A Guru’s Guide to Surf Skincare

As surfers, we’re constantly in the sun. Most of us are accustomed to that fried chicken feeling you get after surfing for a few hours, those sessions where you kept claiming “just one more,” even while your skin roasts, turning alarming shades of red.

Although I love living close to the equator (8 degrees to be precise), my skin protests. My Irish ancestors weren’t doing me any favors. I just wasn’t built for the life of sun’s out buns out.

Because I refuse to stop doing what I love, in recent years I’ve finally started to prioritize skincare. On one of my last retreats in Nicaragua, I hit the jackpot of skincare wisdom. Bunched around the lunch table after surfing, a group of Amigas and I started chatting about our skin routines and efforts to keep our skin feeling safe. We began firing questions at our Amiga, Malissa, who works as an Esthetician.

Amiga squad in Northern Nicaragua
What follows are some of Malissa’s hacks to perfect your skin routine. Malissa emphasized that we’re all bound to age, form wrinkles, stretch marks and spots on our skin. We shouldn’t sacrifice living the way we want in an attempt to prevent the inevitable! But we can better protect ourselves with the tools (most importantly hats, sunscreen and rashguards) to keep our skin supple and protected.

Why do you think skin care is important, does your routine change when you spend more time in the sun? Did your routine change this week on the retreat?

I think skin care is very important. It clears skin impurities off the skin, helps keep the skin clear, helps with signs of aging, and you need to use SPF to help prevent skin cancer. When I’m in the sun more I definitely am using more SPF, I will use lighter feeling products, and alway have a hat on.

My routine was definitely a little more minimal this week.   More SPF, just one serum, light moisturizer and no exfoliants.  I just wanted to have fun this week and not think too much about my skin. I was also tired at the end of the night and I wanted less to do.

What are the best preventive steps you can take daily to protect your skin?

A good cleanser, exfoliant, toner, moisturizer, and SPF! Once you have that, you can think about adding in a vitamin C serum, eye cream, and a retinol.

What is the most common issue you see for people with sun damaged skin?

Definitely melanoma (brown patches that appear on the face) that are usually from sun damage from years ago. Most brands have product for them, but whatever you are using, you need to be using SFP so they don’t get worse. Laser would also be an option.

What’s is your favorite product(s) to bring on a surf trip?

I would normally do more at home, but on this trip I brought Green Envee Clarify Cleansing gel. It has lime and turmeric in it that help calm inflammation in the skin. I have rosacea so it is good for that. You can smell the lime in it, it smells SO GOOD!

Eminence Strawberry Rhubarb hyaluronic serum. It helps plum up the skin and is very hydrating. Plus it smells like strawberries!!!

Eminence Strawberry Rhubarb hyaluronic hydrator. A very light gel moisturizer that smells just like the serum and it’s a pretty pink color!

Eminence Hibiscus ultralift eye cream. A nice medium weight cream and it has a cooling roller ball applicator.

Sun Tegrity Milky Mineral Sun Serum Spray. It’s a light SPF you spray on, it goes on white but rubs in with a dewy finish. Also it smells like mango/papaya (I think I have a thing for fruit!).

Other things I’ve use on this trip were a good SPF stick as a touch up before and after surfing:

My Chelle Sun Shield Stick SPF 50,

COOLA Liplux SPF 30. Don’t forget your lips, ever.

Malissa’s surf trip essentials

Does vitamin C/hyaluronic acid/gua sha work?

Vitamin C is great, its good for dull skin, fine lines, skin damage, and uneven skin tone. Once you start using it, it will take a few weeks to start working. And remember to not mix it with retinol. You can use it in the morning and then use retinol at night. If you mix them your skin could get irritated.

Hyaluronic acid might just be one of my favorite things! It helps hydrate, plump up the skin, soften the skin, smooth fine lines and wrinkles.

I honestly don’t really know a lot about gua shua, I do think if you’re consistent with it, it’s helpful for puffiness, lines and lifting. I do know it feels great.

What is your favorite sunscreen, chemical or mineral? 

