Why women were born to surf.And have babies

I recently caught up with a pretty special lady that I met through a mutual friend out in the surf. We each shared our vastly different experiences coming back from Indo trips over the years. Let’s just say her Bali belly was of a different nature to that of a non-refrigerated plate of nasi goreng.  In fact, she’s the only women I’ve met where I’ve recognized the striking connection between surfing and childbirth. I was rather intrigued by her sophisticated transition from a lady surfer to a baby’s mamma. As we sat over lattes at her local beachside café, she gracefully caressed her now six-month old, revealing her lavish smile as she retells the most defining chapter of her life.  

And that’s where it struck me. We jokingly made mention of our cupcake baking besties and their direct experiences of childbirth, and how they differed from those that she knew as surfers. The environment is more of a rough, testosterone filled line-up, where your cute bikini doesn’t mean much in the often dog-eat-dog habitat. And no I’m not talking about the dance of male pursuing female, although I now see it reads alike. I’m actually referring to all the risk factors of surfing, and how it’s a few notches above a mild burn, off a torn oven mitt pulling out that tray of freshly baked cupcakes.

She distinctly remembers hyperventilating on her hospital bed as the nurses attemptedhealthy living to relieve her immense pain with a gas mask. Through belts of laughter, she explained how she ran for the hospital door, ripping out all of her monitors, screaming ‘I can’t do this! I’m leaving!’ as the nurses ran after her.

After realising there wasn’t any going back, and the birth was in fact happening, like right now, she managed to calm her mind, and in turn her pain, from a very different source. One that’s not available in your regular hospital medical cabinets.  She vividly sketched the surface of a calm ocean surface in her mind, breathing deep as she remembered the silky feeling of a summer’s sea caressing her arms and fingertips, as she carelessly paddled through the line-up.

In describing surfing, she explained the all too familiar burning sensation of shoulders and arms, as you desperately desire that one perfect wave. The lifetime of deep fin slashes, bruises, burning reef cuts, jelly fish stings, infections and all other aspects of surfing that seem to add a coat of armour, to what could have been a life baking cupcakes. Not that we hold anything against our cupcake baking queens.

She was of the firm view that women who surf have a higher pain threshold. But I think32204_400218545167_814411_n it’s much deeper than a physical element. Mentally we hold those magical moments out in the ocean in the forefront of our mind. Often drifting off into daydream, far away from our current reality. And I know how much of a lulling effect that has upon flashback. I think the power of the ocean continues to live within, no matter how long it’s been since your last session.

I’m sure there’s that special kinship of once developing in the wound of salty fluid yourself, and that connection to the salt water as a surfer. Something I’m yet to describe in words. As for surfing with a young baby, constantly craving mum’s presence, I’ve never seen a girl so excited to get out into the surf at any given opportunity. It just makes me smile so big. But she just knew in her heart when she was ready. That pivotal moment when she realised there was something bigger to life than just surfing. As for the link between surfing and pregnancy; does it make us invincible? As much as we like to think that, I’m sure nothing will compare to the pain and challenge, we’re just equipped with a certain set of coping mechanisms, that are as unique as our salted gills, absent in our non-aquarian counterparts.

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Wild & Free

Exotic solo travel. Surfing heavy waves breaking over shallow reef shelves. Nipple piercings. Tattoos. Serious injuries in remote islands. Broken relationships. Quitting jobs. Suns and moons rising over inverted oceans. These are just some of the things that come to mind, when I think of my past few years on this spinning globe called earth. Most of which mould and solidify my identity through the many lessons learnt throughout. It’s been fast paced and wild, but more and more I’ve noticed my foot easing off the accelerator and edging closer to the brakes. I’ve heard in life never to look in the rear vision mirror.

I actually forgot how old I was. I spent two birthdays in a row escaping remote islands from the clutch of shattered relationships. In a whirlwind of adrenaline to simply survive, I paid little attention to the spinning cogwheels as my numbers flipped.

