Every bite counts

This past week I’ve had an almost endless supply of energy where I’ve been able to wake at 5am every morning ready for a surf, a run, yoga or workout session before work. That energy just keeps coming as the day goes on and I’m able to commit another couple of hours after work to another session of any of the above.

Prolonged energy through food 

It didn’t take me long to figure out why I’ve felt so overly energetic. I’ve literally gone the whole week without eating anything “bad” as in heavily processed, high in fat or sugar or anything that you might consider to be junk food. I can’t remember the last time I was so health well behaved for an entire week as I usually follow an 80/20 rule when it comes to eating healthy vs eating average. By average I mean most of the products sold in the supermarket in packages. This week every time I thought to buy a pizza or something greasy I just thought why would I have that when I can extend my energy even further.

I’m not avoiding junk food because I’ll put on weight, my metabolism is lightning fast but rather I’m eating healthy food because I know the difference in the way my body and mind react to eating great food which is predominately raw and from nature rather than from a packet.

Foods attributable to this week’s energy

Fruits

I forgot how many amazing tropical fruits come out in summer in Australia. I’ve made a dramatic increase in my fruit intake including mango, pineapple, watermelon, apple and banana. Through eating more fresh fruit I’ve found my sugar cravings are a lot lower than
normal. Lately I’ve been inspired by FullyRawKristina who has eaten nothing but raw foods for over a decade. While I could never be fully raw it’s great to take small parts of her diet and integrate it into mine. I’ve also been inspired to make lots of fresh fruit smoothies and take a lot of recipes from GreenBlender. organic gardening

Fresh Salads

My salads are becoming a lot more of a mix of fruit and greens with watermelon and apple as the base fruits and shaved fresh broccoli, carrot, feta, tomato, roast veges and fresh corn as the bulk. I then add leafy greens like spinach, baby pak choi or Chinese kale fresh from my vege garden (organic) along with a selection of herbs, radish and cucumber (soon
to be tomatoes!).

In my Daily Habits article I talk about the importance of establishing what your golden meal is. This is the meal that you know makes you feel good inside and out and that yousalad can rely on for an energy hit. Mine is salad as I’ve used it in a mini detox as my main meals (lunch and dinner) for three days straight. I recognised a massive spike in energy, clear mind and overall wellbeing even after the first day. Most of my main meals this week have been salad on its own or with smoked salmon on the side.

Adding carbs

Morning

My breakfast is usually the meal with the most carbs as I know I can easily burn that healthy breakfast
energy during the day. Rolled oats are a great way to start the day as they are rich in fibre, carbohydrates and protein and contain a large array of minerals including manganese, zinc and selenium. On warmer days I’ve been enjoying them uncooked with a couple of tablespoons of greek yoghurt, a dash of honey and a sprinkle of muesli clusters or frozen berries. Eggs prepared in any way are also a great option as they are such a complete protein (contain all 9 essential amino acids needed for proper function) and contain many beneficial vitamins and nutrients.

Because my main meals (lunch and dinner) are low in carbs and protein I try to find other ways to fit them into my day and eat every few hours rather than three massive meals a day. There’s a great dried cracker/nut mix by Bhuja which is free of nasty flavouring & MSG as they use classic spices such as paprika, fennel seeds, cumin and chilli to flavour their mixes. They’re very addictive and I’m regularly snacking on them throughout the day. I love them because they’re high in protein-around 48g per 200g bag and carbs are around 88g per 200g bag. Occasionally I will use protein powders or bars if I’m on-the-go or the surfs pumping and I can’t wait to get out there, however I prefer to find more complete protein sources.

Evening 

My eating backs right off in the evening as I generally have a very early bedtime in order to organic saladrise early. It’s always good to listen to your body and if you’re not feeling overly hungry then there’s no need to prepare a main meal just because it’s ‘dinner time’. I know my body doesn’t like to have a high carb meal at night as I’m not burning any of those carbs and find I wake up feeling sluggish the next morning. If you don’t have the quickest metabolism then you need to watch your carb intake at night otherwise you can very easily put on weight as your body stores those carbs for future use.

