Travel Blog Entry & Photos by Sherry Ott of Ottsworld
Experiencing Sisterhood on a Surf & Yoga Retreat
I bobbed in the ocean, sitting on my board, breathing heavy from the paddle out past the break. I already felt like giving up, but my eyes were zeroed in on the horizon, squinting away the sunrise. My brain was on overdrive. This one? Too big. This one? No, wait…maybe…no. This one? No, I can’t do this! This one? Yes, …wait…shit…yes. I quickly did my sitting turn I had learned and lay down on my board. I scoot into position with my toes on the back of the board tense and ready.
I take a deep breath mentally running through all of the things in my head I was supposed to remember; breath, look at the horizon, keep my hands by my chest when I push up, pop up with my left leg in front, put my back foot down, breath. I look behind my shoulder and see it building. Without thinking, I start to paddle. I hear Kate yelling at me, “paddle, paddle, harder!” The board suddenly lifts beneath me as if a monster has risen out of the sea and is moving me. I paddle as hard as I can. I think about giving up. I keep paddling. Suddenly I panic and am elated at the same time; I caught the wave.
What Was a Typical Day Like?
We’d get up for coffee and head to the beach by 7AM for our first lessons. Even though I’m not a morning person at all, I loved these mornings because the beach was completely deserted. The sun had just come up, and the waves were good; it didn’t get much better than this!
We’d have little lessons on form, etiquette, paddling, turtle rolling, etc. Then we’d be let loose to hit the waves. We had 3 instructors – 2 from Surf Sister and a local instructor. We’d spend at least 90 minutes out in the waves. Then completely famished we’d come back to breakfast at 9:15. After breakfast we normally had yoga and free time.
In the afternoon we’d sometimes go through the gopro footage from the morning and get more advice on form from our coaches. It was sort of like a football player watching footage; you are too far up on the board, you need to put your back foot down, paddle longer! The afternoons were about hammock naps, massages, swimming, or biking into town. I was normally so exhausted I would just sit in a hammock and edit photos or relax.
We’d meet again at 4PM for another lesson about surf reports, breaks, more etiquette and we’d head down to the beach again. This time the beach was much more full and it was a good chance to put our etiquette lessons to work. I found the afternoons really stressful with the additional people and surfers, but it was necessary to get comfortable surfing with people around! We’d head back, clean up, have drinks and dinner and then maybe play games at night before we all passed out early.
In addition to this typical routine, we did a couple of day excursions to go snorkeling out at Coiba National Park and a beach picnic day at Santa Catalina Island. I loved that we had these little outings available to us so we could see and experience a bit more of the area. But what I loved most was being able to stay in one place; no rushing around to see every sight, no packing and unpacking, no pressures. It was a week of just surfing, yoga, beach, and being still. It’s really rare I get vacations like this and realized how important they are.
Meet Our Surf Coaches
“You have to remain positive,” Kate lectured me as we were bobbing out in the water and I had just fallen off my board yet again. I was beating myself up about some stupid mistake I made or upset that I couldn’t progress as much as I wanted. But Kate was reminding me that I wouldn’t make progress if I was too hard on myself. She was absolutely right, however it’s sometimes hard to be gentle on yourself. I appreciated the reminder though; as women we are super critical of ourselves and it really does get us nowhere.
Kate and Lydia, our instructors from Surf Sister in Tofino, were the perfect pair. They clearly loved teaching; they were constantly positive and patient. We started the retreat by sitting around a bon fire at the beach talking about what we hoped to accomplish for the week. My goal was to be able to pick a wave to take and paddle onto it myself.
I think one of my favourite things about the week was that it wasn’t about progressing or mastering one step and then moving on to the next. It was more about learning how you are supposed to do many different things and working on all of them simultaneously. And this worked because many times I only was able to get one part of the process right – maybe it was the middle part (catching the wave), maybe it was the end part (like standing up), or maybe it was simply being able to read the wave by myself. I had to learn how to take little victories and not expect that I would get it all right. I was far away from being consistent.
Kate and Lydia built a camaraderie that was supportive and fun!
Learning to Relax…and Laugh
All of this fun did not come without its share of aches and pains – at least for me. It’s amazing how our body gets stuck in a rut doing the same stuff over and over. When I woke up on day 2 and turned over – my whole body hurt. I knew I had moved out of the rut…and so did my sore muscles. Surfing is one of the most demanding sports on your body. It uses so many different muscles; especially lower back, shoulders, chest, and arms.
Yoga and surfing is like ying and yang; you beat up your body in the water, and then turn around and heal it in yoga! Our yoga instructor, Eva, was also a surfer, so she knew exactly how to get to those important (and numerous), sore areas and stretch them out. She did various versions of yoga, but focused a lot on our shoulders! I do love yoga and I think it’s so important as we get older to stay flexible. However, Eva also pushed us out of our comfort zone and really turned it into a learning and bonding experience.
“Would you like to try laughing yoga?” Eva asked us in her Catalan accent. I cringed for a second. I have enough trouble with the normal yogi stuff – and now she wants to try laughing? I tried to remind myself I should embrace and try new things. But laughing…oh boy this was going push me way out of my comfort zone. As we all gathered in a circle she explained how important it was to laugh. It not only would be an emotional boost, but it also builds our core muscles. We wouldn’t necessarily have anything to laugh about, but “The mind does not know that we’re faking it,” Eva explained. She went on to describe how the session would work and that we would be laughing for 20 minutes and then she’d lead us into a deep relaxation.
Whoa – 20 minutes of laughing? This was as daunting to me as trying to catch a green wave and stand up. I took a deep breath and followed her lead. We all were a bit uncomfortable at first – but since we had already bonded as a group, it was actually pretty easy to be silly together. What started as fake laughter ended up being real as we were all nearly in tears. I don’t think I have laughed that much in years and years. My stomach hurt and my face was sore from smiling. I did it…I let go…and I was reminded once again that letting go is always worth it.
But it was the deep relaxation that she guided us into afterward that was my highlight. You hang between sleep and awareness for about 20 minutes – it’s an incredible place to be.
The Perfect Active Vacation
I watched all the women the last day and thought about how much progress we had all made – together. Aspects of my surfing did improve, such as reading waves, getting comfortable on a smaller board, and how to paddle myself onto a wave; the standing part…well…that still needs some work. But I can safely say that I haven’t had a healthier more relaxing vacation. I ate wonderfully, drank minimally, was active, learned new things, and learned how to relax. And this all happened with the camaraderie of 9 other women who started as strangers and ended as friends and teammates.
One night at dinner we were all talking about dating and relationships when Cynthia who was 66 said, “As you get older you practically have to pay people to touch you!” We all laughed and without hesitation, Sam looked at her and said – “no you don’t!” and gave Cynthia a big hug.
Thanks to my ‘surf sisters’ for making this a vacation to remember! This week in Panama taught me about surfing, yoga, relaxing, being kind to myself, and most importantly it reminded me how incredible the power of women together are. Sisterhood!
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I bobbed in the ocean, sitting on my board, breathing heavy from the paddle out past the break. I already felt like giving up, but my eyes were zeroed in on the horizon, squinting away the sunrise. My brain was on overdrive. This one? …
Travel Blog Entry & Photos by Sherry Ott
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