How Do You Cultivate Confidence to Follow Your Dreams?

Do you pursue what you love even if it scares you? amiga, author, stand-up comedian and artist JJ Barrows shares her inspiring story about how surfing gave her the confidence to follow her passions.

The ocean has served as JJ’s medicine throughout life; helping manage fear and anxiety while also illuminating her talents and encouraging change. In her early days of surfing, JJ struggled to belong and find community. Throughout her surf journey, the ocean helped cultivate her inner voice, gain confidence and create a life of intention in ways she never could have imagined.

At some point in each of our individual surf journeys, we experience feelings of exclusion, an inability to “fit in,” or being outed as a “kook” in the water. JJ’s story is no different. She’d pull up to the parking lot at the beach and see serious-looking “surfer bros” ready to paddle out, zinc-ing up their faces without a smile in sight. JJ dabbled in surfing as a young girl, but the strong intimidation factor and xenophobic natures of the lineups she entered caused her to put a long-term hold on her surfing career.

While living in San Diego in her late 20s, JJ suffered from crippling anxiety, at times making it difficult to even leave the house. “It was the ocean that slowly pulled [her] out of being overwhelmed by her existence in the world. [She] felt like the ocean was this safe place to go and just be.” When she finally entered the water again, she swore she’d “just let herself feel how scary it is and do it anyways.” In addition to meeting many amigas after attending SWA retreats, JJ was also eventually was able to create her own community in San Diego through surfing. JJ knew any changes to her feelings of belonging weren’t going to happen overnight, but still her mentality remained, “I might not be so and so’s level, but it doesn’t mean I’m not allowed in the ocean. It doesn’t mean I don’t belong.” 

While battling mental health issues, JJ stumbled upon comedy. She was looking for a therapist but instead accidentally found herself in a standup comedy class. Fast forward a decade or so and she has now performed in comedy clubs, churches and awkward dinner parties all over America. She was able to find success and confidence in comedy but is still always striving for the ultimate balanced lifestyle, both in and out of the water.

She explains, “having work as a purpose for me was a huge thing. It’s like with anything, you can have something that you love or a hobby or a group of friends or a sport or whatever and maybe that thing is purposeful enough, but for me I lacked a lot of purpose and the ocean was great medication for that.” 

When JJ first started getting commissions or shows for her art, she’d hang the paintings and then walk away. She remembers thinking at her first art show experience, “this is exactly what I’m afraid of. People saying I suck. I couldn’t, I didn’t want to hear it. It just felt very vulnerable. But then after, I realized I was missing out on people saying, I love this piece and this is what it spoke to me.

“And so again, you learn how to glean and absorb and yeah, you’re not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but that’s okay. You don’t need to be.”

To anyone looking to redirect or refocus their life path, JJ advises, “be a pursuer of that which you love. Don’t ignore whatever it is. I do think we’re all wired a certain way and I don’t think it’s a mistake or a random coincidence that we have the desires that we have. So I would say first thing is, start listening to what’s in there and pursue that. What I mean by that is not necessarily to go out and take a class tomorrow, but just to start pursuing can also be the act of listening, right? Pay attention. In the world that we live in, we’re just so distracted all the time.”

With a refreshing storyteller style, JJ displays the freedom a quippy sense of humor can reveal in all of us by giving breath to those gritty moments. If you’re interested in hearing more of her story, give her podcast episode a listen:

Listen now on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

You can also find JJ on Instagram @jjbarrows and watch her videos, shop her books and art (@jjbarrowsart) and sign up for her email list at jjbarrows.com.

If You Can Relate to This, You’re Officially a Surf Rat

Angie Surf With Amigas Costa Rica

How did you realize you were truly living the salty awesome life of a surfer?

If you’re in love with surfing as much as we are, you probably find yourself in unique scenarios that your non-surfer friends just don’t understand. Is your shower filled with sand? Have you ever canceled plans for epic waves? Has salt water ever dripped out of your nose during a work meeting?

