Travelling through Muslim countries as a solo female

In Bali it’s not uncommon to see Western girls freely strutting around with bronzed arse cheeks hanging out of the bottom of ripped denim shorts. However, there’s a strong likelihood they’re there for the vortex of clubs, beaming with hot surfers tanked up on $1 shots of Arak, looking for a good time. But I know that’s not your mission. Seeking waves in less than chartered territory as a female, means paying a bit more respect to local culture. Indonesia contains some of the best waves in the world, but the transit to those waves equals less than desirable destinations. You’re going to have to pay attention to what’s going on around you, if you want to reach many of those palm-tree lined, white sandy beaches with the perfect peeling left hander you spotted in your favourite edition of Tracks magazine.

So what exactly does it mean to travel alone as a female, especially in Muslim territory? Generally, it means you’ll gain a lot of attention from the opposite sex, even if unintentional. You’re exotic to anyone you pass by. But if adventure is alive in your heart, these culture shocks are the eye-opening experiences are exactly what you’re chasing.  The ones that make you appreciate the laidback lifestyle you likely left behind photo 1in your home country.

I’ll never forget my first adventure to Mentawais travelling solo. Through the last minute nature of organizing my time out there, I have to say I didn’t have much time to plan and research. I had read that a rather conservative culture existed on the mainland of Sumatra, and I already knew that the transit through Malaysia was the same.

I was appropriately covered head to toe in light cotton pants, the type you see tacky tourists wearing in Thailand. Yes, they may have even had elephants printed all over them.  It was pretty obvious to cover my torso and arms in a light cotton shirt. I also did my best to cover up my beach blonde hair under a Roxy cap. Before departure, I had actually trialled a head scarf, but while looking at my reflection in the mirror, concluded it was a bit OTT.

But even through this effort, I couldn’t help but notice all the looks from local men. I also surfing girlhad twenty local kids spot my blonde hair sticking out of my hat, while waiting for a boat to depart. I watched them clamber across planks of timber around the outskirts of their fishing village to be in my company for a long two hours. When they realised I was reading an Indonesian language book, I apparently became the centre point for all their jokes. Anyway, turns out I had made a few mistakes along the way and take these lessons to my next Indonesian destination.

Deflecting attention in Muslim culture

In Muslim culture, women who travel solo are generally seen as frisky and adventurous, perhaps even looking for trouble. If like me (at my time of travel to Mentawai) you haven’t yet found your knight in shining armour, head to your local jewellery shop and pick up a cheap sterling silver, cupic zirconia fake wedding ring. This will at least divert some attention. And yes, feel free to use every possible opportunity to fend off looks by running your left fingers along your chin in order to show your gem off.

When transiting through public places such as my boat crossing to Mentawai, you may or may not notice that men will sit together, with women generally staying in their bunk rooms or gathering in completely separate area. My first boat crossing I actually thought it was predominately men on board. The heat was absolutely blanketing that night, so I chose to sit out the back on the deck for much of the sleepless 12-hour night crossing.

I did think it was strange to not see many women sitting out the back of the boat, but muslim cultureagain didn’t put too much thought into it. If you can, avoid sitting in areas where there are mostly men frequenting the area.  If you’re on your own, try to sit with groups of women. If you’re travelling by bus or plane, take the window seat. In a taxi? Definitely take the back seat and make minimal conversation with the driver. Instead put your music in and be anti-social. Don’t share any of your travel details with any locals. You also want to share meal time with women rather than men.

Customs officers of the male variety will likely pull you over to ask you further questions. I found this to be a common trick of those using the power of the uniform to probe into the life of a Western girl. At one small airport I had to endure thirty minutes of questions mostly unrelated to travel. I had the customs guy turning over the contents of my bag, not even looking at the items, instead carefully watching me as he fired questions. Where’s your boyfriend? You travel alone? Where you come from? Why you surf triphere? Where you going? Surfing? Surfing? Expect these questions but give short, polite answers. Then make up an excuse that you need to be someone because your boyfriend is picking you up outside. Keep your cool and never say you’re alone. Corruption is alive and well in smaller regions of Indonesia.

