Tag Archives: Surf Travel

Expanding hearts and minds at the Earth Missions/Leah Dawson Next Level Surf Retreat.

Mindlessly scrolling Instagram a month ago, I was notified that I’d been tagged in a comment on a post announcing that one of my favorite surfers, the inimitable Leah Dawson, was hosting a ‘Next Level’ Surf Retreat in one of my favorite places, Rincon, Puerto Rico. I casually read the post to David who immediately asked, ‘When?’ followed by ‘How much?’ I read him the dates and then dismissed the whole thing by stating that it was probably more than I could afford on short notice. The next day David asked me again how much it would be and again I mumbled something about probably not being able to afford it. Thankfully for me, David insisted that it was an investment in myself and my surfing, as well as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and affectionately kept pushing me to find out more details. Long story short, in a matter of a few days, I went from planning out the next few months for Surf Asylum to planning a five day stay in Puerto Rico.

I’ve been a fan and follower of Leah on social media for a few years now. Her style is hers and hers alone. She balances grace and strength with creativity seamlessly. Social media told me that we shared a few other passions and interests, namely clean eating, clean oceans and promoting a platform for women’s surfing outside of the current industry standards. Still, you never know what you’re going to get in person once the online filters are removed. When I was contemplating the retreat, I knew that it would either be ‘okay’ or ‘EPIC.’ You can’t really go wrong with spending a few days in Rincon, so I knew it wouldn’t be terrible.

It was EPIC! It was beyond EPIC. From the first embrace, seconds upon meeting, it was clear that Leah was the real deal. She walks her talk. I spent the first forty eight hours in a bit of fog as I couldn’t quite believe that I was living and surfing with one of my heroes. Nor could I believe the late season swell that showed up the day we landed. There I was, in one of my favorite places on earth, with one of my favorite surfers and the waves were a Florida loggers dream, starting out waist to chest high, peaking a little over head, hovering waist to chest for two more days and fading to one of the funnest knee high sessions I’ve ever had. Celebration inserted itself as the theme of the trip as every session became more about deepening our personal relationship with the sea than trying to out perform our sisters and brothers. The whole trip ending up feeling like a non stop party and not the kind of party you regret the next day, but one you never want to end.

I’ve been working really hard in the last year to refine my style and improve my positioning on the wave, so when I booked the retreat, I did it from a purely selfish standpoint of wanting to improve my own surfing and get critique and tips from a pro. One of my best friends was coming along, but aside from her I never gave another thought to who else might join the retreat. I was surprised and then stoked to meet two other participants while we were boarding our plane. Turns out they were from Jacksonville and we had surfed together before though we didn’t really know each other. It only took a couple of hours to realize that one of the highlights of the trip would be connecting with like minded men and women from all over the U.S. and Caribbean. The surf sessions were a blast, but the meal time round tables were an unplanned treat as we all bonded over incredible food and enlightening and entertaining conversation. Each person had their unique passion and information to share and I got up from each meal with a full belly and even fuller heart. It was so inspiring to be around such a caring group of individuals who put aside self and cared for issues bigger than themselves.

The daily routine was to get up as early as possible and get the longest session possible before the trades (and late sleeping Rincon crowd) got on it. If you haven’t been, most of the spots are reef breaks and break faster and a tiny bit steeper than Florida. There were many, many Maria’s sessions, but we also got in a few hours at Surfers Beach and Domes. On the biggest day, with Tres Palmas breaking and Maria’s in the 8 – 10 ft range, Kahlene, my best surfing friend/travel partner/sister and I went up to the bay in Aguadilla and scored chest to head high perfection at one of our favorite spots. I only ride my log and I find the conditions to be great for noseriding as long you can manage the speed (I’m still working on it). I had some really epic hang fives though I bailed on a few as the waves quickened and steepened up on the inside.

It was a joy to be in the water with Leah and the other surfers. Everyone had their own style and approach to the waves, but we all shared the same positive energy in the water. Each session was full of laughter. Everyone cheered for each other. There was no ego. Everyone was appreciated for who they were and where they were in their surfing. Simplicity was applauded. Stoke radiated in the air.