Surf With Amigas Costa Rica

We recently did a fill-in-the-blank on our Instagram to find out how Amigas knew that they were living the life of a surf rat (a salty-haired, surf obsessed human). Enjoy the following compilation of hilarious submissions about the surf life from fellow Amigas.

YOU KNOW YOU’RE A SURF RAT WHEN ____.

“You don’t poop for 4 days because you’re on a surf trip in a van.”

“The last thing you do before going to sleep is check the forecast.”

“You don’t wash your hair because you know you’ll be surfing the next day.”

“Your feet are still sandy when you get to work.”

“You bail on your ‘land friends’ for your ‘ocean friends’ based on the forecast.”

“There is always a perpetual little pile of sand in the shower.”

“You cancel plans with your friends because the waves are pumping.”

Can you relate? Join us on an upcoming retreat to surf + explore with other women who know all about sandy showers and salty hair by clicking HERE.

From Surf Obsessed to Momlife – Exploring the Changes that Come with Motherhood

“I really struggled to pull together the idea of parenting and family life and surfing, because I think a lot of us can admit that surfing is typically quite a selfish kind of sport. We’re a bit flaky as people sometimes. We drop plans and we gotta go when we gotta go. I was a bit concerned as to how that was gonna work.”

Many expecting mothers think that their surf lives won’t have to change when they have kids. But the reality is, our bodies and lives take quite the turn after bringing another human being into the world. In this episode, Ruby, a former SWA coach, gets raw and real with the truth about surfing after kids. She chats about the initial shock of her pregnant life, going from thinking that she’d be living her healthiest lifestyle to experiencing constant nausea and sickness throughout her pregnancy. We focus on one of the most key questions of surfing mamas, what happens when you can’t surf? Listen as we chat about the identity shift mothers go through and how we can work on ourselves to grow into or improve our motherhood and find the right balance with family life and surfing.

A PREVIEW OF THIS EPISODE:

“I started to get thinking, you know, what’s gonna really make me feel a little bit more whole, and what do I really want in life? How did I live in a way growing up that I would like to experience differently? And motherhood was kind of an obvious pathway going from there.

The thing I think I’m learning is that things are seasons, you know, and although I might not be getting prime surf time right now, as my young one is a toddler, I will surf again.

Parenting day to day to day, back to back to back, it’s pretty, it’s beautiful, but it’s exhausting and it’s relentless. So it’s definitely pushed me to my limits of where I thought I could go.

I think something I’ve really, really come to realize recently is, is your parenting is only as good as your nervous system, right? Like focusing on trying to keep my nervous system in check. It’s kind of like in the plane, you know, the air mask pops on, you’ve got to put it on yourself before you put on your child.

This is I think where sometimes it can be important to try and diversify. When you have to care for that little human and your primary coping mechanism (surfing) isn’t available to you. I would love to say that my first time back in the water gave me this giant sigh of relief, but I was just so stressed about being a new time mom that I was just spending my whole time worrying about her.”

 Listen now on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

Fighting Breast Cancer with Triple Positive Energy

“Well, from the beginning, I knew that I was not going to go out without a fight. People walk out of their house every day not knowing that they could get hit by a bus. Do you think that they leave every day worrying that that’s going to happen to them? No, they walk out of their house cocky, taking on the day, like they’re gonna be fine and enjoying their life that way.”

1 in 8 women get breast cancer and younger women are experiencing breast cancer now than ever before. Alida Brandenburg, a former Amiga, shares her own breast cancer story. She begins by sharing her surf story, a journey that picked her up and turned her life in a different direction. But just like how she learned in surfing to let go of control in the water, she found herself completely surrounded by uncertainty when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. During a routine checkup at age 37 (with no symptoms present), she discovered two different types of breast cancer in both breasts.

Alida survived multiple surgeries and 16 rounds of chemotherapy all in just one year. She recalls her story, both mental and physical while also offering advice to other breast cancer patients. She swore to beat her triple negative cancer with a triple positive attitude. Her experience has radically changed her view of her body and what it does for her, most especially in the water.

A PREVIEW OF THIS EPISODE:

I loved surfing enough that the perfectionist in me was willing to be incredibly uncomfortable with my failure because I wanted to keep doing it so much. It became this mindfulness practice in motion.