Food as medicine

These past few years I have been drawn to the idea more and more so that food absolutely is medicine. I struggle to watch people suffer with many chronic diseases which are so painstakingly linked to diet but just aren’t being taught that by their GP’s. That’s not surprising given doctors are practitioners of medicine not nutrition. Of course they are great at what they do in so many aspects of their role, but there certainly is a huge gap healthy women when they simply write a prescription to blanket symptoms of a disease rather than look at the reasons why the patient is in that state in the first place. Sure they are successful in curing the symptoms, until the patient returns four weeks later asking for a further script.

One of my clients was a qualified pharmacist who suffered greatly from an auto-immune disease which doctors explained was “incurable” and that he had to live with for the rest of his life. He was prescribed medication that only induced more pain by way of crippling side effects. It wasn’t until he carried out his own research into a more natural approach where he began to experiment with adding and subtracting different types of foods and supplements in his diet that he saw astonishing results whereby he eventually cured his own disease.

He took what he had learnt back to his clinic and started sharing his wealth of knowledge healthy livingwith his patients and instead of writing a prescription for medication, wrote a shopping list for the patient to take to their local supermarket. The outcome was remarkable and patients would present weeks later totally cured of their disease that they had suffered from for years. Guess what happened to the pharmacist? He was made redundant as that particular pharmacy saw a huge loss of profits as he was sending all the patients to the fresh produce section of the supermarket! You can find more of his story here- www.therenegadepharmacist.com.

It’s not about a ‘perfect’ diet

It’s great to be on top of your diet and know what it takes to feel full of energy through the foods that you eat, but I also think you need to give some leniency for being misbehaved. When you do have a high focus on what you’re putting in your body then it’s a great thing to have a guilt free pig out on pizza and chocolate. It’s all about balance and moderation. I do however challenge you to go a whole day without putting any junk food in your body and feel the difference in your energy levels.

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 five to six weeks, along with generous servings of carbs and protein to enable your body to store more creatine in your muscles. Any longer than a five to six week period, you might notice that you’re more lethargic than usual. This is when you know your body’s having trouble absorbing it.

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 > https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/creatine-why-use-it-scientific-support-to-back-its-benefits.html

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.

Licking Death

The sound of skull crunching on jagged reef is something I never want to hear again in my lifetime. After surfacing from beneath after my first wave of the session, I recall not having enough time to get on my board, let alone duck dive the next wave of the set. Standing in waist deep water, I make a split second decision to throw my board and attempt to dive under the wall of water, which stands terrifyingly tall on the shallow reef beneath my feet. The lip suddenly strikes on top of my head and violently forces me under the surface, slamming my skull against the reef. I’ll never forget that shattering sound.

Coming up in immense pain, my lungs are grateful that the ocean produces no further waves in that set. I gently run my fingers over my skull, expecting the absolute worst but miraculously my head isn’t split open. I begin to paddle back out, fairly un-dazed but can feel a painful lump beginning to swell on the top of my head. Just before I can reach the safety of the lineup, I find myself caught on the wrong side of yet another solid set.

I can’t believe my luck as I’ve barely had a chance to regain my breath after getting caught on the inside. I try not to panic at the sight of a solid train of waves ahead but before I know it, I’m caught underneath the lip of the first wave of the set. Once again I’m tumbled and recklessly strewn across the shallow reef by the powerful surges of whitewash. I throw my arms overhead, frightened to strike my skull again, but luckily I only feel the pain of the sharp reef slashing the soft skin on my legs and tops of feet. I once again resurface short of breath, hardly even having enough strength to scramble onto my board before riding the next solid wall of whitewash in.