I personally like mineral sunscreen because I have rosacea, and I think mineral SPF is better for sensitive skin. That being said, I don’t really think one is totally better than the other, I think it’s just personal preference. You need to find what works best for you and your skin. I always go for a reef-friendly sunscreen.

Note: When searching for reef-friendly sunscreens, stay away from nanoparticle zinc! Although there is controversy over whether or not it is safe for human use, it most definitely is NOT reef safe. Look for labels and brands that advertise “non-nanoparticle.” 

Is laser/red light therapy (LED) a good option for people with skin damage?

I think laser and red light therapy is good option for most people. (But alway check with your esthetician first).

I’ve had laser, but it was for my rosacea, not for sun damage. It works extremely well. It works great on melasma too. Keep in mind you will need a few treatments and touch-ups from time to time. If you do have laser treatment, then you really need to make sure you are good about SPF after, or damage will just come back. That is something to consider before getting laser.

There are a lot of different LED options that have different uses. Green light therapy would be what you’d want to treat melasma. It helps slow the melanin forming cells in the skin. This will help the melasma fade. Red light therapy is for anti-aging, reducing inflammation and increasing collagen. Blue light is good for acne. It helps kill bacteria in the skin.

Do you recommend using more/less product? 

I recommend using the products that you like to use. If you are someone that is more minimal, I would recommend using a few really good things.  If you are someone that wants to do a 10 step skin care routine at night, do that. I don’t think skincare is one size fits all. I also think we go through different phases in life, so do what fits best for you at that time. Just like how I’m using less product on this surf retreat, I’ll go home and add more stuff in.  Do what works for you at the time. But you should at least do the basics: use SPF! Not just to prevent aging but also skin cancer.

Are natural skin products better?

I use mostly natural/organic skin care – maybe 95% of what I’m using is. There are a few things that I just can’t stop using that are not organic, like my OBAGI retinol (RETIVANCE). It is just so good!  This is embarrassing to say, but I also love Aquaphor! I had a surfboard hit me in the head a little over a year ago and after the stitches came out, I kept Aquaphor and SPF on it. I’ve never had anything heal up so fast.

In the end, it’s all about finding what works for you. Just have fun with it. Try things. See what you like. Use a good SPF sunscreen!

Never Grab Your Leash String! The Story of an Amiga Who Lost the Tip of Her Finger


It wasn’t until after she had left the Surf With Amigas Retreat in Costa Rica that I heard her story, when the topic of fingers and leashes came up in our weekly classroom session. An amiga described her way of navigating a board through the whitewash, “a wrapping motion, directing the board by the leash.” Later on, this inspired a lively discussion amongst our crew of female surf instructors about the perils of the leash, while also revealing the story of Irene’s accident. 

What follows is Irene’s recount of that experience and how it has influenced her, in surfing and in life: 

It was 2012, I was 32 at the time and I was in Taiwan doing a Traditional Chinese Medicine Internship in the city of Tai Chung.  After hearing about the waves in Taiwan, I arrived and instantly started searching for surf spots. I found a spot called Fulong Beach, about 3 hours away from where I was staying by train. After contacting some friends, I decided to join them on a trip there that weekend, arriving a day before to give myself time to explore.

When I arrived to I found a surf shop that also served as a hostel.  I booked a room and met the owners, a cute newlywed Taiwanese couple. I went to sleep and put my alarm early for a dawn patrol session. 

I rented a longboard that morning and headed out to the beach bright and early. I don’t remember much about that first session, but I remember being happy.  I spent the rest of the day on the beach doing yoga and also rented a bike to explore. When the afternoon came I was already exhausted, but knew I only had two days to surf.  I wanted to commit to surfing as much as I could, because I had to be back in the hospital for my TCM internship on Monday. 

I decided to rent the longest, heaviest board so that I didn’t have to paddle much.  As I was entering the ocean, the swell started to pick up, and the whitewash felt stronger.  I was walking in, passing the waves by grabbing the nose of my board and through the whitewash. Suddenly a wave took my board, so I pulled it back using the leash. When I turned another wave was already coming, and I didn’t have time to turn the board around so I decided to pass through it by grabbing the tail.  I put my hand on the tail with my right ring finger next to the rope string that attaches to the leash. 