Last year in January, I went in for one of my routine breast exams and they found that I had breast cancer in not just one type, but two types and in both breasts. So yeah, it was shocking in the sense that I wasn’t expecting it to happen so young. I was 37 at the time I was diagnosed. So I went through 16 rounds of chemo, four of which are the most hellish, terrible type that you can get. There’s actually a lifetime max of four rounds that you can do of that chemo because it is so brutal. It will kill you essentially if you do more than four.

It used to be that over 50 they recommend you start getting mammograms every year. Just this week it was announced that they’ve lowered that to 40 because it is now so common that women get it. And what they’re seeing is that younger and younger women are getting it. So PSA, don’t skip your screenings.

So much in this situation is very destabilizing and challenging. And to harken back to what I was talking about earlier with what surfing has taught me is, you know, it’s like, well, I have to be okay with that. I can’t control all of this. I can’t control the way that the wave moves. I can’t control my strength that day, I might just be having an off day. I can’t control this other surfer that just snaked my wave.

 Listen now on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

An Alternative Approach to Yoga and Expression: with Reesie Richards

“I was such an awkward weirdo at 11, but I was really really flexible.”

 

What is yin yoga? 

Yin is a really simple vocabulary. There are only 12 archetypal poses. It’s a slower-paced type of yoga inspired by traditional Chinese medicine beliefs. Everyone is believed to possess Qi (energy pathways); holding longer poses allows these pathways to open up and flow more freely.  In Reesie’s yoga class, “[she] sets the timer for 5 minutes at a time and you sit there as relaxed as you can be. The goal is to target your fascia, allowing it to slowly release and open up.”

In this episode, SWA head yoga teacher, Reesie Richards, describes her background and introduction to body movement, which centers around dance and yoga. Since age 16 she practiced yoga and learned with Paul Greeley, the “creator” of Yin yoga. She chats about the differences between Yin and restorative yoga and how she caters her yoga practice specifically to surfers at SWA retreats. Reesie’s yoga offers a space for all to experience freedom of expression. It is a hilarious and entertaining blend of relaxation and education about bodily functions. She emphasizes functional vs. aesthetic yoga, and the idea that different bodies are bound to move in varying ways. 

A PREVIEW OF THIS EPISODE:

“Being a yoga teacher isn’t so much of how I identify myself. I would go more towards, I’m a surfer or a dancer or a goofball. Again that’s part of the beauty of how yoga has been this awesome vehicle in the backdrop my whole life. It’s sort of sexy indifference on my part. It’s not the thing I care about the most, as much as that feels wrong to admit.”

Reesie’s yoga practice initially came from dance. One of her favorite forms of dance growing up was capoeira,

“A hodgepodge of African influences brought to Brazil by africans during the slave trade. They weren’t allowed to have any sort of self defense, so they disguised martial arts through ritual and dance and it’s an art and so many things, it’s like a chess game.”

Dance, capoeira and surf have always been the things I’ve been obsessed with. But those things have always come in and out, yoga has been the silent rock in the background of my physical life that has been keeping me safe, sane and healthy.

My dance teacher’s husband was Paul Greeley, the “creator” of Yin Yoga. He kind of invented how it is in today’s world. He got the form of the long yin poses from this super out-there guy Paulie Zinc, who’s a martial artist who Paul used to practice with. I started taking his classes when I was 16.

After an hour of Yin Yoga with Reesie,

You feel really grounded because you’ve had an hour with yourself. Mentally you get really calm, your breath slows down. At the end of class you’ll find you’re breathing super shallow and slow. I don’t exactly know how to describe how sparkly the feeling is.

Listen now on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

Find Out How Much You’ll Really Surf at Your SWA Retreat!

Surf With Amigas

When you sign up for a surf retreat, you expect to surf your brains out, and as passionate surfers, we really get it. At Surf With Amigas, rest assured, every aspect of your retreat will be planned around the surf. We are frothing surfers that love the water as much as you do!

FAQ: IS THERE A SCHEDULED TIME TO SURF?

