For over ten years I have been living a love story with the ocean. Every time I went out past the waves and found myself in that quiet zone, I would feel more free and light, like I could spend hours hanging out there. I still remember that first wave I caught all the way in, and how I felt after that. They even gave me a nickname: in french lâche rien which means “never gives up”, as I would not stop.
I caught more than a ride to shore from that very first wave: I caught the surfing bug.
I craved waves, developing a real attachment to surfing. It became so strong that I would have that little “high” feeling going down on a wave, but as I’d paddle back out, my mind was already chattering: “quick, don’t miss a wave” or “I hope that guy isn’t gonna drop-in on me”, and on and on. Sounds pretty tiring, doesn’t it? When paddling for a wave, if I missed it, or fell off, my reaction would be frustration, anger, and disappointment. I know that I was not the most peaceful person to be around at that time.
I also felt competitive. Usually, I was the only girl surfing and felt like I was better than some of the dudes out there, which made my ego bigger. I remember thinking, “Oh I’m pretty good. I’m sure they notice.” If another girl I didn’t know came in, I would feel competitive with her — wanting to be the best. When I look back, I realize I wasn’t even enjoying myself, because the only thing I got from it was frustration.
So how did my yoga practice change the way I surf?
As soon as I arrived in Costa Rica for my internship last year, I started surfing a lot — at least two hours every day, for up to six hours a day, only stopping to eat. I didn’t want to miss out, to miss any opportunity to catch waves. Looking back, I still had that same feeling of “competing” when I was out there.
During this time, I also started practicing yoga regularly with Pilar, the teacher at Bodhi Surf School, and fell in love with Ashtanga self practice. This is something I continued to do when I returned to Europe after my internship was done to finish school.
Throughout the first couple of months, I focused mostly on the asanas. That feeling of wanting to be the best in the water was present on my mat too. I wanted to be able to do the postures right away. This impatience brought me to a knee injury that I am still dealing with. But the more I started to connect with the breath, the more my mind got quiet as I was brought back to the present moment. Day by day it’s only getting better. I realized that yoga is not only about the asanas. It’s a way of life, on and off the mat, just as surfing can be a lifestyle: on and off the board. It’s connecting you to the present moment, teaching you to be kind, humble, patient.
I know that my surfing is improving greatly from my practicing yoga, in both a physical and mental way. When I first returned to Costa Rica to work with Bodhi Surf again for their high season after more than six months out of the water, I felt more strength and flexibility. My paddling was surprisingly comfortable; my duck diving was way better than during my months of daily surf in the tropics — thanks to Chatturangas — and my breath had developed considerably making me feel noticeably more confident about going out in bigger conditions, taking away the fear of being held under. Even more importantly, that little nasty voice telling me to rush to surf as many waves as I could or to compete with the people around me quieted. Instead of that, I watched some girl longboarding and thought “wow, she is beautiful, what a style she has there”. It was inspiring. And so peaceful!
Now, I feel like a completely different person. I am not chasing the waves as if my life would depend on it. Instead of sighing in frustration when I miss a wave, now I just turn around and smile at the ocean. I know that if that was not my wave, there will be another one. It’s a total blessing to be out there and to share the ocean with all the living creatures it is home to. Instead of feeling frustrated, if I see someone doing better than I do, I now look at them and feel happy for them, noticing the beauty in the motion and encouraging them. I try to act from a space of love.
So how can a dedicated yoga practice help your surfing?
For me, the highlights of this process have been:
- Learning that we each are exactly where we are supposed to be. This can be on the mat, in the waves, or anywhere in life. We all move at different paces, learning different things at different moments. Right now in my practice I struggle a lot with Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel pose). And for someone else, it’s just natural, but they might struggle with something that’s easy for me. It’s the same in the waves. We all have our struggles and the ability to embrace them makes us more humble.
- Our thoughts change our reality. It’s up to us to decide to change them in a positive or negative way. This goes for both on the mat and on the board. My thinking when I am out in the water now tends to be “there’s a great wave coming for me”. It has become about quality, not quantity. Now, one wave can be enough to make me feel satisfied.
- Nothing is permanent. Everything is constantly changing. One day on the mat, my body can feel really open, my mind totally present, and I feel incredible. But the next day my body is tight, and I just wonder what I am doing there. It’s a constant fluctuation. Just like the ocean. One day the waves look beautiful, there’s no wind, but I don’t catch a single wave and my mind is busy wandering. The other day it’s messy, yet I catch wave after wave with a considerably present mind.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously in life — not on the mat and not in the waves. Enjoy every single moment. It’s way more fun that way!
These are the lesson that my yoga practice has taught me, and has also turned me into a better surfer. I am only in the very beginning of my path as a surfing Yogini. Just as in every other thing you decide to do in life, you won’t reap the fruits unless you put your heart and soul in it and practice — maybe for a lifetime. I feel blessed to be doing the things I love and that make me vibrate. I know that following this path, I can do my part to make this world we live in a better place.
Written by Melissa Rejeb