I spent the next 16 hours sleeping, with what I suspected was heavy concussion. Having suffered concussion from a surfing accident years prior, I knew the symptoms but had not experienced them at this acute level. Unfortunately I was travelling alone on a remote island in the Philippines, which only amplified my biggest fear -that the medical services would be too limited to assist me, should the worst circumstances unfold.

After trying to bring myself out of bed multiple times, I eventually muster enough energy to slowly get up and attempt to locate some sort of food for my now rumbling stomach. I 10437396_10152147182080168_7686054597373259183_n.jpgcarefully scale down the timber stairs on the second level of my loft-style bamboo hut, to avoid any kind of head rush after lying in bed so long. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I quietly say hello to some local Filipino girls braiding each other’s hair in a nearby hut. I suddenly feel light headed and take a seat on nearby wooden stairs, but before I can get there I collapse onto the dirt ground.

My neighbour Matt happens to arrive home from a surf at the exact time I fall and rushes over to pick me off the ground. The local girls gasp in shock and also rush over to help. I recall Matt saying my name over and over until a point I never heard his voice again. I completely lose my vision and hearing, drifting in and out of consciousness, taking a good five minutes to regain both senses. Matt continually poured water over my arms and legs and encouraged me to take small sips once I was able to hold my own head up.  I’m later told that my skin had turned a pale white, my lips blue and that I was sweating profusely while my head swayed from side to side between my bucked knees.

When I become strong enough to walk I was rushed onto the back of Matt’s motorbike, with one of the local girls Lualhati sitting tightly behind me to ensure I didn’t fall off the back in my weakened state. I had trouble keeping my head held up on my own and Lualhati constantly had to keep me awake over the hour long journey to hospital. The times I did manage to open my eyes seemed like some kind of surreal dream. My senses were strangely heightened, taking in the strong scent of smoke filled villages, wild buffalo grazing in rice terraces and the sound of local kids giggling while running after the motorbike in excitement.

I slowly walk into the hospital with assistance and approach a local lady sitting behind an old wooden desk. Matt begins to explain the state that I was in, however without so much as blinking an eye she said the hospital was for local admission only and that there was no doctor there who could help me. From here nothing much made any sense. Local girls who followed us on a separate bike tried to convince the woman that I needed urgent medical attention and had nowhere else to go.

Finally she caved in to their desperate demands and called a “doctor” on the phone, but not without letting out a heavy sigh. After some time another woman entered the room and enquired of the situation to the lady behind the desk. She disinterestedly glanced over to me and asked me what pain killers I was taking. Luckily I had bought the packet of tablets with me.

Handing it over she lazily read the dosage and rolled the packet between her fingers, taking a long pause before speaking once again. “Well you can catch a boat for two hours to the next island and they have a hospital there, but doctors don’t work on Sundays”. I thought as it was Saturday night it was too dangerous to make the rough trip over there in my unknown state, only to wait another 24surf girl dreaming hours to be examined. The only other option was to catch a plane in the morning to another island, but I had no idea if I was even fit to fly, not wanting to risk it especially with a head injury and pressure within the cabin.

I was prescribed a strong pain killer “Tramadol” and sent on my way with no examination or further questions asked. I suspected she was not a doctor at all.

We left the hospital and disgruntledly climbed back on the bike, driving to the nearest village where the local girls guided us to the pharmacy. Rusted iron bars guarded the windows of a small timber building where I presented my handwritten script to an old Filipino guy with a tobacco pipe hanging lazily from his lips.

Terrified would be an understatement. So many times when we’re critically ill we leave our lives in the hands of a doctor, but today my life was in god’s hands. It simply wasn’t mine or anyone else’s decision whether I was going to make it or not, I just had to keep faith that I would make it through alive. This would be one of the biggest tests of inner strength I had ever encountered.

The joy of travelling solo took a major turn that night as I rolled around in bed in pools of sweat, heavily hallucinating and regretting my stubborn decision to not have someone watch over me that night. The tropical heat blanketed the island and the electricity continually cut in and out, forcing my small fan to be rendered worthless.