I learned more than I could ever put in this blog, but I did have a really profound moment that will me make a better surfer and a better coach. We were lucky to have someone film a few of our sessions and even luckier to be able to review the footage with Leah. It was late afternoon on the last day of the trip when myself and three of the other girls gathered around a table as Leah went through each of our waves and offered up her praise and gentle suggestions for improvement. She was talking with our youngest member, Becca, about positioning when I heard her mention to try getting closer to the heart of the wave. “The heart of the wave.” The words echoed in my mind. I mentioned I’ve been working really hard on positioning. I know I need to be deep on the take off to set up a noseride. I know it’s useless to try and walk the board out on the shoulder, that the most technical maneuvers can only be pulled off in the steepest part of the wave… but I’ve always thought and used the terms ‘peak’ or ‘power’ and though I knew I needed to be close or quite literally in this spot, I’ve always been wary of it. In the back of my mind, the peak or power has been a bit of a scary place. I knew that’s where all the energy was, but I’ve been afraid I might not be able to control it. When I heard Leah replace ‘power’ with ‘heart’, I felt my fear crumble and fade away. My mind expanded. Hearts are for loving. Hearts are life givers and safe places. Now instead of inching closer with caution, I’ll embrace moving into the heart of the wave, a loving spot that can help me surf my best.

I’m filled with gratitude for this trip. I’m thankful for the incredible friends I made, for the conversations and laughs we shared, for the beautiful environment we played together in. Thank you to Leah Dawson and Tom Werner of Earth Missions for putting this together and giving so much of yourselves. Thank you to the sea herself! We celebrate you!

No Shortage of Female Surfing Role Models

Surf Asylum All Girls Surf Camp, Photo: Stephanie Nichols

While 6 young girls were refining their surfing at the 2015 Surf Asylum “Girls Week” here in Fernandina Beach the World Surf League’s top 17 women were pushing the limits of surfing at the Fiji Pro on the island of Namotu. Our girls showed up on day 1 to a swell that made the front page of surfline, learned to handle 9 – 10 foot surfboards, and contended with jellyfish stings. On the other side of the world Sally Fitzgibbons perforated her ear drum during a wipeout and continued on through three more rounds of the Women’s Fiji Pro to eventually be crowned champion. Watch the final day highlights here. (We borrowed the lunges and sumo squats for our camp’s morning stretch from a video of Sally’s pre-surf routine.)

There’s far too many to name or recognize in one blog post, but we compiled a shortlist of women surfers that we look up to both as incredible surfers and positive role models for young girls. These women represent the many ways in which any girl with enough determination can progress in the sport of surfing.

Rell Sunn – You can’t compile a list of surfing role models without mentioning Rell because women’s surfing wouldn’t be where it is without her influence. Her surfing was the epitome of grace and style, but she was also co-founder of the current women’s pro tour and spread the spirit of aloha everywhere she went.

Leah Dawson – The epitome of “girls just wanna have fun” amongst surf personalities. This video is from the perspective of her surfboard. If we’re not mistaken she’s going on her second summer (southern-hemisphere winter) in Indonesia this year. You can get a better idea of her approach to waves from this video (incredible old school bottom turn at :22)

Courtney Conlogue – Courtney is one of the hardest working, most committed competitive surfers of our time. The surfing above is some of the most playful we’ve seen from her as she’s usually the definition of power. Check out her ‘day in the life’ surfline feature here if you want to know more about her routine.

Paige Alms – You have to LOVE surfing to persevere to the point where you’re ready to attempt the recently pioneered, paddle-in tube rides at Maui’s infamous big wave surf break Jaws. The video above shows Paige’s genuine sense of accomplishment and pure joy.

Sophie Falzone – Sophie is a young, dedicated, competitive surfer from just down the road in Jacksonville. We wanted to share this fun video of one of her trips to Costa Rica so young girls learning to surf in Florida know what they can achieve in a few years if they put their minds to it. Follow along with her at sophiefalzone.com

Zack Sjuggerud

Zack Sjuggerud is a kid after our own heart. We recently got to spend a little time with him while we were down at ESA Southeast Regionals and if there was anything we walked away with, it was knowing that Zack LOVES surfing. Scratch that, Zack loves the ocean. From shortboarding to bodyboarding, with SUP and longboarding in between, he competed in every single division he could enter, earning him the Youth Iron Surfer Award. He also placed 3rd in Menehune Longboard and 2nd in Bodyboarding. We asked him for an interview to find out how he got started in surfing and what his competition strategies were.