ANSWER: We do schedule our paddle out times. Why? This is how we assure that you get to the best surf spot for your ability with the best possible conditions! For each scheduled session we also coordinate with videographers to make sure all your awesome rides are captured on video to be reviewed and enjoyed later. The surf coaches will join you at all of these scheduled sessions, where you’ll receive in-water instruction, coaching, and support. 

The scheduled surf sessions have no specific end-time. We’ll stay in the water as long as conditions permit or until you’re ready to go. We might give you a head’s up that the tide is really dropped out, breakfast is now ready and yoga will be soon, to encourage you to find that last wave in, but if you just want to keep the salt-water soak going, as long as there is no safety issue, we’ll support you in doing that.

FAQ: HOW ARE THE SURF SESSIONS PLANNED?

ANSWER: Our team’s expert knowledge of the various surf spots in the area is used to plan the surf sessions around a variety of factors including tide, wind, swell size/direction, avoiding crowd, plus the surf ability of each surfer. It’s a complicated matrix sometimes, particularly because we will usually split up the group by ability level and have people going in different directions, but it’s important to us to make sure that everybody has access to waves that are suitable to their ability and everyone has the opportunity to be in the water during the best conditions possible.

A typical retreat day might look something like this:

5am coffee and first breakfast
6am SURF
9am Second (Hot) breakfast
10am optional second surf or Classroom session or Chill time
12pm lunch
2pm yoga
4pm adventure activity, classroom session, sunset surf!
6pm dinner

Settle in and take a break from having to worry about schedules and planning. We’ve got you covered and you’ll be surfed out and satisfied by the end of the week!

Queer Surf, Evolving Lineups, & Competitive Surf Culture: with Kyla Langen

“It was so challenging, of course. Knowing there were so many other surfers in the closet not coming out and just knowing that’s how it had to be if you wanted to maintain sponsorship. So knowing I couldn’t really be out and public, I feel like it’s almost formed my identity in a way.”

A Bit AbouT KYLA LANGEn:

Kyla has been riding waves since she could walk and lifeguarding and teaching surfing for over two decades. After surfing professionally for 12 years, they swam upstream as a queer person in a heteronormative surf industry.  Because of her experiences and limitations in the surf industry Kyla founded Queer Surf to help expand surf culture and increase queer ocean access.  Kyla believes in the healing, empowering magic of the sea and wants all people to have access to it.

Queer Surf is a California-based community organization aimed at making the ocean more accessible through knowledge sharing and skill building. Founded in 2016 by Kyla and her partner/ insatiable boogie boarder Nic Brise, Queer Surf reduces barriers and helps the LGBTQ+ community navigate all aspects of ocean recreation. Through a host of programs and events including lessons, coaching, clinics, retreats, meet-ups, night school, book clubs and more, Queer Surf builds community and fosters a safer space for non binary, trans, and queer people at the beach. Queer Surf believes deeply in the magical healing powers of the ocean and is committed to building access to the coast.

What is it like to identify as queer in a heteronormative and male-dominated surf culture?

In this episode, Kyla Langen, former pro surfer and founder of Queer Surf, reminisces with our host Holly Beck about their time together on tour and surfing around the world in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. They chat about the structure and expectations for female professional surfers of the time and what it meant for those who did not fit the standard mold (for queer folks in particular). Kyla recalls their struggles with sponsors and having to hide parts of their identity in order to remain supported. They dive into the barriers to queer surfing and the journey in creating Queer Surf. Kyla dreams of a more inclusive, friendly lineup, where people of all bodies and beliefs can find connection and awareness through the ocean, using any kind of board.

A PREVIEW OF THIS EPISODE:

“In the early days it was just like, I’m a surfer. It doesn’t matter who I’m into it doesn’t matter what else you know, I can present mostly as a surfer. Then as things started evolving, sponsors want you to wear their clothes for their things. They want you in their baby tees and they want you in their shirts and dresses. That started to get a little awkward. This is not me, this is not what I wanna be wearing, this is not my identity. It definitely came to the point where, okay, can I maintain sponsorship?