I had given up using my mosquito net weeks prior, as it seemed to catch more blood filled mosquitoes than repel them. Instead the strong scent of burning coils engulfed the room, preventing any fresh air from entering through the open door. Dehydration refused to leave me untouched and it seemed no matter how much water I skulled, my throat burned like a near deathscorching desert.

At one stage through broken sleep I was woken to a stabbing pain at the most tender point where I struck my head, causing me to grasp tightly onto the sweat drenched bed sheets, which once again left me scared for my life. Images of my family and friends’ faces flashed through my memory, causing tears to fall heavily down my cheeks, wondering if I would ever see them again. I feared suffering a clot on my brain and bleeding to death that night and struggled to force the worst thoughts from my mind.

As my flight out of the island was only three days away, I decided the best option was to stay and get as much rest as possible and pray that my condition would improve. It was a long journey home with three connecting flights. I remained in bed for those three days as I felt I didn’t have enough energy to come up with a plan.

My sleep was constantly broken by nightmares and hallucinations. One afternoon I managed to get up to buy some food at a resort close by. I connected to the internet and decided to do some research on the painkillers I was prescribed. Just as I had washed down my evening dose with a glass of water, the words stood out like nothing else on the screen in front of me.

Do not take this medication if you have experienced any head injury as the risk of seizure greatly increases”.

I was so angry and ripped the prescription note out of my pocket, reading the signature panel to see the woman at the hospital wasn’t even a doctor, simply an administration clerk. I figured I would have been better off not even visiting that dreadful hospital.

As the plane’s wheels left the runway I closed my eyes and focused on maintaining a calm breath. All I could think about was the taste of blood trickling down the back of my throat and the air hostesses in a panic trying to save me. Luckily the flight was only one hour to the next island and I had no medical complications aside from a mild headache and delirious from my ongoing concussion. A five hour lay-over remained at the next airport, located in one of Philippine’s top crime cities. I was happy not to leave the airport due to witnessing a body bag being loaded into a car on my overnight stay on my way over to the island.

A thought suddenly passed through my blurry mind as I made my way through customs, remembering that I had overstayed my visa by one day. I wasn’t concerned as I had been told by other surfers that all I needed to do was pay a $15AUD a day late fee. Approaching

customs office

the immigration desk the officer scanned over my passport, with the stamp hovering close to the page before hesitating. “Excuse me ma’am I can see here that you have overstayed your visa by one day, are you aware that even a fraction of a day counts as one month over the date?”. I acted surprised and casually asked him what I could do to fix it. He replied that he needed to speak to his supervisor.

By this stage my head was already pounding with a severe migraine but it became much worse at the sound of those words. An aggressive looking woman in immigration uniform appeared from a nearby door and signalled for me to step into her office. She asked me why I hadn’t left the country before my visa expired and I begin to describe the medical state I was in.

She immediately cut me off and told me I’m to immediately pay one month of overstay fee which was $120AUD. I began defending myself but she said our conversation was now over and that I could leave.  With no cash on me I ran to find the nearest ATM, scared of missing my flight as I was already running late. I find two ATMs side by side within the airport but both are out of order. Running out of the airport into the thick humidity I locate another ATM that allows me to withdraw cash.

I feel I am dangerously close to collapsing and once again the worst possible thoughts enter my head. Having to tediously cross the customs’ check-points again I have about ten minutes before my flight boards. I return to the custom’s office where the hardened woman I dealt with previously takes her time before serving me.

Finally she begins filling out paperwork and it’s at this point I begin to break down as I see her smiling at her great accomplishment. Tears fill my eyes as I hand over some of the last of my money to allow me to book my international flight home. I think about what makes this woman so hard, just how many murders she has witnessed in her backyard and what she has dealt with in her lifetime, losing loved ones to violent drug entanglements.