Where possible avoid eye contact with men. Your non-verbal communication is important. While in Western cultures eye-contact during conversation is praised, in Muslim culture it is the opposite. Especially with the elderly, avoid making eye contact in conversation so as to offer your respect (if you so happen to stumble upon an English speaking person). Become an expert at people watching and pick up hints along the way. You may notice that Muslim women actually gaze downward in conversations with other men. Never shake a Muslim man’s hand.

As you can see, it’s simply not worth the risk of showing any kind of sexuality in a foreign Muslim country. Yes, I’ve been, and still am, the vain girl caring too much about makeup and looking good in a nice (skimpy) outfit. But here, it’s simply not worth it. Nine times out of ten you can wear a bikini at your surfing destination, but save showing any skin until that point. While in Sumbawa, a Western girl decided to take her yoga mat to the far end of the main surfing beach, in front of a village to practice yoga in just her bikinis. This was considered suggestive to a 13-year-old boy, who little to her knowledge wielded a machete behind his back upon approach. When she showed that she was not interested, she got attacked. So drop the Instagram illusions of perfect island paradises and keep your head on your shoulders.

 

 

 

 

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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.

Thinking about surfing French Polynesia? Think again.

Being in a tumultuous relationship is not one way I would recommend spending time in paradise. Especially a two month trip. I would have loved to have done this adventure solo however, without my involvement in a particular surf project, my dreams to travel to this part of the world, would continue to remain unfulfilled.map_ga-tahiti

Traveling for a surf project

I quit my job rather suddenly (and not the 1st time) to pack up and head to the islands for what was a surf project I worked very tirelessly on.

To cut a long story short, I had applied for a role working with a ‘company’ teaching local surfers in remote islands how to shape timber surfboards in their own back yard.

Given lack of money, access to fibreglass boards and ding repair, it seemed like a perfect scenario and one that was relatively unchartered by Westerners at the time. The discovery of surfing by troubled youths living in remote islands would be a life-changer.

Somewhere along the way, I fell for the guy behind the movement. Things quickly progressed into a relationship. By quickly I mean by rocket-ship type proportions. 

We discussed project launches in PNG where he originated from. Solomon Islands was also a heavy polynesiacontender. But in the end, my ultimate dream destination won hands down.

There were many red flags along the way, but I was committed to the project and to French Polynesia come hell or high water.

This would be my first planned trip away with another man, rather than flying solo.

Little did I know, I would be leaving him on a remote island somewhere in the archipelago.  

The beautyFrench Polynesia

The trip was nearly two years ago, yet I still find it quite hard to put into words just how spectacular French Polynesia is.

Ribs of jagged coral reef in rainbow spectrums meet turquoise blue waters, contrasted by deep channels of dark purple waters. Unexplored lush green islands appear sporadically with unmissable volcanic mountaintops rising from the ocean.

Tahiti Nui

Flying into the capital Papeete is an experience rich in culture, big smiles, seafood, cruise ships and lively markets. Not to mention spectacular island backdrops. I only had one thing in mind, and that was to touch down at Teahupoʻo, a dream I’ve wanted to fulfilltahiti since I first learnt to surf.

My ex however had other ideas, with zero interest in helping me reach that very spot by rental car. Instead he erupted into an endless tangent about how commercialism is killing the soul of surfing. Red flag number 248.

The village of Teahupoʻo was a lot further from the capital than I expected, around an hour’s drive to the south-west coast. Oh, yes I had won the uphill battle to make it there. The drive is littered with fruit stalls, care-free kids, lush mountains, valleys and creeks and no shortage of black sand beach breaks.

The swell was small but I was so stoked to arrive at the dead-end street and stand at the foot of the infamous Teahupoʻo sign, that I’d seen in some of the best surf movies  growing up. The energy of the village is pretty special. It’s just raw.

I could only imagine what it would be like when the swell is 20ft with guys towing in. I’d still love to return to sit in a boat in the channel, watching fearless locals drop down the faces of monsters.

Island hopping

While I’d love to tell you where we next flew to for the two months that followed, I simply can’t. But I can fill you in on what one might experience if they choose to visit.

My ex had explored this particular island for a couple of tahitimonths prior, which allowed him to get to know the locals, the waves and ideas of where our shack could be based for the project.

And of course to skip out on some expensive nightly rates. I’m sure our experience would have been vastly different had he not worked to carve the path ahead.

