River and Sea – A Life of Reading Water

After adding our first ever Adventure Retreat to the schedule (a 3-day whitewater rafting and camping trip in California) we decided to catch up with fellow surfer, kayaker, and yoga teacher, Saanti Steyer. In the excerpt below, Saanti recounts all the things that she’s learned by spending time in rivers and oceans, and the synergy of two sports- surfing and white water rafting.

As I’m floating along the river I feel a sense of calm, the river is calm. The water is peacefully moving downstream, swiftly but with ease. It reminds me of sitting out in the ocean, those moments in-between sets, dangling off my surfboard, body submerged in water, waiting for waves to come. The water goes quiet for a moment, resting, and I take in my surroundings, the beauty of the California Trinities seen at a river’s pace. I think back to the dense Southern Costa Rican jungle being lit up by the first light of day.

Southern Costa Rica Surf With Amigas

This view of land from water, from river, from ocean, it’s my favorite thing. It, along with the adrenaline of the coming rapid, the coming wave, is why the river and sea have such a hold on my heart. Light reflects off water, off rocks, a bald eagle flies low and comes to land on a cliff’s edge. A fish jumps, a turtle slides from rock to water. This place, this gorge, this view is insane! It always makes me feel so incredibly alive. And maybe it’s cliche to say, but an immense appreciation for our natural world in this unaltered, untouched state, coupled with these adrenaline-pumping water activities, like surfing, like rafting, like whitewater kayaking, that take so many hours of dedication, practice, falls, wipeouts, blood and sweat, joy and tears, to reach the amount of adequacy and competency, that when the moment comes when the river constricts and roars, when the ocean draws back and a huge set looms in the distance, the hours that I spent practicing my boof strokes and bracing, hip snaps, and the timing of placing my paddle blade just right into the current to propel my boat just where it needs to go… the lifetimes of practicing my pop-ups, and throwing my body weight just perfectly into the wave, and pumping, and cutting back… That feeling of making the section, of flying down the wave, of hitting my line in a rapid, of propelling my kayak into the air over a drop. Nothing better. Nothing. Better. 

The river has taught me so much, and the ocean has taught me so much. Surfing and kayaking have taught me so much.

And in the grand scheme of all of these; river, sea, kayak, surf, I am such a baby. I didn’t start surfing or get in a whitewater kayak until my 20’s. There is a lifetime of information to learn and I started late, but the number of ways these two environments and water activities have taught me about each other are incredible. I am in awe of the natural world that these two sports allow me to trip out over endlessly, and the ways that they have expanded my mind to the knowledge of water and the knowledge of my body. The minute act of pressing more weight into my toes, of getting my foot just a hair farther back on my board, of throwing my hip into my kayak so I can blast through a wall of water; these subtle idiosyncrasies allow me to act in communion with water, in communion with my body. I might be late to the game but the synergy of these two sports in my life are helping me progress forward in both.

Surf and White Water Kayak

The more time I spend in my kayak on the river, and hours surfing in the ocean, I continue to be struck by how much performing these sports relies on my ability to read the water. If I’m not reading the wave that’s coming towards me, seeing where it stands up, where it’s breaking fast, where there’s time on the wave for a cutback or where I need to find a high line and race the section, I’m probably not even catching the wave. If I’m reading the wave then I’m positioning myself just where I want to be, arching my back, or pressing my chest down precisely as needed to get into the wave and get to my feet in time. If I’m on the river, I’m finding the eddy lines, seeing the slack water, the main current, looking out for holes, and looking for rocks with water spilling over, and waves to blast over or through. Being able to read a wave on the river has helped me to read waves in the ocean. I can see where rocks are on the ocean floor from the ripple and negative space they create on the surface. That’s where the wave is breaking, or that’s an obstacle I need to get around as I’m racing down a wave. Rip currents, incoming tides and outgoing, rocks, sandbar, reef.

Reading the currents of the river and seeing its traits and mannerisms, quirks and characteristics, has helped me to see all the different currents and affections that are at play in the ocean.

Rafting Amigas California

The river has taught me to take what it gives at the moment and to go with it. I have learned take what the river provides; the flat water, the rapids, the forever changing level of the water based on snow melt and rainfall. The experiences I’ve gained from the river have made me more comfortable in the ocean, and in a way have subdued my fears. When I’m kayaking, I’m flowing towards the rapids at the river’s pace, the rapid is coming when its coming, and when I get to it I’ll run it. This is a mindset I’ve adapted to the ocean. When a big wave comes, I don’t find myself descending into fear as much anymore, instead I read the shape of the wave, seeing where it’s standing up, where I can best catch it. I get myself into position and I go.

Surf With Amigas Costa Rica

About the Author: Saanti Steyer is an avid but beginner surfer and whitewater kayaker. She grew up in rural Alaska and now calls Humboldt County in Northern California home. She has a handmade swim and activewear business called SunseekCo that she is the sole designer, maker, and owner of. When Saanti isn’t surfing, kayaking, or sewing, she is teaching yin and restorative yoga for Surf With Amigas surf and yoga retreats in Costa Rica, and Cali Collective’s Women’s Whitewater kayaking retreats on rivers in Northern California and Southern Oregon. This is Saanti’s third year teaching yoga for Surf With Amigas, her fifth year surfing, and her forth year whitewater kayaking. She is 31 years old. Check out @sunseekco on Instagram to see Saanti’s handiwork, or sign up for the Surf With Amigas X Cali Collective’s three day whitewater trip on the Trinity River this summer to do yin yoga riverside with Saanti.