My tears become heavier as I feel more alone than ever, tears turn into loud sobs but all she can do is smile as she signs off the documents. I want to yell and scream at her and say the worst things that could come to mind but fear she wouldn’t allow me to board the plane. She arrogantly hands me the paperwork and once again I run, the worst possible thing to do with a concussion, to the boarding gate where my plane awaits.

The four hour flight back to mainland Malaysia passes as quickly as any flight I could ever tropical destinationsremember. I sleep the entire way as I’m exhausted through sickness, stress and immense worry. Arriving at the airport my first mission is to book my international ticket home.

I didn’t risk booking this previously as domestic flights out of the island are frequently cancelled at the slightest threat of a typhoon. I had also naively relied on a consistent freelance writing job to cover my monthly expenses but the contract suddenly ended shortly before I was due to leave the island. I clearly wasn’t in any state to continue writing for other clients and I realised that I had only left enough money in my account to book that flight home, pay for departure taxes and a couple of cheap meals on the side.

Being comfortable travelling without any kind of luxury this didn’t faze me one bit, but I was certainly taking a considerable risk. The biggest risk of all was that I let my travel insurance lapse for the last two weeks of my trip, which I had never before allowed in my years of travelling.

With no savings left and after unexpectedly handing a large amount of money over to immigration, I simply didn’t have enough money to scrape through and purchase my ticket. To add to the seemingly never-ending hurdles and road blocks to get home safely, it just happened that the airline site had been down and my mum had tried desperately to book and pay for the only flight home for the past four hours before surrendering to bed.

I walked directly to the airline desk describing my deteriorating medical condition, a story which once again fell on deaf ears. I began to realise that my life held absolutely no value to locals in these third world countries. The assistant refused to book my flight where I only had handwritten details of mum’s credit card with no physical card in sight. With a growing line of travellers impatiently sighing out loud behind me, I simply didn’t hold enough energy to stay and plead with the assistant. I instead left the desk and rolled out my yoga mat on the ground nearby a check-in counter.

I pulled out my laptop and spent the next five frustrating hours trying to book that flight and asked multiple friends around the globe to attempt to make the booking, hoping the website would somehow work for them. Just when I feared I would never make it home to proper medical facilities and as I approached the sixth dreadful hour, the booking miraculously went through.

It came as one of the biggest reliefs I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was after midnight before I was able to search the airport for a suitable place to sleep prior to my early morning check-in. I once again rolled out my yoga mat, wrapped myself in a sarong, placed in my ear-plugs and drifted off to a much needed sleep.

I don’t recall ever being so excited to return home after a long overseas trip. I was able to sleep on and off for the majority of the eight-hour flight and each time I woke, a deep feeling of excitement arose within, continually checking my watch to see how far we were from touching down. My good friend greeted me at the airport with a warm hug and a hot pizza, a great relief after only enough coins for a cup of noodles on the flight. It was amazing to feel the warmth of a hot shower after one month of a cold tap running over a large bucket with scoop. After two days of encounters with authorities that had no regard nor value for my life, I was so relieved to feel the love and care of a close friend.

The emergency clinic was full of patients but after presenting to the triage nurse, I was taken in for examination almost immediately by a very handsome doctor. I began to tell my story and instead of being cut off as I was now accustomed to, he was intrigued by mysurfing accident tale of survival, eagerly awaiting my next words. I was taken through thorough medical examinations, eye tests, balance tests and an ECG.

The doctor strongly advised against a CT scan due to the high levels of radiation but was happy to tell me that he believed I hadn’t caused any permanent damage to my brain. I was over the moon with the results and almost skipped out of the examination room.

As I left the clinic I asked my friend, who just happened to be flying out the next morning to the Bahamas for six months, if she needed someone to look after her car. I had sold mine before my overseas adventure and had already surrendered to the thought of a further day on public transport just to get home. “Actually that could work perfect, just pay the insurance and it’s all yours”.

