Q. Who or what brought you into yoga to begin with? How did you get started and what got you hooked?
A. I was one of those people who would roll their eyes when someone mentioned yoga.
That’s because I didn’t think yoga could offer me anything in the way of a vig-orous physical workout. To me, any activity that could provide physical benefits had to be rigorous. I had grown up as a competitive swimmer in Southern Cal-ifornia and spent hours in the pool training.
As it turned out, all those years in the water took a toll on my shoulder, result-ing in severe shoulder tendinitis. And my shoulder only got worse once I started surfing as an adult. In fact, I was scheduled to have shoulder surgery to alleviate my chronic pain.
Luckily, right around that time I met the man whom I would marry. And this man, David, an avid surfer himself, practiced yoga to get rid of back pain and stay fit for surfing.
This was back in the late 1990s, when yoga was just starting to get more popu-lar. I thought yoga was only about standing on your head, burning incense, and chanting. I thought yoga was a fad that would fade away.
Was I ever wrong. I went with David to a yoga class at the community center— and that class changed my life. I never did have shoulder surgery. And my surfing improved dramatically.
I started looking around for a surf -specific yoga series—but nothing existed! I knew that yoga and surfing were a natural fit—both yoga and surfing are about being alive in each moment, aware, awake, grateful for each breath, for each moment, an opportunity to go beyond time and become one with creation itself. And I knew I wanted to share my passion of yoga and surfing with the rest of the world!
So I became certified as a yoga teacher and created “Yoga for Surfers®,” the first-ever surf-specific instructional DVD series—which has reached more than a quarter million surfers worldwide.
Q. What about surfing? How did that happen? Who, what, when, where, and why did you start and what has that journey been like?
A. Growing up on the beaches of Southern California, I felt at home in the water, but I secretly envied all the surfers riding waves.
Back in the 1980s, not many females were in the lineup at that time . . . and this was before the days of female surf camps—in fact, before the days of surf lessons in general! It seemed like surfing was off-limits for all but the most die-hard female surfers.
Fortunately, times began to change, and on a trip to Kauai (back in the late 1990s) I decided to take the plunge and signed up for surf lessons.
I remember trying to stand up on that ten-foot foam board, and I was so frus-trated because I could not find my balance! I was certain that my background as an ocean swimmer would make surfing a breeze, so why was I struggling? I could not believe how challenging it was to get to my feet and then to steer the board in the direction I wanted it to go.
All those surfers of my childhood memories glided so effortlessly, so magically, so euphorically on those sparkling swells—so why couldn’t I do the same? That is precisely what got me hooked: my determination to master the art of riding waves with effortless ease and pure stoke!
When I got back to California, divine intervention directed me to the man who would become my husband. David was a lifelong surfer and thrilled that I wanted to get into surfing. It was a match made in heavenly swells.
David put me on a regular shortboard, which was much easier for me to han-dle. He took me right out into the lineup—no learning in the soup for me—and my destiny was sealed. Me, David, and a lifetime of waves.
I feel most at home when I’m in the water. There are not many things I would rather do than surf, as it makes me feel refreshed, exhilarated, alive! I may not be the best or most experienced surfer out there, but I consider myself one of the most passionate surf-stoked yogis around.
I like to say that it’s not about the wave count; it’s about making each wave count. And . . . sometimes the wipeout is the ride.
Being in the ocean, experiencing the totality of what it is to be a surfer: get-ting to the beach, sussing the conditions, warming up before paddling out, tak-ing note of the weather, the ocean conditions, the lineup, and the tides, feeling the temperature of the water, smelling and tasting the salt air, breathing in the goodness of life itself—surfing is a transcendent activity that grabs the heart and soul and never lets go.
Q. Can you describe your first or most transcendent experience with yoga? Anything that made you experience the flow state we are talking about in this article?
A. Not long after I started practicing yoga, my body went through a healing crisis—unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before or since. Likely my body was eliminating long-stored stress, pain, wounds, and emotions that needed to be released. The result was that I had an opportunity to experience yoga at its most basic and most profound element: the breath.
At one point I was so ill that I could not get out of bed. The only thing I could do was breathe. And breathe I did . . . consciously, slowly, focusing on just making it to the next breath. Inhaling life, exhaling pain.
As I focused on my breath, I realized that at its simplest, yoga was the breath. Breathing in light and energy, life itself, letting it flood and feed my body with healing cleansing energy, and then exhaling out pain and discomfort and letting myself feel calm and connected.
Each breath, a prayer of gratitude. Each breath, a gift of life.
Q. What about surfing? Was there an experience that stands out more than the rest, and can you describe it in words? Where were you?
A. For me, every day surfing is a new glorious adventure! I can look back on some amazing waves and certain spectacular sessions when I felt transported into a magical moment that transcended time . . . completely at one with the ocean, at one with creation. Elation is what I call it.
One day in particular, we were getting footage for the Yoga for Surfers videos in Carlsbad, California. We were at Ponto’s on a beautiful, clear, warm spring morning. A pod of dolphins showed up in the lineup, which they often do, but this time was different.
The dolphins joined us on every wave as if to say, “This is how it’s done”— literally surfing with us, encouraging us to ride faster, with more joy. I shared a wave with one of these elegant, playful, giant, gray bottlenose acrobats, and when I turned to paddle back out, this same dolphin leapt right in front of me, launching several feet into the air, splashing down with exuberance, and then flip, flip, flipped his way back out to the lineup.
