The year I learned to surf, I felt confidence I haven’t known since I was a girl. It was liberating, but there were also challenges. I knew women teach women differently, but there weren’t many women in the line-up back then. From my own experience, this created serious learning hurdles.
Then after one life-altering week of surfing with other girls in Mexico, I knew what was needed to balance the equation–a specialized women’s surf program taught by women. I quit my job and launched Las Olas surf safaris for women. 20 years later, our team has introduced many new surfers to camaraderie, culture, and warm water surfing, hopefully transforming their lives, too.
I interviewed the women who make these transformations happen – our surf coaches. Not only are they are great surfers and generous educators, but some have been with Las Olas for nearly a decade.
For their musings on careers, health, and life in general, read on.
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Surf Coaching – How and Why?
AYNSLEY In 1984 I didn’t know surf instructing was a viable career! When I was four, my parents packed me and my sister into our family’s two door Volvo and drove to Mexico for a vacation… from CANADA! We fell in love with Mexico and the ocean and I knew my life would never be the same –– I was hooked. After college I used my degree in travel merchandising and tourism management, working restaurant shifts to save money to spend my winters surfing in Mexico.
Quite honestly, I sucked at surfing for a very long time.
Eventually I decided to move to one of Canada’s very few surf towns in order to surf year-round. My career as an instructor began. I was recruited to work at an all-female surf school, meeting Dawn and Shawna, who worked winters at Las Olas. They put in a good word for me, and I’ve been with Las Olas eight years now!
NICOLE I was skiing knee deep powder with friends, and on the chair lift back up we talked about surfing and planning our next surf trip. That love for surfing led me to live by the ocean and has changed my life.
There’s something about surfing that invites a shift in confidence, comfort, and freedom. Seeing how surfing influences people is what inspires me to teach.
I’ve always loved teaching, guiding, sharing what I love. Nothing gets me more excited than seeing people transform out there in the water.
KATE My best surf buddy helped me get my first job as a surf instructor over ten years ago in Canada. I thought it was just going to be a fun summer job, but I quickly realized how much I loved teaching. Sharing my days in the ocean with new surfers and their genuine Stoke was waaay better than sitting in a muddy hole in England.
I was meant to be an archaeologist after all those years of study…oops!
I particularly enjoyed working with other women and giving them encouragement that my girlfriends and I didn’t get when we first learned how to surf.
AMANDA I believe some people fall into careers, while others make a very distinct choice, either through lifelong dreams or as a result of experience. When asked as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said “first female wide-receiver for the 49ers.” I have never stopped loving sports and the outdoors. However, my nature is to please, so I chose a path (managing my family hotel) I thought would make my friends and family proud. But I was not happy.
It took years to choose a different career. I was afraid I would lose financial stability. I was afraid I would disappoint my peers and my family. And most of all, I was afraid I was too old and I would fail.
When I think about the choice to work for Las Olas, I think of Indiana Jones. (By the way, as a kid, I also wanted to be Indiana Jones.) I hear the old knight saying in his crackly several hundred-year-old voice, “You have chosen wisely.”
I am often told how lucky I am to be a surf instructor in Mexico. I will agree, but as far as choices go, I’ve worked hard to understand what it is I want. I chose to work for Las Olas (and thank god they chose to have me, too).
CIELO When I learned to surf 16 years ago, I decided that I was going to try to make a life around surfing, but I didn’t know exactly how! So I was working in my mom’s shop when a group of women from Las Olas came with some surf coaches and we had a little chat. I was like “that’s so cool!” and suddenly it become my dream of someday work with Las Olas.
I started teaching because I think everybody can surf.
I began teaching in my own business eight years ago and now I’m so proud that Las Olas gave me the opportunity to work with them.
LEAH I’ve known about Las Olas since I was a teenager, and actually had one of the old pamphlets taped to my high school bedroom wall! That being said, when I found out I was living in the same town as Las Olas, I wanted to hang!
Bev was the first woman that gave me the opportunity to instruct surfing with other women, and I’ll forever be grateful for the confidence it gave me, after always teaching only with boys.
Teaching women to surf, with other women who love surfing as much as me, is one of the raddest parts of my life. Shaka!
Fitness / Nutrition / Lifestyle
LEAH I always call myself a “lazy surfer” as I’m a big fan of cute, cruisy waves and smooth paddle-ins. Surfing is the biggest part of my fitness routine, so the two things that get me into the water are a great sleep and a big cup of coffee!
Daily meditation helps me keep my cool and work with my inner world, creating more space in my life. When the surf is flat, you’ll find me on the dance floor, writing in cafes, or hanging with my dog on the beach. I also believe in the relaxed power of a pint of yummy craft beer!
AYNSLEY Fitness? Yoga, surfing, dancing, and walking.
I personally don’t like going to the gym and I often joke that I won’t even run to catch a bus. There is always another bus!
One of the best ways to stay in shape for surfing… is by surfing! But I also love gentle yoga. Yoga is how I prepare my body before I surf and how I restore sore muscles after. Yoga also keeps me balanced emotionally so I can thrive at my job. I think the secret to fitness is truly enjoying what you’re doing. If you like it, you’ll do it. If you hate it, you’ll find excuses.
Nutrition? Green juice! And a balanced diet. I LOVE chocolate, ice cream and pizza. I try to eat well without denying myself pleasures in moderation.
Lifestyle? I decided to live in a way that nurtures my soul. I’m kind to others and myself, and have chosen an active, healthy, and simple lifestyle. It’s not necessarily for everyone, but in order for my lifestyle as a surf/yoga Instructor to function, simplicity is the key. I gave up certain comforts and securities, but my soul is happy.