There I was leaving my friend’s house in her car, finally on my way home to the loving arms of my worried mum. I scratched around in the glove box and found my friend had some of my favourite CDs from reggae festivals we had been to over the years. I turned the volume up to the maximum level and don’t think I stopped smiling the whole two-hour drive home, in fact I couldn’t wipe my smile for days.

Although I took a good month to fully recover from my injury, I could never be more grateful for making it through the whole ordeal stronger than ever. I was never bought up religious but understand many aspects of the spiritual realm and my faith was entirely restored after this experience, which was truly the most terrifying time of my life. The worst that my thoughts surmounted to was that I would be a brain-dead vegetable and never be able to see my friends and family again. I feel I’ve been given a second chance at life and cannot wait to return to my love of surfing.

 

Dreaming or Reality?

Close to three days of tedious, but thrilling solo travel from airport to airport, port to port, island to island. The weather didn’t offer the most comforting arrival, for she decided to let the swells rise and the winds roar across the open ocean, whipping up bucketloads of water to soak everything within the age-old wooden boat I was travelling in. Passing jagged reefs and palm trees bent backwards in the strong winds, I could only imagine the island paradise it would be under blue skies and calm winds.

The Indonesian “captain” of the boat eyed off a narrow passage in the reef and began to steer the long wooden boat towards shore. I could just make out the thatched roof of the surf camp nestled at the foot of a dense jungle, my vision blurred by the constant onslaught of salt water burning my eyes. Six foot tall, muscular, tanned and covered in tats, he stood at the shore eagerly awaiting my arrival. With the engine cutting off just before reaching the broken coral shore, he rushed towards the boat and was waist deep in water, dragging the boat to finally touch the safety of land. “Sorry about the weather”, he said in a thick Argentinian accent with a big grin. “All part of the adventure isn’t it?” I replied letting out a burst of laughter.

Waking delirious from a deep sleep in the middle of the night, I noticed a myriad of light in the atmosphere and loud thunder out to sea. The full moon illuminated the sky, the golden paradiselight glistened off the ocean surface at the foot of my bed. I had been set up in a bamboo hut at the end of a coral bay, with the ocean lapping at the foot of the hut. Bolts of lightning broke unforgivingly into the ocean at the horizon line. I could feel a strong wind pick up and pass through the open window and realised the storm front was rapidly heading towards the island. I got up and literally “battened down the hatches” as there was no window to the hut simply a wooden hatch. The wind grew stronger by the minute and I felt as though the hut could lift right off its base and carry me into the dark jungle behind, never to be seen again.

The last dream I recall before waking that morning was so intensely vivid it felt so real as to transpire. I dreamt I was living in a timber shack on a tropical island, waking and opening the door to see absolutely perfect waves and an equally as dreamy man walking up the beach towards me with a hottropical paradise cup of coffee. It was then that I actually opened my eyes and woke up amazed at the dream I had just had. I was still delirious from travelling and for a moment I forgot where I was. I then realised I was in a timber hut and remembered the storm the night before and how I closed the timber hatch, therefore I was in lying in a darkened room. I rose to open the door to allow light in and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The moon was setting over the ocean, the surf was absolutely pumping, a perfect left-hander peeling off directly in front of the hut and a deep blue sky above. I cast my eyes up the coral bay and there he was walking up the beach with a cup of coffee “good morning beautiful”.

I’ve always been one to experience vivid dreams but I had never experienced a dream so intense as the first night I spent on this island. It was such a powerful merge of dream and reality, I had a hard time distinguishing which was which. In fact this was just the beginning of many twists on reality. I’m not sure what it came down to, but my only guess is that when you take yourself away from “society” and live so free on a remote island, indulging in the finest acts of freedom you begin to experience time at a heightened level. Kind of like being inside the barrel. Scientists still haven’t been able to explain the amazing phenomenon, where multiple surfers over the decades describe time standing still when they are deep in the heart of the barrel. Each day over the two months I spent at this island felt as though I was gifted with two days in one. Time was actually extended. I spent my days painting underneath the palm trees, surfing waves beyond perfection, diving and weaving throughout ribbed coral gardens, exploring dense jungles and racing by motorbike through remote villages.

island life freedomWhile it’s hard for the average person to ever experience this kind of feeling in their lifetime, due to work, financial and family commitments, if at some point you can escape “reality” for a couple of months to dive deep into your passions in a remote country, you will never forget in your lifetime the magic of those moments and how you cheated the ticking clock that so many of us abide by each and every day.

girl diving

Waves at the foot of Thailand?

