SURFING SAVED ME.
From the start, my pregnancy was less than ideal. My sciatic nerve pinched at about week six, and I, a life long athlete, was left bedridden. There was no position that didn’t cause me incredible pain. Sitting was out of the question, standing was too tiring and even laying down presented its own sort of challenges. I could no longer walk, let alone go out on my daily run. Simply climbing the stairs to our front door was so exhausting I had to pause several times along the way. I virtually stopped leaving the house on my own.
As winter’s cold started settling in, we decided to make a change.
After hours of research and searching, I managed to get myself a job running marketing and wellness camps for an adventure sports hotel in the Dominican Republic. It wasn’t my ideal job – I had specifically been trying to get away from marketing and develop myself as a freelance writer – however it was a good job and we needed the security. Plus, it was warm and there was supposedly a decent surf break nearby. Within a month, we had packed up and left Brazil.
The transition went okay. Work was going well, but on a physical level I was still down and out. Eating was a challenge, and I was finding that both yoga and gym time were creating more problems with my body than helping it. More than anything I felt defeated. It was as if everything I had previously been good at was impossible now. My personal definition was that of an athlete and I could hardly take a walk on the beach. I didn’t even consider surfing with so many people warning me against it.
After a few weeks of crying on the floor and suffering, I decided to stop listening to everyone else. We strapped the boards on the car and headed in search of waves.
Being in the water was bliss. At first, I had no coordination and after months of non-activity I could hardly lift myself up to standing. It didn’t matter. We were so lucky that our local break was chock-full of easy, consistent waves and crystal clear Caribbean water – just being outside and moving was a blessing. It rained and there was a rainbow. I cried with happiness, and relief.
After that we were in the water every day – it was the only time my body didn’t hurt. Everyone kept asking me how I could do it, how I could lay down on my belly and paddle, but honestly floating in the water was the most comfortable position I had found since becoming pregnant. I was finally beginning to feel like a human again.
Even when we traveled I needed to find waves. We went to Portugal and surfed in the freezing cold waters at Peniche. When I could hardly stand up from fatigue I dropped waves on my knees like I had seen Doc Paskowitz do when he got older. I avoided collisions like the plague and shamelessly robbed the best waves on giant longboards.
The most impressive part was that surfing pregnant actually made me a better surfer. I took less risks and paddled for only the best waves, which meant I was getting better and longer rides and wasn’t wasting my energy on closeouts. I was more patient. As I became more concentrated, focused and smarter about my surfing, I also became less stubborn about needing to be better than I was. I had the ultimate excuse for not pushing too far past my limits. If the surf was too big or I was too tired that day, I simply paddled back in without any guilt. The fear which I used to battle against was gone, because I simply didn’t feel a need to battle it any more. Surfing became all about feeling good and having fun again.
The first time I climbed on a surfboard was ten years before I got pregnant, but it was the first time in many years that surfing became my everything again. When everything else was crap – when my hormones were out of control, my body screaming with pain and my brain overwhelmed with worries and doubts, I found solace on my surfboard. My confidence in my own abilities returned. My fears abided. I got stronger and more capable again. At eight and a half months pregnant I dropped in on meter high waves over reef on an 7’6″ fun board and celebrated as if I was Medina winning a world title.
Pregnancy is a crazy journey. I’m at the tail end now, awaiting the arrival of our little monster. My belly is big and round, and my board has grown accordingly (a 9’soft top or an 8 foot stand up surf board are my go-to’s these days.) Several times I’ve headed to the beach thinking that it was going to be over, that today would be the day I wouldn’t be able surf anymore. Now I hope I’ll get to surf on the day I go into labour.
TIPS FOR SURFING PREGNANT
Remember: The best advice anyone can give you when you’re pregnant is to not take advice from anyone. More than ever, pregnancy is a time to shut out the naysayers. Listen to your baby and listen to your body and you’ll know what’s right for you. If you’re looking to know what my experience was, here are a few guidelines that helped me through my surfing pregnant journey.
Get out of the water BEFORE you get tired
When you’re pregnant, your energy level can go drop to zero with basically no warning. When I was still surfing meter and a half waves at six and seven months, I sometimes let my excitement get the better of me and I would paddle out for just one more wave. By the time I got back to the lineup, I was so exhausted from the paddle I ended up crying out the backside when the set came in because I had no energy to get back to the beach.
Surf with Friends or Family
By that I mean Real friends, and ones who are confident surfers who can rescue you if your leash snaps or you simply hit a wall and need help getting in. You’re not handicapped, but you are pregnant, and your body is simply not the same as it was before. It’s good to have someone surfing nearby whose got your back in case god forbid something goes wrong. I was lucky to have my hubby surfing with me every day, constantly checking on me after every wave to make sure I was still feeling good.
Accept your Limitations
As I mentioned before, pregnancy was great to me as it gave me an excuse not to push myself into my fear zone. I’m all about pushing my limits, but I decided that pregnancy really wasn’t the time to test myself. The potential downside just wouldn’t be worth it. This actually made me a more confident surfer, and I ended up having more fun overall. You’re already surfing pregnant so you’re already basically SuperWoman. Maybe that’s enough.
Avoid Other Surfers
I was really lucky that I passed my pregnancy surfing on a beach that is great for beginners and more advance surfers alike. That meant when I was feeling good, I could go for some more challenging waves, and on days I was tired I could hang out with the learners crowd. What I found out though, was that beginners actually felt more dangerous to be around than the more seasoned guys. They had less control of their boards both while surfing or while paddling out. As I was very keen to avoid collisions, I found that it was easier for me to head to an emptier part of the break, even if the waves weren’t as good, than worry about a stray board hitting my belly.
Always Bring Fuel
This goes back to your energy levels. Coming out of the water, you’ll need to immediately hydrate and feed so that your baby isn’t left without the fuel that he/she needs. Bananas, coconut water, snack bars – whatever is easy and gets you fuel fast is key to keeping yourself feeling good while surfing. If you’re planning on staying out longer, its good to take a half time break and top your energy stores up.
It’s Still Gonna Feel Weird
So remember, you are pregnant. Sometimes, you might not be able to breathe. You might want to vomit (especially if you already have a lot of nausea when you’re on two legs). You might feel your bones shifting around a bit in their sockets (thanks relaxin). If your baby is anything like mine, he might wiggle sideways or stick a foot out when you’re going for a wave. These things can feel so weird but like just about anything weird feeling, its all part of pregnancy. Just accept it. Don’t freak out at the little things and don’t let them stop you.
Remember: You are creating an actual human being inside your belly.
Compared to that surfing should be no big deal.