Tag Archives: Women’s Surfing

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!

Surf Asylum Alumni at the Sisters of the Sea Surf Classic

I wrote this post at the beginning of the summer, as surf camp was about to get under way, expressing how excited I was about our All Girls Surf Camps and what I hoped I would be able to share with our students beyond the fundamentals of surfing, namely, confidence, joy and gratitude. In my wildest imagination I would have never been able to imagine seeing that come to fruition as it did this past Saturday when nine Surf Asylum alumni and eight other Fernandina Beach surf sisters took to the water at the 17th Annual Sisters of the Sea Surf Classic.

My cheeks still ache from all the smiling, my lungs are still tired from all the cheering and my heart is forever expanded from watching this group of girls develop (or deepen) a relationship with the ocean and come together in sisterhood through surfing. It was incredibly rewarding to be on hand as each of them went into the water and delivered their personal best. While I am super proud of all of their results, I was blown away by how much they gave of themselves in the spirit of competition. I watched each girl push the boundaries of their personal best and couldn’t be happier in the effort displayed.

Surf Asylum is proud to present the alumni who competed in the 17th Annual Sisters of the Sea Surf Classic:

Lani: Lani is just adorable. At four years old, Lani was by far the youngest competitor of the event, competing in White Water Riders Age 12 Under. If Lani’s mom, Joy Anderson’s performance (3rd place in Sage Sisters Shortboard, 3rd place in Stand Up Paddleboard) is any indication, Lani will find herself in the finals sooner than later.

Sofia M.: Sofia came to surf camp, stood up and took the first wave of her life all the way to the beach. She has now been surfing for less than four months and is already paddling into her own waves in the right conditions. This was Sofia’s first contest and I was so proud of her for entering. She got some great rides and should be so proud of how far she has come in such a short amount of time. Sofia also has some pretty sweet dance moves she likes to bust out after a good ride.

Maili: Maili has been surfing for a few years, but is still only 10 years old and is completely independent in the water. She caught all of her own waves and made some very critical drops in her heat. Also a competitive swimmer, Maili’s upper body strength allows her to catch waves with ease while her leg strength allows her to execute nice bottom turns. Maili is a great role model for girls who are just getting into surfing.

Ella: At surf camp this year Ella asked me who the best surfer was and I replied, “the one having the most fun!” She then quipped back to me, “then I’m the best surfer!” Ella really stepped up in the competition getting third place in her round one heat, moving her into the quarterfinals. Competition was pretty fierce in the quarters and even though she didn’t make it through, Ella was definitely giving 110%.

Ivy: Ivy is another camper who has been surfing less than four months, but already has her own longboard and can often be seen out surfing with her mom. SOS was also her first contest. She placed second in round one taking everyone of her waves all the way to the sand. She also got the single best wave of her quarterfinal heat, but ran out of time before she could find a back up wave. Look out for Ivy when she is paddling for a wave, she’s also one of the top competitive swimmers in her age group in NE Florida.

Malia: While she had never surfed before either, Malia told us the first day we met her that she had watched several surf movies to get ready for camp. She must be a visual learner because three days later she was catching her own waves and working on a bottom turn. This allowed her to skip the beginners stage of riding whitewater to the beach and sent her straight into riding the open of face of the wave. Pretty impressive for a first generation surfer with no previous experience! Malia earned herself a third place in round one and advanced to the quarterfinals.

Sofia B.: What a summer for Sofia! Sofia had a little surf experience when we first met her but was nervous because of a bad wipe out experience. This summer’s small surf was perfect for putting that behind her. Sofia has come from almost not standing up until she hit the sand to popping up fast, making steep drops and shifting her weight around to speed up and slow down as necessary. This was a lethal combination in competition, letting her catch waves further out than her competitors and taking them all the way to the beach. It also led her to first place in her round one heat, first place in her quarterfinal heat and fifth overall in White Water Riders 12 and Under. Way to go Sofia the Brave!

Kaia: At only eight years old, Kaia already has a few years of surf experience and is impressing everyone by surfing independently, catching most of her own waves and taking steep drops with control. She has a super smooth style, combined with a lot of strength and has the potential to take her surfing wherever she wants. She made quick work of her competition in her round one heat of the Keiki’s 9 and under division, placing second and earning herself a spot in the finals. She continued pushing herself, catching her own waves, navigating critical sections and working them all the way to the beach and ended up fifth overall. Great job Kaia!

Mikaela: Mikaela has three things going for her that I find fairly unique to her young age of seven. She is incredibly strong, almost fearless and has a really mature read on the wave. This allows her to surf waves, sometimes well over her head, with composure and style. She took third in her round one heat of the Keiki’s 9 and under division, impressing the judges with a backside rail grab down the face of an overhead wave where she almost found herself under the lip of a closeout tube. She solidified a third place spot in the finals by paddling into her own waves, pumping down the line and working it all the way to the sand. She’s got two more years in the division and I can’t wait to see her and Kaia at this event next year. If they keep at it, one of them is going to walk away with first place.

Way to go girls! I’m already looking forward to next year’s event. Go ahead and mark your calendars, the 18th Annual Sisters of the Sea Surf Classic has been scheduled for September 17th, 2016.

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

Let’s Go Surfing!


Betsy at the Coastal Crusaders Beach Clean Up, Main Beach, Fernandina Beach, FL. Photo: Sarah Ashley

One of the moments that David and I have put a lot of energy into the last six months is here. Tomorrow is our first day of summer surf camp and I could not be more excited (with just a touch of nervousness)! Not only is it our first day of camp, but it is also one of two ALL GIRLS weeks of camp. I could not be happier or more proud that David and I have brought this to fruition. The response we have received over these two designated weeks has been overwhelming. I see all of our students as an honor and a privilege, but the opportunity to share surfing, something I credit as both being one of the best things that ever happened to me and a life changer, with young girls is something I will cherish forever. I haven’t even met them and I love them all.

Special Olympics Surf Camp, 2011, Photo Amanda Tapley

In a short essay for Women of Waves 2014, I wrote, “Surfing at once gives me a self confidence I’d always denied, a humbleness as vast as the ocean herself, joy that knows no boundaries and a gratitude for which there are not words.” Confidence, joy and gratitude. If I have one student leave camp at the end of the summer with these feelings, I will consider us a success.

Betsy, prepping for Surf Camp 2015. Photo: Eddie Pitts, 911SurfReport.com

Getting to this point has already brought us some of our own confidences, joys and gratitude. We owe a huge thank you to our friends and family, not one of whom so much as raised an eyebrow, what less crowed, “what are you thinking?!?” when I resigned from my very dependable and even somewhat enjoyable job last fall. The support everyone has shown us over the past eight months has itself boosted our confidence and we are eternally grateful for it. We’ve also gained confidence, and quite a bit of joy, by having the luxury to solely focus on this project. And focus we did. I think I speak for the both of us in saying that we’ve never been more committed to something.

Pools Beach, Puerto Rico, 2015.

We’ve spent months hashing out our camp program. We’ve read guides to surfing, watched innumerable online videos of everything from popping up to duckdiving, we’ve surfed as much as possible ourselves and critiqued our every move and talked about every aspect of surfing, almost every moment of the day. We want to provide the highest quality instruction possible and ensure that every camper has a great time. From the start we realized that we wouldn’t be satisfied simply pushing kids into waves. We are dedicated to creating confident surfers who will be able to assess conditions on their own, handle their own surfboard and select their own waves. We believe that through building their own confidences, students can then enjoy the ocean and ultimately, appreciate what a gift it is to spend time in it.

Now, Let’s Go Surfing!