When the wave came I passed through it by pushing my hand on the tail. With the weight of the wave, the board, and me pulling in the opposite direction, the rope string amputated the tip of my right ring finger. I initially felt like the board had hit my hand, a strong slap. I didn’t think much of it, assuming it was just another bruise.  But when I brought my hand to the surface, I saw that I was missing the tip of my finger. I was in shock, it was surreal.  

The first thought that came to mind, was:  “Ok, don’t panic, you need to get out of the water and control the bleeding.”  I walked out of the water and the pain started to hit me.  I started to scream, “FUUUUUUCK”, over and over again, feeling the shock, the trauma, the pain, the loss.  I remember people were staring at me, feeling uncomfortable with my screams. I didn’t give a fuck. I continued to allow the trauma to move through my body and express it how I needed in that moment. I screamed, “HELP”, and shortly after the lifeguard appeared.  He was a young Taiwanese man, I could see he was very inexperienced.  He stared at me in shock.  I tried to signal to him that he needed to call the ambulance and to help me stop the bleeding. He did nothing. 


I put my t-shirt around my forearm and tightened it up like a tourniquet. After, I walked to the surf shop where the Taiwanese couple were. When they saw me, they instantly called the ambulance and were very supportive. I put my finger under running water to clean it from the ocean and sand. That’s when I felt the most pain.  It was excruciating. I covered it again with clean towels, keeping my arm raised to help stop the bleeding and went into the ambulance that had arrived. The Taiwanese surf couple drove behind me to the hospital. 

In the ambulance, I was panicking. But soon came the knowledge of all the spiritual practices I had done in my life.  I thought, “I have so many tools, now is the time to use them.” I started doing pranayama (breath work) and mantra repetition (like prayer). When I was focused on this, the pain went away. When I saw my finger again and was immersed in the experience of losing a body part, the pain came back. This was a beautiful realization of how potent our mind is, and how our breath is such powerful tool to relieve pain and stay in the present moment. Calming the nervous system allowed me to stay grounded. It was an incredible teaching moment.

When I arrived to the hospital, the Taiwanese couple stayed with me to help translate what the doctors had to say. I was very lucky. The plastic surgeon who only comes once a month happened to be there that day, and he was able to save my distal knuckle. This might not seem like much, but it gives me a little pad and more mobility of my finger. I am eternally grateful for that. When the surgery was finished, the Taiwanese couple payed for my hospital bills and had called someone from my TCM internship to come be with me. Lisa, a Vancouverite from Taiwanese heritage, went to the same TCM school in Vancouver with me. We were never friends, but she came anyways to be at my side. I will always be grateful for the generosity, kindness, and support shown to me by Lisa and the Taiwanese couple during this time.

After landing back in Taipei, Lisa’s dad came to pick us up from the airport and take us to Lisa’s aunt’s apartment. Her aunt received me with a home-cooked meal of chichek soup, full of heart medicine and herbs.  After that I went to my small apartment in Taichung to heal. 

I experienced PTSD symptoms for about a month, then slowly but surely they went away. I received lots of support from people in the hospital and neighbors all around. I felt like little angels where appearing right and left to give me love. I was alone but never alone. The great mother was taking care of me through the kind acts of strangers. Taiwanese folk will forever have a very special place in my heart because of this experience. 


I surfed without a leash in Pacific Beach, San Diego. I had a great session and saw dolphins. It was amazing. My brother was pierced by a sting ray that same day, but that is another story. After that, I continued to surfed on and off until 5 years ago, when I moved to Tofino in Vancouver Island, BC. After the move I really started surfing more consistently. It was a perfect environment for me- since I had use a wetsuit and gloves, I felt protected and confident. 

Surfing is one of my passions in life, and I will be a surfer forever.  But this experience definitely changed my relationship to surfing.  Now I am more aware of the danger of the board. I don’t feel as carefree as I did when I started surfing. Even though I know I have the ability to do certain maneuvers and go for more critical waves, I psyche myself out because of fear [of the accident]. 