I’d never before witnessed the type of waves that we would soon discover. The shack was set up in a small bay, caressed by the most perfect grinding right hander I’d ever seen. On the other side, an equally as perfect left hander. I’d heard that professional guys had died on the right before.

Luckily it wasn’t the season for it and I was quite happy I had missed it. The wave however continued to run relentlessly perfect spitting barrels. It was just too shallow.

The locals

I’d done my research. It wasn’t pretty. But I was confident in the captain that was leading me into the project and didn’t feel I had anything to worry about.

The lineup

The level of respect in the lineup here is next level. The waves are an epitometahiti of perfection, depending of course on your level of surfing.

Whichever way you look at it, the locals make sure to strongly protect their ground.

I noticed there was no such thing as crowds.

Taking your camera

If you think you’re going in with a camera to shoot the waves, from land or from sea, you’ll quickly end up on the wrong side of any local. I heard many stories of cameras being carelessly ripped from visiting surfer’s hands and tossed into the ocean.

Along with violence.

The Red Bull team visited a nearby island on a big swell and it wasn’t a good ending.

Surfing in groups

You’re not going to just paddle out and start taking waves without first approaching and acknowledging each local in the water. There’s barely any lineup in the world left with this level of respect. Enough to leave you speechless. Tattoos. Bisects. Some big humans.

You just do it. But paddle out with more than two of your mates (especially two males) and you’ll be sent in. I know of one local who brags about the amount of blow-ins he’s knocked out in a day.

Each lineup is continually patrolled by locals with binoculars on hillside shacks, ready to call out boats if any trouble is spotted.  Be prepared to paddle. Some breaks sit 1KM offshore and include some brutal currents and bone crushing sections over dry reef to leave you out of breath

Other efforts to fit in

Refuse to take up an offer to drink tequila shots at the bar when it’s one of the guy’s polynesiabirthdays, well you’ll probably lose some respect too.

And they know how to drink.

Try too hard to fit in without invites, you’re likely to be sniffed out pretty quick and asked to leave the island.

Nine out of ten locals you have nothing to worry about, but there certainly are some that will take it to the extremes. 

The level of surfing

Some of the waves had me on the edge of crying with fear. I wrote about one particular session here.

Would I recommend solo travel for a female surfer?

The island is full of 360 degree views of every colour spectrum of flowers and tropical fruit you can imagine. It is a rich ground for deep sea pearls and sacred blue-eyed eels. It truly is something you could imagine out of a dream.

My experience however, was not without being woken from an afternoon nap, with death threats dished out to my ex, simply for making one silly mistake. The relationship turned into a brutal mess and in the end, I decided it was not a place for me to stay and once again departed solo. Narrowly missing out on a wedding proposal but perhaps that’s a story for another time.

Would I recommend another girl to travel here solo? Papeete and Tahiti waves yes. Outer islands I would suggest bringing a guy that has experience with locals of smaller islands, unless you have contacts in the area. Oh, and your surfing needs to be at a pretty high level.

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

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 12.22.58 pm (2)

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”.

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!

Daily Habits

I believe integrating small yet healthy habits each and every day is the key to long term success, overall health and living a truly enriched life. The way in which you move about your day today is an accumulation of previous habits formed over time. Routine used to be happy days surfer girlthe root of all evil for me as I had continual desires to be in a different country every few months, experiencing different cultures and riding different styles of waves.

Now I view routine as an important component of stability and closely intertwines with my habits, not forgetting spontaneity is what distinguishes between a routine and a mundane action.

I love that health seems to be “trending” where many, especially in my generation, are ditching boozy nights out for waking up at dawn for a workout followed by a green smoothie and organic muesli at their local cafe.

Social media in particular has allowed the growth and expression of lifestyle through captivating images and inspirational content and I believe is largely attributable to big trends such as what is occurring in the fitness and health world (and any other industry you can think of).

Small habits I integrate into my day 

Early bird gets the worm

As surfers we naturally know that the best waves often break early in the morning, before the wind has had a chance to make up its mind as to what it wants to do for the day. It’s also a beautiful time of the day around sunrise when the sky is painted vibrant colours andsunrise surfer

usually a good chance to beat the crowds. Other than from a surfing perspective, I always have been an early riser and find it a good time to fit in some form of exercise before work.

