O’Doherty is that lonely figure you pass on your way to work: She’s going the other way with boards piled on her roof, and you wonder, “What could she possibly be up to?” It’s blowing stink out of the northeast, there are whitecaps on the bay and the ocean, and not a glimmer of hope for a decent outing on the water.
Or, so you’d think. Later, you get word she paddled with the wind and waves at her back from Montauk to Springs. “Learning to surf changed my life,” she says, the familiar cliché taking on another layer of meaning.
O’Doherty caught her first waves at the age of 34. “Then, I got into stand-up paddling and — ha! — it was just full bore from there.” A new life began.
Six years ago, she left a career as an eighth-grade English teacher in the public schools (Southampton, then Riverhead) and began teaching standup paddling and yoga.
Now fitter than she’s ever been, she’s competing in paddleboard races (winning on the regional and international circuit) and organizing yoga and surf travel for clients to garden spots like Rincon, Puerto Rico. “I took a big risk and made a big change . . . but who would have thought that I’d be a sponsored racer in my 40s?”
Forever a teacher, O’Doherty not only has yoga and surf students, but also instructs with the after-school Project Most enrichment program at the Springs School.
When the deep cold hit in the winter of 2014–2015, and the bays began to freeze over, and snow and ice brought life to a standstill on the East End, O’Doherty, threw on her wetsuit, grabbed her board, and went exploring and training amid the icebergs. “Follow your heart,” she advises her students of all ages.
She speaks from experience.