I basically started dating someone and my team manager was starting to pick up on it. And real quick it was like, you got to keep that under wraps. You can’t be that, you can’t do that.

You’ve got to be marketable to the mainstream. You have to be a feminine woman who can model. And so basically I had to decide, okay, am I going to keep down this path keep faking it?

And nowadays, I mean, I wonder, did the tour really just get more straight or are people just hiding?”

 Listen now on Apple Podcasts or Spotify,

A Former SWA Coach is Pushing the Limits in Women’s Big Wave Surfing!

“I’ve never gone this fast before. Just hold on. There’s kind of some bumps and I’m just trying to shock absorb everything and then yeah I finally made it to the bottom. I felt like I was going down forever. I was like wow I’m still going down, I’m still going down. I made it to the bottom and was thinking, okay you need to bottom turn. I had so much speed I couldn’t turn the board. When you’re going that fast you’re kind of just going straight because you need to set your rail.”

 

In this episode we connect with Delia Bense-Kang, a former Surf With Amigas instructor and big wave surfer. Although she hasn’t always identified as a, “big wave surfer”, since learning to surf as a young girl, she has consistently run towards what most of us would consider to be big waves. Finding and pushing her limits first in the in the cold heavy waves of Northern California, to now making a life in the even heavier warm water waves of Hawaii and chasing swells worldwide with the big wave community. In this episode, Delia shares a recent story of her biggest wave (and wipeout) in Todos Santos, Mexico, her tips for dealing with fear, training, and other techniques we can all use to build our own confidence and capabilities in the water.

A PREVIEW OF THIS EPISODE:

“You take a boat out, you’re by an island, there’s emerald blue water. And then we get out there and all these big wave legends were out. It was a full hero session. And then I was like, I’m here too, hi!I feel like in the lineups in those situations, everyone is wanting each other to succeed and be safe and cheering each other on and it’s not as much of a gnarly, jockeying lineup.

So it was kind of one of those scary sessions where you’re just sitting and you’re like, I don’t know if I’m too far inside or too far outside because there hasn’t been a wave in 30 minutes. Then all of a sudden this big wave would come through.

So after being out there for probably like at least an hour, maybe a little bit longer, again, just kind of letting a couple waves go by and watching what everyone’s doing, not paddling straight to the peak, you know, respecting lineup. A wave had come through that no one paddled for and it kind of stood up all of a sudden and I was like, oh, I thought that was a catchable wave. And then, I saw another wave coming through and it didn’t look giant at first. It was just kind of popping, you know, that bump popping up the lineup. And I was in the right place and I just swung around, because no one else was turning. So I was like, all right, I’ll go.”

Listen now on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

Is Sustainable Surf Tourism Possible? with Tara Ruttenberg

“I think that [decolonization in surf tourism] might be a frustrating topic because people want answers and solutions, but decolonization is a lens. It’s a way of seeing things that raise these sorts of critical questions to then move towards solutions that are decolonizing.”

In the past several years, we have seen global explosions in surf tourism. In many ways, it feels inevitable. More and more people are discovering the joys of the ocean, embarking on their surf journeys and learning how to both read and ride waves. As surfers, we’re perpetually searching for the next swell, that exhilarating moment when we precariously perch on a slab of foam while careening down a wall of water. Most will stop at nothing to experience that feeling again and again, even if it means entering a pressurized can and cramming your body into a small seat next to a lavatory for 18 hours. But what does it mean for these foreign, often isolated communities when we, as surf travelers, enter their communities in search of the perfect wave?

In this episode, Holly and Jackie discuss what surf tourism looks like in today’s world with Tara Ruttenberg. Tara has a PhD in Development Studies and wrote her thesis on the decolonization of surf tourism. She shares her story of learning to surf, what brought her to study surf tourism in Costa Rica and discusses some of the topics in her thesis. Listen as Holly, Jackie and Tara share stories and their own experiences in the surf tourism industry while also attempting to answer questions like: What does it mean to decolonize oneself? Is there such a thing as sustainable surf tourism? Whether you are a regular or aspiring international surf traveler, this episode’s conversation offers important perspectives to consider in our ever growing, globalized world.