There is so much I still need to work on, but I am very proud of myself for sticking with surfing and not allowing fear to take my bliss away. Now, 10 years later, I can’t imagine my life without surfing and I am grateful for everything that I have learned through this beautiful journey of life. I’m grateful for the medicine of the ocean and for all the beautiful people I meet through this life transforming spiritual practice that is surfing! 


Keep your hands away from the tail! Cultivate deep belly breaths, those will keep you calm in difficult situations! Keep following your bliss! Keep searching for that perfect wave! Keep your heart open to new experiences and new people, you never know what life will gift you with!!  May you be safe, happy and free! Namaste. 


Thank you Irene for sharing your powerful and inspiring story with us! 

While we are consistently searching for that feeling of blissful exhilaration, innocently wiggling our bodies on waves created by wind out at sea, it’s important to remember that the sport isn’t without risks. Knowing your limits before entering the water and feeling confident and in control, of both your body and board, can make the difference in a tricky situation. 

As Irene describes, putting your hands near your leash string (or using the leash to pull or direct your board) can be dangerous, even when you’re least expecting it. When navigating your board through waves, whether it’s a cute one or gnarly whopper coming from out the back, remember to use the turtle roll technique to your advantage!

For those who have not heard of this amazing maneuver, let us shine some light on the subject. This technique is especially helpful when riding long, heavy boards as described in Irene’s story, but can be used on a mid-length as well. 

While paddling out into the lineup through whitewash, try practicing the turtle roll with these steps :

  1. Timing. Learn to watch and anticipate the oncoming waves, giving yourself enough time and space to flip both yourself and your board over. 
  2. As you see the whitewash, slide off the side of your board, flip it over with your hands on the rails, holding on right at shoulder level, in the same position you’d use to pop up on your board. This gives you the most grip on the longboard and increases the likelihood you’ll be able to hang on.
  3. Keep your body straight like a pencil, perpendicular below your board! Imagine you and your board make a T shape underwater. As much as you may want to hang on for dear life, do not bear-hug or wrap your limbs around your board. Your vertical body helps anchor you in place as the wave passes over both you and your board.
  4. If you feel like you need more force, another option is frog kicking and/or pushing the board through the wave as it hits you. This can help but isn’t necessary.
  5. Find the will to hang on! Focus the grip in your fingers and let everything else relax.
  6. Remember, turtle rolling (and surfing) is an art, not a science. Take a breath and play around with different ways that work for you!

Who Are The Amigas? Q&A with Brandy Flotten


This month we’re chatting Q&A style with Brandy Flotten, a mother, fitness + nutrition coach, and inspiring amiga- who booked her first SWA retreat in a moment when she needed to focus on self-care most. Brandy has adventured with Amigas at various retreat locations including Nicaragua, Southern Costa Rica, and Northern Costa Rica, even joining us once with her beautiful family!

Over the years we’ve seen her commitment to helping women look and feel great shine through in everything she does- especially in the way that she shows up for herself and for others. We are inspired by the way Brandy discovered surfing as a tool to connect with a new community, boost her confidence, and feel more joy!


Q: Think back to when you attended your first SWA retreat. Why did you book that trip? What was that first retreat experience like for you?

A: I lost myself in my career and parenting years.  It wasn’t until my confidence was at it’s all time low that I decided to do something for myself, and I booked my first SWA Trip.  I discovered a challenge (a new sport I love), a community of incredibly strong women (not just physically), and most of all JOY.  I’m forever a fan ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️


Q: Now that you’ve been on several SWA retreats, what keeps you coming back?

A: I absolutely love the format of Surf With Amigas, the quality of instruction, the amazingly talented (but oh so fun) coaches, and the type of women that a surf retreat attracts.  Each trip just gets better and better!


Q: Describe the feeling you get from surfing…

A: Surfing is much like stepping into a weightlifting gym for the first time.  So intimidating and obvious to spot the regulars who know what they are doing.  It’s such a humbling and exhilarating sport and I absolutely love the challenge and the thrill of catching a wave on my own. 


Q: What are you most passionate about in life right now? The SWA community wants to know!