On one shoulder jumps a devil screaming my name with a wicked laugh, telling me to keep running at the same pace. Embrace the adventure and keep dodging bullets. But why am I finding myself turning down opportunities to surf big waves. To risk all again and again. Risking all for perfect waves. A quote I lived and breathed with every cell of my body.

I look back on photos taken from the islands. Christ some of those waves. And that’s the cropped-10606336_10152531576460168_8204708269631415799_n.jpgthing with surfing. That ability to push through the fear and just go. Everyone that’s out there knows the possible consequences. I’ve experienced them and came so close to not remembering every day I knew before.  Cracking my head on the reef, to a degree that saw me lose consciousness the following day. My article spread pages of women’s surfing magazines because I wanted to highlight the dangers of solo travel and make it real and personal.

I spent two months at the northern tip of Thailand building this site. Bursting with

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excitement to share my surfing experiences. And I still am. But life is a journey and I want to embrace a post-travel mindset and the challenges that come with letting go of a chapter so incredibly vibrant in my heart.

I know my mum would love to read this. She was always telling me to take out life insurance as I shared stories of big waves. Near drownings, with a smirk on my face as if I just used up one more of my nine lives.  In the equally as grinning words of Gerry Lopez “I’m sure you die just a little”.

Nature’s own rhythm

And I could sit on the shore and say that the tide’s all wrong, the wind is up, it’s about to pour with rain and the waves have no form to even consider riding. All was true. But my desire to be out there with an ocean to myself was too much to resist. Then I remembered I could still feel the warmth of a summer just passed, the water wrapping around my body as I sit alone being rocked in an ocean so vast and empty. White puffy clouds taller than any man-made tower soar on the horizon, igniting the purple tints reflecting from a sun soon to set.

I remembered it all but at the same time forgot so much.

I forgot what it was like to sit alone as the weather started to turn.

Beating to its own unmistakeable rhythm.

Black clouds arrived seemingly out of nowhere, as though they were ready to perform at a circus. The calm air quickly turned into a ferocious wind, as if to introduce the storm-front lashing the ocean to the north. Any colour from the horizon drained and transformed to229327_10151038233085168_1203521898_n shades of grey, like an artist knocking his brush water over his fine watercolour canvas.

Rain whips my soft skin and beats so heavy I lose sight of the shore I once was sitting on. I shield my hands over my eyes as my vision is pierced by the dagger-like drops of rain. Why am I worried that a wave will come that I simply can’t see? I felt it a hundred times before but how could I forget.

Amidst the chaos, I couldn’t help but begin to laugh out loud as a shiver of joy ran from head to toe.

A wave suddenly peaks as I laugh at my own joke and I have to paddle hard to make it safe to the other side. As I dive deep into the warm green water, I briefly escape the piercing rain drops. Returning to surface, the entire water is encapsulated by a blanket-like cover of soft mist, revealing the perfect curves of the ocean. Misguided lines of swell roll in, regardless of what the heavens had planned.

And as quick as the ocean was torn apart, the air calms as the little pocket of storm moves further south, as if to follow the second storm front moving in sync along the mountainside in the distance. You could never tell me that you used to surf, for you were never a surfer in the first place.

The transits to reach Philippines

Somehow I managed to survive two months in Northern Thailand, completely extracted from any sniff of a surf scene. It was a pretty beautiful place. I had initially planned on a six month stay to work on my online business. But for the first time since learning to surf, I completely lost my muscle tone in my paddle arms which was a very bizarre feeling. I so badly needed that extraction. To see the world through different eyes. But it was long enough. Tracking somewhat close islands for a chance of a wave, began to take over the time I should have been working on my online stuff. And then I did it. I booked four flights en route to Philippines. In particular Cloud Nine surf break. Boardless.  I like to talk about going on a surf trip prepared. Well this was going to be different.

Kuala Lumpur (KL)

Heading through KL is a pretty common route for surfers wishing to get a slice of Cloud9. I like KL as it’s been a transit point for multiple Indo, Mentawai and Malaysian trips. It’s familiar and I know where things are.

