“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.”
“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.
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.”
“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:
Prior surf experience if any (ability level, frequency, where you surf)
Board preference if you have one (size, shape)
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.
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!
“The community of women surfers and women travelers is really special and so in starting this podcast we hope to really build more ways for people to stay connected and stay a part of that community.”
Surf with Amigas (SWA) has joined the world of podcasters, under the name “Second Breakfast”! If you’ve been on a retreat with us, you know we are big fans of Second Breakfast. We believe in that extra nourishing hot meal shared with new friends post-surf, where we break down what happened in the morning session. We pour a second cup of coffee and get into engaging discussions about life, current events, and of course, all things surfing. Amigas are smart, successful, inspiring women of all ages with interesting stories and world views. We’re not afraid to tackle controversial topics. We appreciate unique perspectives that challenge us to think differently. This podcast brings those discussions to a wider audience to be enjoyed at any time and any place, second cup of coffee optional.
In our inaugural episode, Holly Beck and Jackie George, co-creators of SWA, share their backgrounds in surfing and their journey to create all women’s surf and yoga retreats. From the early days of creating spaces for women’s surfing in Central America, the dirtbag dusty days of no internet and thatched roofs, to ultimately running 8 retreat locations worldwide. Holly and Jackie take us back in time; they share some of their travel experiences and moments that solidified both their friendship and business partnership. You’ll also get a sneak peak of some of their goals and insights as to what SWA may look like moving forwards. Above all, you’ll learn the story and purpose behind Surf With Amigas’ mission, why Holly and Jackie aspire to inspire women and help them step outside their comfort zone, in surfing and in life.
A PREVIEW OF THE FIRST EPISODE:
After stepping away from her career as a professional surfer, Holly thought,
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.
This view of land from water, from river, from ocean, it’s my favorite thing.
We are so proud to announce the sponsorship of up-and-coming Costa Rican surfer girl, Nazareth (“Naza”) Del Mar.
Naza is a 10 year old shredder from Pavones, Costa Rica that has dreams of becoming a professional surfer. The SWA sponsorship offers Naza’s family financial support, giving their daughter a chance to travel to different locations and compete in the national circuit of Costa Rica, while also being professionally coached by SWA instructor, Gabrielle Guyon. With this sponsorship, we hope to inspire girls and women of all ages and nationalities to achieve their surfing dreams and inspire others.
A LITTLE BIT ABOUT NAZA
Nazareth Del Mar Velasquez is the oldest of two girls. Her mother, Sylvia, was born and raised Costa Rica, and her father, Jonathan, is from Nicaragua. Nazareth only started surfing three years ago and participated in her first local competition just a year ago, but her love for the ocean comes from before she was born.
Nazareth was an active baby in the womb, constantly moving and kicking her mom’s belly. Her mom Sylvia found that whenever she entered the ocean, Naza would instantly cease her kicking. Since then, Nazareth has felt attracted to the sea but until recently, was never allowed to enter the water. Jonathan, her dad, has an enormous fear of the ocean and marine life. He doesn’t know how to swim and believed it safest for his family to avoid the sea.
During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Naza’s parents lost their jobs. With more and more time spent inside at home, they realized that there is more to life than work. They wanted to enrich their lives, take advantage of every day, and learn to be more open-minded and flexible. Wanting to ensure their kids also learned this valuable lesson, they realized they could no longer keep them out of the water, especially with a perfect left point-break in their backyard. Jonathan began to teach Naza the importance of bravery by overcoming his own fear of the ocean. Three years ago, they started taking surfboards with them into the water and eventually learned to surf together. Nazareth’s love for surfing and sharing the waves with her dad grew daily.
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.
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.
Lately, I’ve received a few emails from potential clients who mention that they experience a lingering fear from a past injury. That situation seems to be really common and brought to mind the story of an Amiga that I met back in October in Morocco.
I was in Morocco on day 1 of a Surf With Amigas Holistic Surf Coaching Retreat, just getting to know the guests and starting to form a mental image of each participant, her goals, and how I could be most helpful. The vast majority of our guests use boards from our quiver to avoid having to travel with a board bag but one of the participants, we’ll call her “Sarah”, had brought her own – a Takayama mid-length. I could tell by our chit-chat about the conditions even before we paddled out that she knew how to surf. She presented as strong and confident, walking down the hill to the waist-high peeling rights.
In the water, she paddled assertively, positioning herself well, taking off with perfect timing, and maneuvering down the line. “She knows how to surf!” I thought, and then told her so as she paddled back out to me. “Ya, I’m fine when the waves are small and easy,” she replied.