How long have you been surfing? When did you get your first board?

I started getting interested in surfing when I was in Australia when I was about 4 or 5 years old, with my dad pushing me on flat water on his longboard. I had a great time even without waves. When we got back from Australia, we bought a 4’2″ Liquid Shredder at Surf Station. I loved it.

Who has had the biggest influence in your surfing?

This is a tough one. I do really enjoy watching all types of surfing, but I like watching older logging single fin movies like The Endless Summer. I have no doubt I have seen that movie more than 50 times. I also really enjoy watching people like Craig Anderson and sometimes try to mimic his smooth tuck knee style, haha.

Favorite post surf meal?

Any meal after surfing is amazing. The after surf munchies are awful, haha. I definitely have a craving for Barberitos more than anything after a nice long surf.

Shortboard, longboard or SUP?

I have no preference. Any time in the water is a good time, and it really depends on the conditions. I have been really into bodysurfing recently too.

Where have you traveled to surf?

Southern California, Costa Rica quite a few times, Spain, and Hawaii.

Tell us about your favorite trip.

First time in Costa Rica, we had a guy take us to a secret right point. I was only ten, so I did end up standing on the shallow reef, jumping over walls of whitewater. That got the message through that reef doesn’t feel good on your feet. I cut my foot pretty bad, but the waves were amazing so I had no choice but to keep surfing, hahaha. Definitely scored some great waves that week.

What do you consider to be the most challenging part of Regionals?

No doubt confidence and keeping cool under pressure. I know you have to surf your game, try not to fall on maneuvers and try not to surf above your abilities.

Do you find it helpful to know who your competition is before going into Regionals? How do you keep up with them?

I would say that there are advantages and disadvantages to knowing your competitor’s abilities. Pros are knowing that you are going to surf smart and catch the better waves and surf as a better contest surfer than the opponent. Cons are like I said above, nerves are a big deal. I’ve seen friends try too hard, thinking that their opponents were better surfers than they really are. I prefer to know who my competitors are to know what contest tactics you would want to use.

Do you cross-train to improve your surfing?

I don’t. I just surf to become a better surfer. I think that when you are younger, (maybe below 19 or 20) training and eating well for surfing is less important for your surfing. What’s more important is learning how to judge waves and knowing which waves to catch. As you get a bit older, fitness becomes a bigger factor in your surfing.


Where do I start? Thanks to my family for supporting my surfing and taking me other places to surf. Thanks to Sean Poynter for so much help, advice, and positive stoke over many years. Thanks to David and Betsy at Surf Asylum for your contest advice during Regionals this year. Thanks to Mike Nichols and Pedro for everything over the years. Thank you to Starboard for including me in your world. Thanks to Driftwood Surf Shop and Pipeline Surf Shop. Thanks to Barberitos… to SurfSkate… and Dummy Mount. Also thanks to all the Fernandina locals who’ve supported me and looked out for me over the years.

I’ll be proud to represent Fernandina at the Eastern Surfing Championships in Cape Hatteras, if I get to go. I hope to bring home a 1st Place trophy in longboarding back to Fernandina! Yewww!

Steps to Surfing Tres

David surfing Tres Palmas

It’s a long paddle out to the line-up at Tres Palmas from Steps Beach, but feeling ready to surf the break was a much longer process. The last time I was in Rincon, PR was almost 12 years ago during spring break. On that trip I experienced one day that was on the edge of what my board could handle. On this trip there were 5 or 6 days on that edge and for at least 3 of those days I would have had a lot more fun on a 6’6” or 6’10” at Maria’s, Dogman’s or Pistons. The day I surfed Tres the swell was essentially 10 ft. @ 15 seconds and it seemed like my options were either rent a board big enough for Tres or spend the day watching from the beach.

A couple days prior to the swell I told everyone I was 50/50 on whether I’d surf Tres this trip. When it started to seem like Tres was going to be the only break in Rincon that could handle the size I started listing reasons why I thought I could do it to get in the right headspace:

David preparing to surf Tres Palmas (1)

I successfully scratched into two waves on my 6’1” at Dogmans the night before when it was 6 to 8 ft. @ 14 to 15 seconds. In Florida the surf from hurricanes Irene and Sandy was heavy but I hadn’t experienced anything close to the kind of deep water waves I was going to see out there since my time living in Southern California. This was the most important thing I did to feel prepared.