I always feel my days are longer and more fulfilling when I get up early and believe it’s a great habit to form. The flip-side is I have grandma like tendencies and am usually in bed by 830-9pm on weeknights, but I do find nighttime a little boring and have never had nocturnal tendencies.

Yoga

When I wake up I love to jump straight into some light yoga even if that means I’m starting out on the mat half asleep. If you watch many animals whether a dog, cat or pet rabbit, one of the first things they do when they wake up from a nap is downward dog (yes I had an indoor rabbit and they even do it!).

Downward dog not only stretches out your entire body but strengthens your arms and legs, stimulates vital organs and encourages healthy blood flow as your heart is above your head. After regular practice you will also notice a much healthier posture and an increase in energy.

While in the evenings I try to dedicate half an hour to yoga, my morning flow is only brief yoga for health-usually no longer than five minutes. I do however notice huge benefits in stretching out for this small amount of time and want my muscles to be a little prepared for a morning surf.

In the morning I focus particularly on sun salutations, spinal twists and hip stretches to awaken my body out of slumber. I find a quick morning yoga session equally as important as eating breakfast.

Health shots

Turmeric

This is a habit that I picked up on when I was in Bali. Sounds exotic but it was actually turmeric health benefitssome trendy Westernised cafe on the beach at Bingin that offered an array of “health shots” on the menu.

I remember getting a little bit addicted to a turmeric shot in particular, aptly called “the warrior shot”. Turmeric has been touted for its enormous health benefits being anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, a known fighter against cancer, a potent source of manganese, iron and a long list of other essential
vitamins and minerals.

I simply stir in one teaspoon of turmeric in a shot glass full of water and take every morning followed by a swig of orange juice.

Apple cider vinegar 

As I’m a coffee drinker I take a particular focus in balancing out the acidity in my body as ACV apple cider vinegar coffee is very acidic and quite harsh on the body.

Consuming processed and acidic foods without the balance of fresh vegetables and other alkaline balancing foods and drinks will leave you open to sickness, viral infections and disease.

Disease however cannot survive within an alkaline environment and it is well researched that many of our modern chronic illnesses have the common denominator of being borne of an acidic environment following a diet of poor nutrition.

Apple cider vinegar is very alkaline and therefore welcomed in my diet. I follow the same regime as the turmeric shot and (lazily) swig from the apple cider vinegar bottle of about 1tbs equivalent then shot it with the orange juice to hide the potent taste. I also ensure a daily intake of probiotics, usually in the form of home brewed kombucha, in order to keep good and bad bacteria nice and balanced. See my post here on making your own kombucha.

Consumption of Greens and fruits

I cannot emphasize the difference that fresh vegetables and fruit play in maintaining my energy levels. Yes many times I’ve had days where I’ve gone without them, usually if I’ve got a long day in transit eating airport fast foods or if I simply cannot access fresh produce.

I notice a huge difference at the end of the day and even the next day as I feel sluggish knowing I’ve loaded my body with processed foods. My secret weapon is always salad. Yes healthy fruit vegetableyou can make friends with salad (Simpson’s song?).

You too need to find what meal it is that you know you can rely on to boost your energy when it syncs with your particular body type.

Find it and incorporate it as much as you can in your diet (provided it’s healthy and nourishing!). When my day is abundant in a high load of fruit and vegetables I can think clearer, my sleep quality is improved, I surf much better and most importantly my mindset about life is so much more positive and I can go about my day with much more grace.

I have always grown my own vegetables and herbs (mostly organic) as I see a vegetable garden as a highly valuable asset given the price of organic produce!

Move those bones!

In Australia the Department of Health recommends a minimum of 30 minutes exercise a day. When you think about how much you walk say to and from work, the supermarket, to the coffee shop or anywhere else throughout the day, it’s not too hard to make up that 30 minutes.

I see 30 minutes as an absolute minimum especially if you’re in a sedentary office job like I am. I strongly believe in the saying “use it or lose it” and create daily habits surf paddlethat increase my time being active.

Luckily as surfers we can participate in a sport which doesn’t even feel like much of a workout as we’re so focused on the conditions around us and are having too much fun to notice just how many muscles in our body we are working out.