A few days later, the swell was small enough that the point break was slow and boring. We made our way around to the more exposed beach break on the other side. The waves still weren’t what I’d call “big”, but they were closer to head high. The peaks popped up and broke more quickly. The wave was soft, breaking over sand, but there was a quickness to it, particularly in comparison to the slow, easy point break waves we had been surfing. I noticed a different energy in Sarah. If she was closer to the peak, she’d pull back and not take off. If she was anything close to being a little late, she’d let the wave go. Having surfed with her for a few days already, I believed she had the skill to take off late and deep and make it, but she was avoiding those situations.
She didn’t want to let the injury stop her. She didn’t want to appear weak. She tried to forget about it and just keep surfing. That worked…. sort of.
As we drifted outside the surf zone, I quietly listened to her story. It all made sense to me. Her body had suffered a painful trauma. If the injury had happened in CA and she’d received help immediately, including good medical care, and the whole experience hadn’t ruined a long anticipated adventure, it may not have become as heavy of an emotional weight. In her case, the physical memory of painful injury combined with the fear and anxiety of the remoteness of the location and large serving of disappointment due to the altered trip, all combined to serve as a significant trauma.
The coping mechanism often suggested by our society : to “just get over it and get back out there,” worked, in the sense that it didn’t stop her from continuing to surf. However, it didn’t help her process the trauma. Therefore, even 20 years later, she still felt the effects.
Sarah initially told her story without much emotion. It was very matter of fact, as if telling a story that had happened to someone else. I listened, asked a few questions to be clear on the details, and then started by validating how scary that must have been at the time. I gave her space and encouragement to sit with the feelings of fear. When given an opportunity to connect to the feelings of the story, instead of just the details, the tears started flowing. She apologized, but I encouraged her to let the feelings happen. It’s ok to not be ok right now.
After the moment passed, I explained that it’s totally normal and understandable that she feels fear when faced with a situation (a steep drop) that triggers her body to remember a time it was injured. By ignoring it or avoiding those situations, she isn’t allowing herself the chance to move past it. We talked about the importance of accepting the fear.
Rather than trying to avoid the fear or feeling shame that it exists, the healing process begins with allowing oneself to feel it.
Her body is trying to keep her safe. That’s a good thing. We took a minute to listen to that message, accept it, and actually thank it for its efforts, allowing whatever emotions arise to flow. I suggested to talk to that fearful part, telling it, “I’m sorry you were hurt so badly. That was a very scary time and your reaction was perfectly justified. Thank you for trying to keep me safe. I appreciate you.”
Once that fearful part has had its chance to fully express whatever needs to be expressed, and those feelings are accepted and appreciated, there’s space for the next step, which is to notice what has changed since then. Since that time, Sarah has been surfing for 20 years. She is a much better surfer than she was back then. She has the skills to make steep drops. If there’s any doubt about that, surf coaching and working on popup technique can help.
Then, start small. On a small wave that’s only a little bit scary, try to pop up late. Notice the feelings that come up. If there’s fear, thank it for what it’s trying to do (keep you safe), but assure that part that you are capable. Come up with a positive mantra that works not to argue with that voice, but to change the script. Little by little, work up to bigger waves and steeper drops, not ignoring fearful feelings, but embracing and accepting them.
Celebrate successes, lean into falls, and smile at the simple pleasures and teachings of the ocean.
In preparing to post this story, I checked in with Sarah to see if she would be ok with me sharing and also to see if the she’d noticed any positive changes in the four months since our sessions. She said,
Yes it did help…. I repeat “all is well” to myself pretty much every time I turn for a wave now. It reminds me I’m ok, that I’m in control, and that it’s supposed to be fun. I think I never gave myself permission to talk about my injury because it maybe seemed trivial and I had no one who would understand it in a more complex way. So yes, it definitely helped. And it’s a process. Even just the permission to address those things in my surfing that hold me back helped so much. I feel like every session since Morocco is accompanied by a memory or conversation from the retreat that empowers me. I’m really glad I went and I look forward to going on another next year. It was an incredible experience and I really appreciate you listening and noticing and being there.
Holly recently completed a Master’s in Counseling and has been incorporating mental and emotional awareness into coaching to create Holistic Surf Coaching retreats. For more info on these specific retreats, click here.
I SPENT 7 DAYS CHATTING AND FROLICKING IN THE COSTA RICAN SURF WITH IRENE WITHOUT EVER NOTICING SHE WAS MISSING THE TIP OF HER RIGHT RING 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.
IN THAT MOMENT, I KNEW I HAD TO TAKE CARE OF THIS MYSELF.
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.
MY FIRST SURF AFTER THE ACCIDENT WAS A YEAR LATER.
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!
MY ADVICE TO OTHERS WOULD BE:
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.