KL offers many options accommodation wise (affordable backpacker dorms to luxury hotels) and public transport is reliable and regular. Services are available by way of taxi,how to get to cloud9 train and bus direct from the airport. There’s two airports so make sure you get the right one. All Air Asia flights leave from KLIA2.

The city of KL itself is pretty bad and pollution
rules. It’s  rare to see blue sky through the thick smog that permanently coats the city.

Poverty is real, as it’s a common stop for refugees that have fled Myanmar (Burma) who stay illegally in slum-like conditions, waiting for the next option to flee the city. Usually by road and then sea.

Most with falsehoods on reaching the shores of Australia. The land of milk and honey.

As I found out, the Australian Government funds search and rescue operations in Malaysia by helicopter. They also carry out Police raids and water patrol units to hunt out refugees and send them back to where they came.

I spent three weeks throughout Malaysia in 2014 and the general vibe of the locals wasKuala Lumpur not great. They came across as quite unwelcoming. Perhaps the Australian Government’s influence is part of the reason why.

If you have an overnight in KL it’s worth checking out China Town in the city. Scores of markets line the streets, similar to the markets in Bali (Kuta).

As usual, be prepared to bargain for prices. You can get cheap clothes, sunnies, watches and bags. There is also an array of amazing food and fresh tropical fruit at low cost.

Transit through Cebu

OK so I must admit I didn’t quite do my research about Cebu. I just pictured a little island in the middle of a turquoise blue ocean, palm trees and beachside markets. Some of the atolls, reefs and islands we flew over were incredibly beautiful but by the time the plane flew over the island of Cebu, I realised it wasn’t anything how I had imagined. I had a one night layover here.

Grabbing the nearest taxi outside the small airport, I was in for a bit of a ride. From the driver, I had the usual “where you from, where’s your boyfriend, you had no one pick you up at airport?” type questions which you get used to when travelling alone as a female!

I was then quick to notice he was off-chops (drug induced) through his mannerisms and erratic energy.

At one Cebu travel point crossing a large bridge, where it was clearly sign posted that there was roadworks up ahead and the lane ended, he went straight through the signs, which smashed the rear of the taxi.

He burst out laughing and I said “taxi’s too big to fit through!” and his reply while throwing his hands in the air was “oh nah miss you’re just so beautiful it make me swerve all over the road!”.

The remaining trip involved him texting at every chance while swerving all over the road, running red lights and making up random and lengthy arrival times when I would get to my hotel.

I was pretty worried that he was actually taking me back to his house but so relieved when I recognised the sign for my hotel.

Stray goats roamed the city streets on miscellaneous missions, oblivious to the poverty that surrounded them. Kids barely old enough to walk, equally as oblivious as they clung tightly to their brother’s shirts, while mounting the back of rusted bicycles.

It wasn’t until I was safely in my hotel room, that I looked up “Cebu local news” on my laptop, that I realised just how bad it was. Bold text splashed the page, showing the past three days of events:

College student raped, killed in Cebu home. Man faces murder charges for daughter’s death. Lovers found dead in Cebu hotel. Boxing champ stabbed multiple times in domestic dispute.

Many were targeted Western attacks.

Luckily, downstairs from my hotel room was a small convenience store. I stocked up on asurfing cloud9 healthy array of white bread rolls, peanut butter, canned tuna and instant milo. Pretty much anything I could grab quick enough to then spend the duration of my time safely locked away in my hotel room.

I felt a million miles from Cloud Nine surf. Through tired eyes, I was surprisingly able to get a restful night’s sleep.

That morning I returned to the store to buy a local sim card.  While at the counter, I heard a kid whistling past the open shop door and glanced up to see a cheerful smile, dead chicken casually dangling from his clutching hand. I couldn’t help but smile back at him as our two worlds’ collided.

Past his small ripped t-shirt shoulder, something caught my eye on the other side of the busy street. A heavy looking, long and limp object in a white bag was being loaded onto the back of a pickup truck. Others that passed by, did not so much as blink an eye as they went about their day. I doubt I did either, as I struggled to hide my dinner-plate eyes. begging-1683496_1280

I honestly couldn’t be more happy to pack my bags and get the hell out of there.