Tara Surf With Amigas

A PREVIEW OF THIS EPISODE:

“So some people define decolonization as returning land to native and indigenous people. So that’s kind of a hard line that some people take but decolonization is not a metaphor. It’s not only this kind of an umbrella term for liberation or social emancipation. [So] I take that approach, but kind of add on, based on the reality that many other things beside land have been colonized through processes of colonization, right? We can think about ideas being colonized. We can think about bodies being colonized. So decolonization can mean the undoing of these things.”

So in the surf tourism context, it means how, if you’re thinking about it from a land perspective, how is land being returned to local people, local surfers, for example, or local communities. It can also mean who has jurisdiction or governance over local resources, or [refer to] how women are interacting in surfing spaces in ways that are undoing relationships of colonization and patriarchy.

So surf culture in Costa Rica exists at the intersection of local culture and foreign surf tourism as a starting point. There’s some assertion of localism that other expats surfers feel in places here, and with or without recognition of the colonial privilege that they bring into these places. So what makes them get to assert some sort of localism or decide that they are locals in these places and therefore have something to say about what you’re (Surf With Amigas) doing?

And looking at who’s doing the localism and what the localism is doing, what it’s upholding or what it’s trying to tear down, that’s a line of questioning that I find fascinating. One of the things or the conclusions that we came to with that article is that there can be some really interesting forms of cooperation or community forged between local surfers and women surfers that can resist some of these more neocolonial experiences in surfing tourism. Because looking at it from kind of a broader picture reality with a lens of colonization, women surfers and local surfers are the ones being edged out or marginalized.”

Listen now on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

Surfboard Options at SWA Retreats: What To Know Before You Go

Frequently Asked Questions:

“Can I try multiple surfboards during the retreat?

What surfboards will be available?

Do I need to bring my own surfboard?”

At all of our retreat locations, and particularly in Northern Nicaragua + Southern Costa Rica, we have large quivers with boards of all shapes and sizes to choose from. You can most certainly collaborate with our coaches to find the perfect board for you, and if you want to try multiple boards, just let us know! From shortboards, fish, and mid-lengths, to high performance longboards or more classic-style logs, we aim to have a well rounded bunch of boards for all lady surfers’ preferences. 

We don’t use soft-tops – Contrary to a lot of surf camps and schools, we do not believe in learning on soft-tops. Many surf schools that use soft tops use them because they are cheaper, more durable, and if there is a large student to instructor ratio, everyone can stay safe. The downside to using soft tops is that the fat rails and overly flexible board and fins, perform differently than a standard fiberglass board. Our philosophy is not to simply give you a “surf experience” but to teach you the tools to be able to go home and paddle out confidently on your own. We will teach you how to manage the board safely and you will progress in your surfing faster.

Here’s how it usually works:

First, when you sign up for a retreat and fill out your Amiga profile,  we will ask for a few personal surf details including:

  1. Prior surf experience if any (ability level, frequency, where you surf)
  2. Board preference if you have one (size, shape)
  3. Height + weight (to determine the most fitting board)

*if you have any questions about specific boards, be sure to email your retreat leader before your retreat begins.

Then, with this information our experienced surf coaches pre-assign the board(s) they think will most suit your surf level + preferences. When you arrive to the retreat you may start on that board, or pick another. You’ll always have a chance to swap throughout the week with the available boards at the retreat. We recommend to make a note when you fill out your surf details sheet before the retreat if you’re interested in trying multiple or very specific types of boards- so that our team can pull a few aside for you! *IF you are a short-boarder, we highly recommend traveling to the retreat with your own shred sled as our shortboard quiver is not as diverse as our quiver starting at 7′ long.

Surf With Amigas Costa Rica

We will support you in reaching your surfing goals and assist in choosing the most appropriate surfboard(s) to move towards those goals! At Surf With Amigas we invest in offering high-quality surfboards for ladies of ALL surf levels across all of our retreat locations.

Have any questions about surfboard options at a specific retreat location? ASK HERE!