I often see boot camp type workouts going on in my local park as I’m walking board under arm out for a surf and always giggle to myself as the participants torture themselves lifting kettle bells and rolling tyres across the green. I always feel like yelling out “buy a surfboard it’s way more fun!” but surfing’s not for everyone and kudos to the guys doing crunches in the park.

Chemical free

While it took me a few years to almost totally eliminate chemical products from my life, it’s something I’m pretty proud of now. It’s an important part of my day to be conscious of photowhat’s going on and around my body.

As soon as you delve into the ingredients of common household products such as shampoo, toothpaste, moisturiser, makeup and all cleaning products, then you totally open up a huge can of worms.

Many companies aren’t required
to list many of their ingredients in their products and the chemicals that are listed are pretty detrimental to our health once you carry out a bit of research.

I always make sure I know what’s in my favourite bought items and if I have to use unknown products then I do so sparingly.

Along with what’s in our diets, the chemicals we surround ourselves in from moment to moment do quickly add up and increase our risk of cancer and other disease especially respiratory, allergic reactions and skin disorders. See my page on chemical free living here.

Attitude of gratitude 

Yes every day be grateful for something. Even if things in your life are pretty average right now, I’m sure you can be grateful for at least one thing. When I lost my job, relationship and house all at once I spent a lot of down time meditating and reading.

I carried out a challenge to write down 50 things that I was grateful for at that point in my life. It sounded1601300_10151881214930168_729639942_n like a ridiculous number but once I got into the flow of things it was actually very easy for me to think of things as simple as a roof over my head (my mums) and food on the table (thank you again mum!).

When life sucks it can seem like there’s nothing that’s going right and you can very easily get caught up in a spiral of negative thought patterns. This exercise helps to break that pattern and form a new habit.

You can feel a notable energy shift in the body when you are grateful for the things you have in your life. Gratitude is basically sending thank yous up above to whoever it is you believe in, whether a God or some other higher power. On that note, find ways to connect to that higher power every day as it will certainly give your life more depth and prevent you from living just at surface level.

Starting out your healthy habits

Setting up daily reminders to start out with is the best way to solidify your habits in theirhealthy living early stages. Set an alarm when you wake up to remind yourself to take part in whatever positive habit you want to include in your life.

Placing inspirational photos or mantras
around the house is something I’ve done since I was a young kid and probably will still do when I’m old and wrinkly. Visuals are a great aid in transforming your life from where you are now to where you want to be.

Remember the brain cannot distinguish between something that is real or something that is imagined. For more on this concept read the article “The Flaw of the Human Brain” which contains a simple brain exercise to help explain in further detail.

There are many other habits I incorporate into every day but the ones above are certainly ones worth mentioning! Remember that if you start out small then you will get the momentum once you start kicking goals to keep moving to bigger things.

Resources

Turmeric anti-cancer: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2758121/

Turmeric- World’s Healthiest Foods http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78

Alkaline environments and lack of disease: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3195546/

Improved surfing with creatine

Creatine is one of the top selling workout supplements on the market today and it’s one that I’ve only personally discovered in recent times. I find it to be a highly efficient addition to my training regime, in particular my paddle fitness, strength and endurance in other workout activities. There does however seem to be many heated debates about whether creatine should be used by women as it has been known to increase bloating and water retention.

Creatine for women

As with most things I do believe it needs to be trialed personally before you make a decision about whether creatine is right for your workout regime or not. I did find mild bloating but compared to the other positive effects and what I’m getting out of creatine, fitneit’s really not a big issue for me. One thing I do believe needs to be monitored in particular with women is that we generally need to be gentler with our bodies when it comes to recovery. Creatine really makes you push harder with your workouts therefore you need to ensure you’re getting more rest time than you would otherwise without it.  Stretching is also very important due to how much harder you are pushing your muscles.

How it actually works

Within your body there is a very important molecule called Adenosine Tri Phosphate (ATP) which is the source of energy for every muscle and cell in your body. ATP is stored within your cells and is used for almost every move you make. However the levels that can be used straight away for high intensity activity is quite low and only lasts a very short time-a few seconds. Creatine helps to increase the time in which your body can perform at that creatine for womenoptimal level and therefore allows you to push harder in your workouts. What I found quite unique about creatine is that I actually feel a physical change in whichever muscle I am working out at the time, almost like a light burn or fuzzy effect! I guess this is the same as when you take a pain killer, science has made it so that it targets the key points of pain.