It seemed my newly built hotel ($5.75 a night) was in a rough part of town. Their website did a great job at selling it to me.

I had to stand on the side of the road for a very long fifteen minutes praying for a cab to  pass by. Every passing car slowed to stare at my lonesome presence.

When a cab finally arrived, my bracelet got stuck on my lace shirt and I couldn’t lift my hand out to flag him down. It was like a nightmare unfolding before my eyes. Thank goodness a local guy came just in time to hail the cab for me. This ride was not as bumpy as the last.

Finally to Siargao

In the safety of the airport I could relax a little. I had two families come up to me and ask for photos in broken English. The kids giggled as their eyes curiously glanced over my hair, face and clothes as if they had never seen a Westerner before. Philippines kids

Once the plane passed over rusted tin roofs, visions opened to a vast ocean, full of every shade of blue imaginable.

Coming into Siargao is absolutely stunning, with a lush island rich in palm trees and jungles, peculiar shaped mountains and wide canyons. I could not wait to explore.

It was everything I hoped and more. Perhaps my excitement was exacerbated because my two months in Thailand without an ocean felt like an eternity.

Basic bamboo shelters lined the paved road, underneath thick canopies of palm trees dancing in the ocean breeze. The locals come equipped with that naturally laid-back island energy and are stoked living their simple lifestyles.

I was lucky to arrive when the swell was 6ft and barrelling at cloud nine surf spot. However I had to wait for the swell to back off as I could see just how challenging the takeoff was.

Top Tips for this Journey

Avoid the overnight in Cebu if possible!

-It really isn’t a safe place to be hanging out. The more I spoke to expats in Siargao, the worse the stories became.

It is possible to link your flights and get from KL to Siargao in one day with Air Asia from Cloud 9 boardwalkKL to Cebu. Then choose Cebu Pacific for the Cebu to Siargao leg.

Bring cash as there’s only one ATM 

-Best to get cash out before heading over as there’s only one ATM on the island and it’s regularly out of order. Never been happier with my purchase of my money bag that was strapped firmly around my waist under my t-shirt!

Watch your valuables in your hotel or shack

-I heard theft is very common here. Be sensible where you stash your cash, laptops, phones etc.

Take your own boards

-On the off chance you’re on a surf trip without boards (laughs). You already know tosurfing Philippines bring your own boards in your specific dimensions. Board hire is around 200 peso per hour ($6AUD) or 500 peso per day ($15AUD). Expensive. To buy a board here will set you back 12,000 peso ($370AUD). Cloud nine surf also has a high potential for breaking those boards in half.

Sunscreen and zinc

-Also very expensive here, about 520 peso (over $15AUD) for a small tube. Again experienced surfers know to bring their own.

Always be on alert

-Philippines is a dangerous country there’s no doubt about it. The use of meth is very common in many regions. The longer I stay here the more stories I hear of attacks on locals (mostly in transit to Siargao). Many attacks are in a bid to get money to fund their meth habits.

The threat of typhoon is very real

The slightest drop of rain will see your flight from Siargao back out to Cebu cancelled. The authorities simply don’t take the risk. If you can afford the luxury I would not booksurfing Cloud9 your international trip home until you are out of Siargao. Or better still make it a coupleI saw many surfers missing their next leg

Other than the general warnings, it truly is a stunning part of the world and one that blew my expectations right out of the water. I spent four weeks living in a very basic bamboo shack around the corner from Cloud Nine surf.

More in-depth rundown coming soon!

Mentawai Islands

If you’re a princess kind of surfer who must wear delicate designer bikinis and only paddles out to be “seen” by the men,  I highly recommend staying home as this place is not for the faint-hearted. If I could associate one word with Mentawai my first pick would be “wild”. Think jungle meet waterfall, meet crystal clear lagoon and waves that will absolutely blow your mind type perfection. If you’re a surfer, this is the one part of the world you definitely should not leave untouched.