During my last year in Encinitas, CA I was surfing Blacks Beach a lot. I was a regular face in the line-up and had a 6’6” made that I thought would go better than my standard shortboard when it was around double overhead. This experience gave me a much better frame of reference on what to expect than I had during my first trip to PR. There is a type of wipe out (or sometimes a wall of water to get through) where you patiently bide your time under water to conserve air until a moment when attempting to get to the surface is less futile. Blacks taught me that.

Taylor Knox’s SurfFit and Yoga for Surfers featuring Rochelle Ballard were part of my routine in the two months leading up to the trip. As much as I like to consider surfing my gym these exercise programs showed me that my core could be a lot stronger with focused surf specific exercise than from just surfing Florida waves a couple times a week. We started a fitness regimen a couple months before the trip to get the most out of our money and time spent in PR and it was one more reason I felt like I could be confident out in the water pushing my limits.

I surf decent-sized windswell in 55 degree water wearing a 4:3 wetsuit regularly. One thing I couldn’t duplicate or work on in a land based program however was paddling. By the second week of the trip I was extremely confident in my paddling and swimming and I credit that to paddling out in ugly, head high Northeast wind swell in my 4:3 every chance I got before the trip.

Bobby of Mar Azul Surf Shop helped me get my equipment dialed. As soon as they opened that morning he put me on a heavy glassed 8’8” by local shaper Jose Muniz with a hand tied big wave leash from a company called Stay Covered out of Oceanside, CA. He bragged about the leash as I hooked it through both leash plugs on the board and after seeing scores of broken leashes that day I was glad I had one worth bragging about.

I was told that riding a big wave board was like riding a longboard. In the year leading up to this trip I’d been longboarding whenever conditions seemed to call for it which was nearly as much as I was shortboarding.

There were other people out. Once in the water I was grateful for the light crowd. The wave was so far out to sea that finding a line-up and figuring how far out you needed to sit to be safe was daunting. I observed that there were at least three places or distances out that waves would break and it was incredible how big the waves that were too small to break were when you were sitting in the right place.

David preparing to surf Tres Palmas (2)

Despite all of my preparation, big wave surfing was like learning to surf all over again. I looked to others to figure out where to sit, when I put my head down and committed to paddling for a wave I was so focused that it was hard to keep track of everything going on around me, I acted much more on sensation than awareness, and the proper level of fitness was extremely important. Hopefully this experience is one more step in pushing the limits of my personal surfing. Next time I’ll be looking to go a little bigger and a little deeper than before.

It’s all… Swell?!

Woke up to a fresh swell pushing into Rincon this morning with the buoy slowing working it’s way up to about 7@15.  I’m telling everyone who will listen that in the five previous trips I’ve made down here, I have never seen so much swell! I had even joked with David on the way down that there would be days that he was going to wish he had a longboard. The joke seems to have been on me, as most days it’s simply too big for me to get out. Even the more sheltered breaks up in Aguadilla are seeing overhead waves during the peaks of these recent swells. Can’t a girl just get a cruisy, shoulder high, right point to practice her noserides on?!

Hazy Maria’s at dawn…

Marias, 02/17, Buoy 41115 6.9@15.4

I cruised up to the Lighthouse (Punta Higueras) to get some shots from above.  The monster on the right is pushing in from outside Indicators and then wrapping around the point to Marias. (David’s actually inside the wrapping wave on the left, he’s just so tiny, you can’t see him.)

Lines Wrapping, Marias, 02/17, Buoy 41115 6.9@15.4

We had a brief rainbow pop up over Indicators this morning.

Rainbow blessing the fresh swell

Another view from the Lighthouse, showing all the different peaks from Marias to Dogmans.

Lines, wrapping. Marias, 02/17, Buoy 41115 6.9@15.4

Wave, sucking up on the point at Marias.

The Point, sucking up. Marias, 02/17, Buoy 41115 6.9@15.4

The swell is supposed to peak around noon today and I don’t think I’m the only one hoping this afternoon and tomorrow have something a little more manageable.

Freaky Friday Swell

With the forerunners of today’s swell starting to trickle in late yesterday afternoon, I wanted to run into Aguadilla and check my favorite ‘the waves are huge, I need a sheltered spot’ wave. Turns out the direction must have been just right to push into my spot because I expected some fun little loggin’ waves in the thigh to waist range and was greeted with head high perfection. I scored about a dozen beauties before the wind and crowd each wreaked their havoc.