CIELO First of all, I’m a mom of two kids, so running after them keeps me fit. When waves are OK, I surf. I run. I do some yoga and get involved in my kids activities. I try really hard to eat healthy, but sometimes TACOS are stronger than me!
NICOLE I don’t really have any routines. What’s important to me is listening to what I feel I need.
I eat what I want to eat and enjoy it!
I’m lazy and nap when my body’s feeling like it needs a break. I roll around on my mat, doing yoga and feldenkrais when my body feels sluggish. And I surf!
KATE Ha ha––They call me Two Steak Kate! I eat as much as I can and most of the time it is nutritious. I’m a big fan of any food and drink that tastes good and makes me feel good after. Breakfast is my favorite meal and must include eggs and a smoothie.
I try to get in the water every day and I jog everywhere because I tend to be late for things… due to surfing that day (ha!).
I’m also on the fire department so I regularly put my big sweat-suit on (turnout gear) and carry people around. I do yoga if I have time because it makes my brain and body feel amazing.
AMANDA I like the way I feel when I’m active. I also like training for different sports, so I think I have a head-start when it comes to fitness. As far as nutrition and lifestyle? I really believe, as with life, that it is all a matter of balance and listening to your body.
For instance, I LOVE ice-cream and I HATE yoga. There, I said it!
I balance my nutrition by eating a high vegetable diet and fish only. Okay, maybe some steak when my mom cooks. I allow myself ice cream when I really want it and NOT EVEN IN MODERATION! But I am also careful to listen to my body, which hates feeling too full.
As for yoga, I try to do it even though I’m often bored and as limber as a brick. The truth is, my body feels better when I’m consistent with it.
So there you go. Surf and workout daily. Eat a well balanced diet and occasionally eat ice cream. Or whatever floats your boat!
CIELO I’ve learned to listen. And I’ve learned that water and waves always heal.
KATE I learn something from my students every time I teach at surf camp. We spend a solid week together working on something that certainly isn’t easy, so we get close and share wisdom, whether it’s how to get a job as a professional bull rider or swear creatively!
AMANDA First and foremost, I’ve learned to share the stoke. I can recognize that feeling we all get when we feel the rush of riding a wave. I’ve recently realized it is the same for all of us, and in that realization I began to feel that rush for my students. It’s very cool.
I’ve also learned how quickly the ocean evens the playing field. Las Olas has some incredible guests–doctors, CEO’s, entrepreneurs, authors, producers––I can go on and on.
Frankly, it can be just as intimidating as it is inspiring. But in the water, we’re all just surfers out to catch that rush.
I’ve taken this realization with me to other environments and see that we are all just doing the best we can. Where some exceed, others do not and that is actually, okay.
LEAH Patience and creativity. If a client is struggling, it’s pretty cool to approach different angles, and come up with something new, on the spot creatively!
I’ve learned to follow my gut instinct and try different approaches to match the needs our our guests.
AYNSLEY Oh my gosh! So many! I love teaching because I love learning! I have learned (and am still learning) compassion, patience, communication, empathy, courage, trust, the power of positive thought, self acceptance/love, and how to encourage healthy self-esteem in others.
NICOLE We all learn and need support differently. We all improve at our own time. We are all unique.
People fascinate me and surf coaching has taught me so much about human behavior respecting and honoring all individuals in the space they’re in. Because we’re all just trying to do the best we can.
Tips on Living a Happy, Balanced Life
NICOLE Take time to get to know yourself. Discover what it is you need and want in life. Listen to your impulses. Sit with sadness. Enjoy happiness. Feel anger. Celebrate love.
KATE Surfing, traveling, eating, laughing, loving yourself and others, deep sleeping, going fast, being in oceans, being in trees, beer. I’m dedicated to fun that makes me and others around me happy. I look after my body so I can keep doing the things I love and it is ready for anything fun and challenging. I also make sure that I surround myself with my friends and family who make me laugh and will be there if I cry. (That’s not really a tip, that’s just how I manage to do it, but I highly recommend it all.)
AMANDA I believe a balanced life is different for everyone.
I am happy, but I cannot say my life is completely balanced. It’s more a work in progress.
Thus, I am reluctant to give any advice here. I can say that it seems impossible to create a balanced life if you fail to listen to yourself, your body, and your dreams or goals. I understand this now after spending a decade ignoring my own desires in order to live up to others’ expectations. My life may not be perfectly balanced, but the more I listen to myself the closer I get, and the better I understand where to give or take.
LEAH Surround yourself with people that add to your life, rather than take away from it.
Good vibes, and trust that intuition! It’s always right!
CIELO Enjoy what you have, love who you are, trust in your heart, and be nice.
AYNSLEY I don’t think there is one magic answer. We are all unique. Experiment. Find what works for you. Love yourself and treat others with respect and kindness.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes written by yoga teacher Donna Farhi that I read in my yoga classes at Las Olas: “We learn to inhale completely and open to new experience. We learn to exhale completely and let go of unnecessary tension and the past. And we learn to rest in the pauses in between this arising and dissolving cycle. Like a surfer out on the ocean swell, we start to align ourselves with the ebb and flow of life rather than fight against it”.
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Over twenty years, I’ve learned so much from our surf coaches. Their talent as teachers and athletes, the commitment to their chosen lifestyle, and the kindness they share with others leaves me in awe. (And when coach Robin gets out of the water, I’ll have her story, too!) So stay tuned.
See you in the waves,
Bev Sanders is founder and president of Las Olas Surf Safaris for Women and editor-in-chief of Jennifer’s Journey, the online travel portal for women adventurers. She started surfing at 44 continuing her lifelong pursuit of introducing women to sports. You’ll find her and husband Chris on the beach in Mexico throughout the surf season.
Photos: Camilla Fuchs, Nik West, & Las Olas