Two months straight spent in the remote Mentawai Islands in Northern Indonesia is such an incredible amount of time to bask in waves beyond perfection. Time itself becomes an illusion and having no rules to be dictated by makes life taste so sweet. However I was certainly ready to escape back into the “real world” for a break and to re-appreciate life in the islands. Mum was flying over from Australia to spend three weeks with me throughout Malaysia and Bali.

I found myself mostly inland in Malaysia, exploring ancient cities far away from the world of surfing and learning surfing Malaysiaabout colourful cultures.

After researching a small island off the coast of Malaysia, I spontaneously booked mum and I some cheap flights and we were on our way. Hiring a car we drove around the island in a day, finding monkeys in forests, waterfalls and beautiful untouched beaches.

One morning I woke early and went to find a beach we could both enjoy for the day. Winding through the beach roads under jungle canopies, I found myself down the end of a sandy road, where the ocean opened up to a chain of lush islands and limestone cliffs in the distance.

As I got closer I saw some swell in the shore break. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I never knew waves to be in Malaysia but there was a good 2ft of swell!

Racing back to our unit, I told mum the exciting news as she woke with sleepy eyes. I said we had to go straight back to the beach I had discovered so I could try to find a surfboard of sorts.

Aren’t we meant to return the car and check out in a couple of hours?” she asked with concern. “It doesn’t matter they seem pretty cruisy around here, c’mon you have no idea how exciting this is!”, I replied as I pictured myself on the cover of Tracks Magazine surfing at the foot of Thailand with the green islands as a backdrop.

I started grabbing things I thought mum would need for a lovely day at the beach, sunblock, bathers, towel and placed them next to her in bed. “Pleaaase c’mon I’ll buy you lunch if we can go now”. Reluctantly she got out of bed rolling her eyes with a small grin.

We pulled up at the end of the road and I bolted off to try find a surfboard. “Wait I need you to put some sunscreen on my back”, mum asked. I turned around mid-run with my hair flying in the breeze, feeling like a puppy with its tongue hanging out of the car window at 100km speed, “Back soon!” I replied.

I had trouble containing my excitement as I raced from timber beach shack to timber beach shack eyeing off the stack of assorted tourists toys, wakeboards and blow up rafts, but no surfboards. I checked two timber shacks and at the last one I spotted a grommet’s shortboard under the pile of other boards.

By this stage my heart was racing out of my chest as I shuffled the board out of the pile. The only people on the surfing in Malaysiabeach at this stage were a few Muslim women bearing entirely black hijabs, their eyes the only part of skin revealed.

They stood in the sand with hands resting on hips and curious eyes glued at the site of this blonde girl running around with a surfboard.

I frantically tried to find the owner of the board and asked the first Malay guy I saw. “Selamat Pagi, I really, really want to go surfing on this board, do you know whose it is?”. I asked. “Pagi, uhh this is my brothers, he is not here yet, I can’t let you use it until I check with him is ok” He replied.

Oh please I know how to surf I won’t break it, here I have money”. I said as I pulled some Ringgit out of my pocket, some notes flying loose in the sand. “I want to check with him that it is ok first”, he responded. I kept pulling more notes out of my pocket until he couldn’t resist.

Handing the notes to him and thanking him profusely, I skipped off down the beach, waving to mum with a big grin as she sat on the beach awkwardly trying to lather sunscreen on her back. Shit I forgot.