Stay at home princesses

Just getting to the outer islands can become a treacherous and very tedious adventure, depending on your style of travel. For me I opted heading over to work at a surf camp, which turned into an accidental-lets fall in love at first sight with owner of camp- have craziest period of my life to date type of travel.

Totally unplanned. Totally let’s drop everything I thought I knew about life. Totally and utterly unforgettable.

Doing it rough

Over the period of two months in these islands, my mock itineraries included being the 10361064_10152102063020168_2727645846378015545_nonly Westerner sleeping top to tail amidst hundreds of local Indonesians on the floor of a rusted out boat.

The very same port to port journey in which a boat of similar description capsized in rough seas killing seven locals that same evening.

I sat for 12 hours in a tiny fishing village wondering if a boat home was ever going to arrive. I found myself being transported in dug-out canoes built to strictly transport supplies to the camp.

The scariest of all was stepping foot onto the same supply boat racing out through a narrow reef passage into the biggest, roughest stretch of ocean I have ever seen before, drenched to the bone and terrified if I would make it out alive.

vs doing it in luxury

Now, enough of the crazy stories.  The majority of surfers that visit the Mentawais opt for a more comfortable experience for their short period of time in paradise. There’s thirty or so charter boats from budget to luxury that buzz around the chain of islands.

You’ll also find a select number of land camps to choose from- most in which offer a safe and enjoyable ride from the mainland (to avoid the crazy alternatives that I found myself taking). The Mentawaisocean house feature the “no rules, anything goes” type lifestyle where you can truly live with no restrictions that you find back home.

Some surfers take this too far and end up living out there too long and completely losing their minds or going “troppo” as they say.

An amazing experience

Being a chick in the Mentawai rocks. Guys give you massive credit and respect in the lineup as they’re stoked to have a female join them in some heavy waves. Your surfing ability will improve faster than you can imagine, with mechanical barrels galore and long green walls that seem to peel forever.

When you’re not surfing  you can go brave the dense jungle, practice your Indo on locals in the small villages, pick fresh tropical fruit from the trees, explore outer islands and reefs,  snorkel & spearfish, gaze at picture perfect sunsets or pretty much anything your heart desires. But remember- no barbie dolls in these neck of the woods.

exploration

Life outside the surf scene

Last year I made a very uncharacteristic decision to move to the highlands of Northern Thailand, roughly 1500kms away from the nearest ocean. I had just spent two months in the most stunning part of the world- French Polynesia, where some of the most beautiful waves of perfection still remain unridden. So why did I make the move to dry land? Surfing is undoubtedly, to me, the reason I was put on this earth, the one passion that will always have me leaping out of bed at first light, sending shivers up my spine, butterflies in my thailand surfer girlstomach and an uncontrollable grin after an epic session. The ocean is my happy place, my church, my solace, my calm and most importantly my home. I just realised something was missing, something had been overdone or lost, overlooked, neglected, untouched- I just didn’t know what. See, we as surfers just become so consumed in the sport. It’s a selfish pursuit to spend what spare time we can chasing the most perfect wave, the one better than the last, the barrel bigger than the one before, the glassier session, the longer swell period, just more and more perfection and more and more expectations of what the ocean can offer us. Put millions of fellow surfers together pursuing that same thing and that selfishness multiplies. I had had enough of the crowded lineups, the aggression, the drop-ins, the surf slang, the ego and the masculine, I gradually realised what it was I needed- time out from surfing.

So there I was sitting in the back of a tuk tuk, weaving in and out of the city streets of Chiang Mai with my freshly purchased “suitcase” resting next to me, rather than my well-travelled board bag. I almost didn’t recognise myself, in fact I felt like I had morphed into a completely different person stripped of my very identity. The blinkers that I had been wearing since I discovered surfing at 14 years old had finally been peeled away and my eyes11755841_10153297941530168_7174339769817644684_n opened up to a different culture and part of the world I never thought I would explore. I was able to eagerly watch and learn the peaceful Buddhist ways, their daily rituals and most importantly what it was that they held dear to their hearts. I recognised similarities in the way they returned daily to the beautifully constructed temples of prayer, because in those temples I saw a vast ocean. In a strange way, the influence of another culture around me forced me to reinvent myself from the inside out. For so long I had placed myself in the constricted box that is the surfing scene. I was able to distinguish my valuables from the invaluables, recall the forgettable from the unforgettable and strengthen the bonds with those that mattered most back home.

