Before I won the Las Olas Scholarship competition, I had never won anything in my life. When I found out that I had become a top ten finalist, I was so excited about the possibility, that I dared to let my imagination run wild with thoughts of learning to surf in Mexico, and went to sleep each night during those 3 winter weeks dreaming of the sunshine and the waves that I very much needed in my life. I’m a mom of two kids, a full time high school teacher and grad student who also trains for marathons, all in the chilly northern state of Maine. A week at Las Olas was exactly what I needed physically, mentally and spiritually. So when I got the official word from Las Olas that I was the winner (“Emilie! You’re going surfing!”), I burst into tears right at my desk at work. And then started planning my trip to Mexico that very day.
I had never been away from my children for more than two nights, but I was lucky to be leaving them in the loving care of my husband. As I said, I have a busy life with its fair share of stress, so I was counting on my week away in Mexico to renew and reinvigorate me. What I actually got out of my week at Las Olas far exceeded every one of my expectations.
Of course I enjoyed the relaxation of the waves, the gentle breeze, blended margaritas, and the amazing one hour massage right in my villa, but that was all mixed with the challenge and adrenaline rush of learning to surf. At the end of each day, after an hour of yoga and two sessions of surfing, I would rinse off in the outdoor shower and then sit down on the veranda of my villa overlooking the ocean, my muscles humming, my shoulders warm with sun, and my mind totally quiet. I didn’t actually believe I could feel that relaxed.
My week included so many surprising pleasures, from the quickly formed friendships with my villa-mates, to the ease at which I slid right into the daily routine where meals were inserted between yoga and surf sessions. The vibrant life in town; the variety of restaurants; the friendly locals; the sweet, warm and slightly smokey smell in the air; and oh man, the fish tacos: now that I’m back in Maine, these are the details of my Las Olas daydreams.
What I took home with me from my week, besides several beautiful beaded bracelets and a wonderful group of new friends, is a forward momentum in my life that I know will stay with me. I was gently pushed, both by the waves under my board and the instructors. I was encouraged to be brave. I paddled hard and trusted the Las Olas girls to nudge me into waves bigger than what I would have chosen for myself, and then stood up on them and rode them all the way in. I surprised myself wave after wave, and I surfed in a way I didn’t know I had in me. Excuse me while I state the obvious here: surfing is so freaking fun.
But this week meant much more to me than just fun in the sun. Both in yoga and surfing lessons, Las Olas instructors taught us about finding the balance “between ease and effort.” In yoga, your body wants to remain within a comfortable zone while also being stretched and strengthened. In surfing, you want to let the wave take you, but you also need to know when to paddle harder for a good wave, and how to use your leg strength to find your balance on the board.
And isn’t finding the balance between ease and effort what we strive for in our lives too? We certainly don’t want to be passive and just float, but we also don’t want to constantly fight against that which we cannot control. We learn to bend before we break. We learn to find a deeper breath and a stronger stance where we didn’t know we had them. In life, we meet waves that might crash over us, but we know how to “turtle roll” and come out the other side unscathed. We find our sweet spot that puts us in the perfect position to catch the wave when the right one comes to us. I found these sweet and surprising life lessons soak into me between waves. I came home nourished, toned, energized, re-centered and sun-warmed from the inside out.
I am brimming with gratitude for my week with Las Olas. I am also, in case you didn’t already see this coming, shopping for a longboard and planning my next surf trip.
Good waves, muchas gracias, and Namaste to the Las Olas family, with love from your new surf sister.
Emilie Brand Manhart lives in Maine where she raises two kids, works as a high school English teacher, and balances her remaining time between grad school, training for marathons and triathlons, cooking, and writing. Her blog, One Mom In Maine, chronicles the joys of raising highly active kids while maintaining a positive outlook and sense of humor, and putting healthy meals on the table. Emilie was recently nominated as a Top 25 Outdoorsy Mom on Circle of Moms website. On her blog, you can follow Emilie’s stories about mountain hikes, farm share vegetables, marathon training plans, and the hilarious things her kids say. Most recently, Emilie has become obsessed with surfing.
To read Emilie’s and all the inspiring essays for the 2012 Las Olas What’s Calling You on a Surf Safari Scholarship, click here.
Emilie surf photo by Las Olas coach and photographer Brittany M. Powell.