Making a detour I ran up to her, “Can you believe it, I got a surfboard!”. I yelled excitedly. “That’s nice honey, can you please put some sunscreen on me, it’s baking hot already, I’m going to get so burnt”. I squirted out far too much sunscreen and loosely massaged the cream into her back, leaving a white coating over her skin, before grabbing the board and bolting into the ocean. “Won’t be long!” I yelled back to her.

Even after surfing two months of solid conditions, I think I was almost more excited to be surfing this tiny shore break in a country where I never knew waves existed.

“My first wave I was able to race far down the beach, straight past the woman in their black hijabs with the Malaysian flag flying high in the background. It was such a surreal feeling as the woman watched on although they had never seen a girl surfing before, and they probably hadn’t”

I surfed for half an hour before a parasailing boat turned up ready for a busy day entertaining tourists. The boat launched right next to where I was surfing and I had to be careful not to be caught up in the ropes. I shorebreak watched as they completed a full lap of the bay, perhaps about 5km long before returning to the same spot and picking up the next tourist.

As the boat launched it created a lot of wake and if I timed it with a set it added another half of a foot to the wave.

The young Malay guys that were the guides started to notice what I was up to and would laugh each time they launched out and high above my head into the sky.

One guy in particular would give me a shaka on each lap and yell out “yeaaah surfer girl!” with a huge grin. A couple of hours into the session mum started pacing up and down the beach and signalling for me to come in. Like a cheeky young grommet I held my finger up to tell her ‘one more wave!’.

Of course I could have spent all day out there but I may have had to take mum to hospital with third-degree burns from sitting in the hot Malaysian sun.

Indonesian Boat Crossing

With no sign of any Westerner, she passed cautiously through the rotted wooden boat catching glimpses of dark faces peering through the shanty cabins intrigued by her blonde hair and tan skin. Given the spontaneity of the six-month journey she quickly realised that her basic Indonesian would not serve her in this situation.

There was a task she had been putting off for as long as she could bear but she was now desperately needing to locate some form of a toilet. The rear of the boat was dark and unexplored, a kerosene lamp clattered noisily against the wall, hung by a tattered rope giving just enough light to locate the only door she hadn’t attempted to enter, a door barely hanging upright on its hinges. An Indonesian man sat nearby, cigarette poised between his lips, his dark eyes staring her down, she passed with little care as she was at the point of bursting.

Sea sickness hadn’t bothered her until the sight of the apparent toilet, perhaps it was lucky to not be so well lit as she closed the rusty door, barely managing to fit in the small area, the rock of the sea causing her to slip and slide on the mouldy floor, the stench almost unbearable. She noticed a small coke bottle and plastic pipe letting water pass through the drilled hole in the wooden deck, barely keeping up to its intended task but assuring her she must have been in the right place.

She returned to her sleeping area, stomach now churning, once again finding her spot nestled between dozens of Indonesians on the floor. Chickens noisily contained in woven cages, cockroaches scrambling past avoiding the heavy footprint of restless children. Her iPod became her saviour, relieving the anxiety and reality of how far she had stepped out of her comfort zone, the lyrics of her favourite songs meaning more than ever before, each beat matching the beat of her heavy heart as she eventually drifted to sleep only to be woken by the violent sway of the boat in the treacherous swells. She lay quietly observing the movement of life around her.

She began to cultivate thoughts of the human condition, the basic need for survival and safety, food and water, love and equality. Later she would discover a boat travelling that night on the very same route had capsized in the rough seas killing seven locals. She had risked it all for the prospect of perfect waves.

She was two hours away from her destination, now travelling by a small dugout canoe navigating bays lined in palm trees and mesmerising crystal blue waters. It had taken almost three days of travel. The sight was absolutely spellbinding. A surfer standing tall in a perfectly groomed overhead barrel breaking along a pristine reef. An immense grin crept over her weary face and shivers lit up her spine, her previously held doubts of the journey vanished and she had finally reached the ultimate surfer’s dreamland.   Mentawai