I remember thinking that even if I died that moment, my life would be complete.
Q. Are there specific places on earth (I call these energy vortexes) where you feel most connected to this energy or flow state of consciousness, whether you are practicing yoga, surfing, both, or just being?
A. Creation is so magnificent, so vast and so varied—such a beautiful metaphor for the soul.
I feel at home in the ocean and equally moved by vast desert spaces. Desert sand dunes remind me of ocean waves, captivating and endless.
However, the place on earth where I feel most connected, the place I feel is the most powerful energy vortex, is in the depths of my own soul, which has expanded to hold all of life’s treasures. Whether practicing yoga, surfing, or just being, when I connect my body, brain, and breath and spend time in heartfelt gratitude, I find the place where power meets peace, and love meets life.
Q. Can you name your favorite surf break and where that is? What about for new surfers, is there a best place to learn in your opinion? Did you start with lessons or just go out and take the waves on? Is your family into surfing or were you a pioneer in your family?
A. If I could only surf one break for the rest of my life, it would be Middles (Tres-tles). Middles is the uncrowded sibling of Lowers, and there are plenty of peaks and waves for everybody. Trestles is part of the California State Park system, so thankfully it is protected, remote, and beautiful.
The beauty of the Trestles surf experience starts with a journey—on a bike, a skateboard, or on foot. The remoteness of Trestles invites you to leave your daily life behind and draw closer to raw creation. I find that as I hike toward the surf break, my mind clears, my heart opens, and my breath deepens. Stress of the day dissolves into the simplicity of sea, sand, and surf, and all is right with the world.
For new surfers, my advice is to start out at a surf spot that is safe and forgiv-ing. Obtain local knowledge by talking to lifeguards or other surfers. Surf with a buddy. Consider taking surf lessons.
New and experienced surfers alike can benefit from my Ocean Confidence Handbook (available at yogaforsurfers.com), full of handy tips that help surfers get the most out of this thrilling experience! Even experienced surfers can benefit from learning more about how to know the ocean better, how to read the waves, and how to stay safe in order to catch more waves, surf them better than ever, and have more fun while doing so.
When I first started learning how to surf as an adult, my husband (whom I was dating at the time) got me up and riding on the waves right out in the lineup! He figured that since I was at home in the water as an ocean swimmer, it suited my nature to get right out there on a shortboard and take my lumps. I used to get so frustrated with myself, and often my surf session ended with me in tears on the beach.
That was before I discovered yoga.
I reluctantly tried yoga (I originally thought yoga was just for hippies) to help heal my severe shoulder tendinitis; not only did my shoulder heal, but my surf-ing also improved dramatically. I felt stronger, more flexible, more fit and condi-tioned, and my mental outlook was more calm and centered, too. Wiping out or missing waves didn’t bother me as much as it used to—and I was catching more waves than ever.
I was so passionate about my yoga and surfing connection that I became cer-tified as a yoga instructor and then set about sharing my passion with tens of thousands of surfers around the world with my Yoga for Surfers videos.
Yoga helps you stay calm and focused in challenging situations so you remain aware, alive, and centered in your own essence, staying balanced, calm, open, and free. You learn to connect to that deepest part of yourself so your surfing can be the unique expression of your own power, energy, and spirit.
(See also my answer to question 2.)
Q. Where and how did you start out in yoga? What was your first introduction to the practice and how do you suggest people start if they are considering getting into yoga? What is your favorite style to practice? Do you teach yoga? If so, what style?
A. For those starting out in yoga, keep in mind that yoga is as vast as art, music, or food. Keep trying different classes, teachers, and styles until you find a class, teacher, and style that suits you.
Even if you’ve tried yoga before and it wasn’t a good fit for you, give it a try again. Yoga is a powerful practice that will benefit your physical health, emotional outlook, and mental fitness and can cross over into all areas of your life, bringing a greater sense of well-being, calm, and peacefulness.
I developed and teach my own style of surf-specific yoga called Yoga for Surfers (yogaforsurfers.com), which I pioneered back in 2002. Yoga for Surfers is a fun, fluid, and flowing style of feel-good yoga that focuses on stretching and strength-ening all the muscles used in surfing, with an emphasis on the neck and shoul-ders, core, back, and hips. Tens of thousands of surfers around the world have used the Yoga for Surfers instructional videos to get fit, focused, and fearless on the waves—and on the waves of life!
(See also my answer to question 1 about how I got started in yoga.)
Q. Do you feel a beginner can access the feeling of the flow state either in yoga or surfing or would you say it’s more of an advanced practice that they can work their way up to with consistent dedicated practice?
A. When you connect the mind and body with the energy of the breath, amaz-ing things happen! Whether you’re new to yoga or surfing, or a passionate prac-titioner, the beauty of both yoga and surfing is that the pure stoke is available to everyone.
The key to finding your flow—whether in surfing or yoga—is to breathe, relax, focus on the positive, and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Each breath is a gift, each moment a glorious adventure.
Approach each pose, each wave, each practice with cheerful curiosity and pos-itive expectations that the best is yet to come. Encourage yourself positively, say-ing things like: “I got this! I’m getting it! I look forward to improving in this area!” Encouraging yourself will dramatically accelerate your enjoyment in both surfing and yoga.
Be patient if you feel you’re backsliding. That is a part of life. Keep your head above the waves and find the peace within.