A: I’m passionate about supporting busy mamas.  I coach moms and busy women how to make themselves a priority in their busy lives with practical nutrition.

Continue reading “Who Are The Amigas? Q&A with Brandy Flotten”

Who Are The Amigas? Q&A with Danielle Gustafson

We’re back again to catch up with more alumni amigas that you may know!

this month we’re chatting Q+A style with mother, surfer, and world traveler danielle gustafson to learn more about the why behind her surf journey + a bit about her personal retreat experiences. Stay tuned for monthly stories and updates from our good friends across the globe.

Q: Think back to when you attended your first SWA retreat. Why did you book that trip? What was that first retreat experience like for you?

A: I’ve been obsessed with surfing for 20 years, but I never committed. I was a white wash wahine. As my kids got older and started shredding, I recognized that I had to learn to surf or lose them to their passion. My main motivation to finally commit was to keep a connection with them. It only made sense to send myself to SWA. That was four and a half years ago. I had no idea it would change the course of my life in the best possible ways. 

Q: Now that you’ve been on several SWA retreats, what keeps you coming back?

A: I can’t get enough. Every retreat has been epic. I gift myself at least one a year. Hey, I invest in my kids’ summer camp, tutoring and sports development. Why wouldn’t I offer myself the same level of self-care? 

Q: Describe the feeling you get from surfing…

A: Connectedness. Growth. Freedom. Humility. 

Q: What are you most passionate about in life right now? The SWA community wants to know!

A: Umm, surfing! My kids, health and career are on the list, too.

Q: What is your dream SWA retreat location?

A: Maldives

Q: What would you tell someone who is about to go on their first SWA retreat?

A: You made the right choice. 

Q: Do you have your next surf trip planned? If so, give us all the deets!

A: Yep. Bocas del Toro in January with SWA. Nosara in February. Taking a break to snowboard in March, but back at it with Chicama in April. If I’m lucky and the starts align, I hope to take my kids to Indo this summer. 


Advanced Surfer Mom Katarina Marlett Shares Her Surf Journey: Setting Goals & Sending It

Katarina has joined us on several advanced retreats over the years. Without fail, she shows up with a fiery passion to “send it” whether it be in the surf, or in her Halloween costumes. She recently joined us in northern Nicaragua for her third Tube Clinic and she took her “charge it” mentality next level, consistently taking off on the biggest, hollowest waves and coming up smiling regardless of the ensuing wipeouts. She earned the nickname “Senderella”!  
We caught up with Katarina post-retreat to learn about the impact that retreats with SWA have had on her surf journey.

Enjoy this journal-style entry by Katarina Marlett:

I’ve just had these burning goal inside for a while now: to surf more critical waves and to get that dreamy barrel! To set a goal and achieve it at any age. To show myself I can do it, and to be an example to my two boys!

Heading to Surf With Amigas Advanced Clinic with a host of like-minded women and badass surfers makes those goals  seem valid, intensified, and achievable. During the retreat, at every corner you are held up by the other women, both participants and staff, (and not in that cheesy way that makes you have nausea) but held in a way that actually means something and resonates. 

Sometimes I think back to moments on other surf trips, of being intimated by a boatful of male Aussie rippers headed to the peak, or times of being growled at in the water by the resident grump who judges your every move. Not here! At these retreats you swap smiles for breaky and fist bumps for lunch – in that not so nausea-inducing way that I mentioned before. No eye rolls… it’s the real goods! It’s the actual feeling of being happy and understood, of being supported in every way and encouraged to feel exactly how you want, when you want. No judgement. You’re given the best window to get the best surf and then every wave is on video for analyzing, celebrating, and improving. 

Every upset is met with a supportive Amiga so that you can wake up and try again, and every victory is celebrated with vigor. And every amiga, has similar goals. They share the exact enthusiasm you have, they want the same things!

The advanced retreats are unlike any others because all of these women rip! We all want to shred harder and our eyes are saucers to the lineup each and every time. We’re full of froth and every second is about achieving the most badass epic session possible.

Continue reading “Advanced Surfer Mom Katarina Marlett Shares Her Surf Journey: Setting Goals & Sending It”