After two months and many temples, pad thais and songthaews later I found myself in a state of absolute craving for the ocean. I realised just how much I had been taking each surf for granted. The simple act of feeling the sand between my toes as I strolled the water’s edge, preparing to launch into the salty goodness simply had become an unappreciated daily routine. There were so many hundreds of aspects of surfing I just expected to be there without truly being thankful for.

Intentionally living in an inland location has been one of the strongest ways in which I increased my gratitude for surfing and the pure beauty of the ocean. It isn’t just a temporary state of gratitude but rather one that I feel will be there for a lifetime now that I have experienced that chapter of my life. There remains a deep realisation of just how lucky I am to choose the life of a surfer, to surround myself in like-minded individuals and the free-spirited nature that comes hand in hand with pursuing waves of perfection. Nothing changes in the fact that it is a selfish sport, because the rewards, the thrills and the highs are solely for your own being but life without a passion becomes not much of a life at all. It’s a healthy addiction when consumed in balance to all other important aspects in life. As with most things- balance is the key.

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         Photo by Matty McCann

So are you a good surfer?

I don’t know. Well I mean, I’m just not quite sure how to answer your question, it’s so damn broad, can you narrow it down a little? Can I do it for you? It’s kind of like asking an artist if they are a good artist, by whose standards are we talking? Surfing is an art, no wait, it’s like dancing. How about, dancing meets art meets nature. It’s a personal thing in that sensegirls surfing and a form of unique self-expression. To call yourself good, to me, is how well do you know what you’re playing with? How much attention do you really, truly pay to the ocean and her creations. Do you feel as comfortable or as content surfing 2ft as you do 12? Do you draw on every ounce of your experience to pull yourself out of life threatening moments at sea? Do you understand just how very small and insignificant you are against her power? What’s more important, getting air and hacking every section of a wave apart, or style? To me it’s style, because without that you’re not really anything out there.

Let’s put all the corporate crap aside. The surf labels, the clothing, the comps, the crowds, the image, the display home with decoy plastic surfboards resting on the verandah, every brand new car ad with surfboards on rooftops but no ocean in sight. This corporate image, just take it all away out of my sight. I want to get right into the soul, the essence, the spirit, the freedom, the disconnection from land and all it possesses, the nitty gritty, the core, the heart, the crux. Now, you’ve got an ocean to yourself, it’s by no means perfect but it doesn’t matter. Actually it is perfect because you find so much magic in the fact this ocean stretch is all yours and anything can come your way. The waves are sending you into a trace-like state, a deep meditation, something not many can experience in a lifetime.

The sounds of society and all the action on land is drowned out by crashing waves, blue meets blue upon the horizon line, there’s so much peace all around you, just for you, this gift from god or whoever it is up there, I onlysoul surfing girls know him as Huey. So what are you going to do here with all this magic? There’s no one to impress, no worry about self-image, judgements, what brand your wetsuit is, who your shaper is, how much you spent on your haircut, no need to battle for waves, it’s just pure, you and the ocean. It’s time to dance, it’s time to slow things right down, so much so that when you take off on that wave it’s almost like you can see every droplet of water, every section of that wave as a perfect creation, every part of that lip as it strikes a chord with the wind, the shape, the colour, the patterns- this is the dance floor, the canvas. Draw some lines, gouge that tail into the green wall, watch the spray as it’s sent skywards only to be pulled back by gravity and back to where it came from. The energy is just so mind boggling when you find yourself in these moments of solitude. I still struggle to answer that question you asked me. Never mind, it’s not important anyway.