We drove straight up to the Maria’s lot from Aguadilla after my surf to see how much swell had filled in throughout the afternoon. Rincon had basically doubled in size from the morning and David thought he should paddle out at Dogman’s, “just to get a good look at what’s going on out there.” He’s the tiny dot in the 4th pic down with waves pushing into the double overhead range.

We woke up this morning to a buoy reading of 9.2@15.4 seconds and after checking Maria’s and the Tres Palmas look out, went straight to my friends at Mar Azul Surf Shop to rent David something bigger than his 6’1″. The owner of Mar Azul, Bobby (super cool, knowledgable guy with rental boards, a shop and apartments to rent) told David not to even think of anything less than 9′ and told us with the high percentage of breakage on Tres board rentals, you pay the price of the board up front and get a refund when you bring it back in one piece. Slightly ominous?

Just after he told us that another friend stopped by and pointed out that it was Friday, the 13th.  Freaky Friday!  The waves were freaky, freaky big and freaking beautiful.

The following images were all taken this morning, 02/13/2015.

When Tres is breaking, traffic gets a little backed up on the 413.

I didn’t have quite the equipment I needed to get a good zoom on the line-up, but I saw David charging a few during both his sessions. Hopefully someone with a bigger lens got a few of him and we can share them in a future post.

Why didn’t I run back into Aguadilla to my not so secret spot? I was pretty excited to see David surf Tres for the first time and I’ve got a little chest congestion I’m trying to kick so I can enjoy the rest of the trip. The forecast is pretty solid for our last eight days, so I’m sure I’ll be putting in my time around the Rincon and Aguadilla breaks.  Anyone who’s ever seen Tres break (or Waimea or Pipe or any giant challenging wave) knows that it’s enthralling just to be a spectator when the ocean decides to put on a show.


Here we go, again!

After a lay day yesterday that took us over to San Sebastian for the Gonzalandia Waterfalls, the forecast is calling for increasing swell and favorable winds this afternoon, with another BIG day on tap for tomorrow (not to mention what’s currently lined up for next Tuesday!). Full report and pics to follow…



Puerto Rico Living

Waves, everyday?!

Coming in with our Florida goggles on, David and I pretty much feel like we’ve scored the jackpot thus far.  The waves have  been rideable everyday, with everything from waist to chest to double overhead. Today and tomorrow are the supposed smaller, flattest  days in the forecast and yet we managed to find Middles doing this, this morning:

Middles, Puerto Rico, February 10, 2015

We’re up before dawn each day for a quick pre-surf yoga, followed by a couple cups of coffee for me and a giant bowl of oatmeal for David.  We’re in the water by daybreak and as long as the wind cooperates, try to surf until noon. Afternoons are brutal in the sun, so we use that time to relax, prep things for dinner and catch up on work.  The image below is Maria’s from last Monday… hard to tell in the pic, but basically 8-10 ft.

Maria's, Rincon, PR February 02, 2015

While David would be happy if everyday were 8-10 ft, I prefer something more like the image below, say in the 3-5 ft range. I did have someone tell me yesterday that I dropped into a “triple story” wave, but I think they were trying to say triple my size.

Maria's February 02, 2015

The late afternoons and evening sessions have been nice, with mellower crowds and enough clouds to keep the setting sun from blinding us.  Surfing until dusk, we saute up some fresh veggies to go with the rice and beans we made in the afternoon and are asleep by nine, ready to wake up and do it all over. I must say, it hasn’t started to get old yet.

Good Morning Maria’s

Maria's, Rincon, Puerto Rico

Well, we didn’t actually ‘wake-up’ in Rincon, because we never went to sleep.  After two flight delays (SO thankful that our flight delays aligned themselves so that we didn’t miss our connection), we didn’t wind up in touching down in Aguadilla until 5:00 a.m. Pretty much perfect for getting the rental car, driving to Rincon, stopping at the bakery for coffee (Punta Mar,  my personal favorite) and pulling up to Maria’s just as the sun started to sneak over the hills and light up the horizon.

Maria's, Rincon, PR February 02, 2015

There was a hightide at dawn, but as soon as it started backing out, Maria’s was ready to show off all of her goods.