How much and when to take

The trick to creatine is that it requires loading and maintenance. Unfortunately it’s not something you can just take sporadically before any given surf while skipping days at a time. Take the dosage (1tsp) per day at the same time if you can, for 6-8 weeks, along with generous servings of carbs and protein to enable your body to store more creatine in your muscles. Then give yourself a rest for 4 weeks and repeat. It’s interesting to note that vegetarians naturally have  much lower levels of creatine in their bodies than meat eaters.

Why it’s perfect for surfers 

When you’ve been out in the surf for a couple of hours you usually get to the point where you feel fatigue in your muscles and thus you need to replenish by food (high carb) and thoroughly re-hydrate before you can get out for another session. Creatine works to increase your body’s capacity to perform at an optimal level and therefore assists in the building of greater muscle and increases your performance.

This is ideal for the days when it’s pumping and you want to stay out for as long as you can push your body. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the WQS competitors have cottoned onto creatine! I certainly notice a positive change in my paddling strength and feel a little like superwoman when I can rapidly paddle and duck dive back into the lineup with much less fatigue.

Aside from the above effects there are also many scientific studies carried out that prove creatine can enhance brain function, improve recovery time and even healing of bones. There is a great write up about these particular effects here > www.bodybuilding.com/fun/drobson181.htm

If you’re looking to increase strength and cardio fitness, lose weight or tone down then it’s certainly worth adding creatine to your supplement list. I find in other activities such as running, that I’m able to push myself much harder than I otherwise would. I think it’s a fantastic supplement for surfers as we engage in a very high cardiovascular sport where we continually need short bursts of energy and is great for increasing performance out in the water.

Graph courtesy of www.muscleandfitness.com

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.

More Shark Tales

With recent occurrences of shark attacks on the rise on the East Coast of Australia, I guarantee there are many surfers out there who are reminded of any close calls they have had in the past. See my close encounter here. Aside from this pretty close call, I have had an even more terrifying experience where I was almost knocked off my board by some creature (seal or shark) which still remains unknown to me.

I was still within my first year of surfing and I had a trip back home to the South Island of New Zealand. I had been out surfing a couple of sessions during the day up the coast (shorter than usual thanks to the freezing water temp of 13 degrees) and I had just pulled up at my local spot. It was heading towards dusk in the middle of summer so it was around 9.30pm at night. A girl Laura who I had met only a few times was suiting up in a thick 5/4 and we noticed one another from across the carpark. “What are you doing it’s pumping let’s get out there!” She yelled out enthusiastically. “Are you serious it’s going to be dark soon?!” I replied. “Yeah, and? C’mon they’ve got spotlights off the pier we can surf all night if we want to!”. She did have a point and I hadn’t surfed at night before. “Alright you got me, let’s get out there!” I yelled to her as I jumped out of my car.

After uncomfortably putting on my wet wetsuit in a freezing cold offshore wind we headed down to the water’s edge together. We could see there were already two other body boarders out there and figured they probably had the same idea as us. The bank was really shallow and stretched further out to sea than normal. By the time we made it out the back, darkness was well and truly upon us, although we could see so much brightness on the bottom of the ocean from the spotlights hitting the sand bank.

The waves were only two foot but were peeling perfectly along the shallow bank and Laura and I had fun switching between our longboard and shortboard. I had just jumped on her longboard when I noticed a shadow not too far from us. “Guys I thinkaustralia shark attack it’s a shark”. Everyone laughed it off, not believing me and made jokes about no sharks being around in these waters. Suddenly something struck hard in the centre of my board from below and nearly knocked me off into the water. “Holy shit, shaaaaark, shaaaark, paddle in, go, go,go!” I yelled in absolute fear. Everyone started to panic as they could see what had happened and paddled as fast as they could towards the shore. BANG. I’m struck again in the centre of my board but this time I manage to cling on for life and continue paddling in. Luckily the sand was shallow and we were able to get in pretty fast on the whitewash. I was full of adrenaline and fear and by the time we made it to shore my body felt numb all over. When I caught my breath I was able to tell everyone exactly what had happened.

I still don’t know to this day what it was that struck me but I’ll never forget that feeling of being struck by something wild from nature.