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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

70 degrees in November?

Yesterday, it reached a record high of 70 degrees...on NOVEMBER 28! Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the warm Fall weather but it does feel a little odd. It's after Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations are making their appearance and people are walking around in shorts and t-shirts. I thought that my surf season would be over by the end of October. I'm a bit of a cold water wimp and I don't think that I can brave the cold water with a 5mm+ wetsuit, booties and a hood. I could be wrong. I could try it and totally love it. After all, surfing is supposed to be great in the winter here in New York. But with these temperatures, we've been able to extend our time in the water about a month longer than I anticipated.

Ed went out yesterday morning after dropping the kids off at school. It's the second time that he's been able to go out surfing without me. I'm jealous. I don't begrudge him the opportunity to get out and surf when he has the chance. I just want to go too. Work, sickness and a general sense of blah has been keeping me from going with him. This is usually one of my favorite times of year but lately I've been feeling bogged down and trapped by my work and overwhelmed with the holidays and other things. A bit of a post-Thanksgiving/pre-Christmas funk? All I know is that it better go away soon.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Surfing in the Rockaways

You know that giddy feeling you get when you fall in love with something new - a book that you can't put down, a new pair of shoes, an amazing new running route, a new food that makes your taste buds tingle - and you can't wait to experience it again? That was the feeling that I couldn't shake when we returned home from Costa Rica. I knew that surfing in New York City wouldn't exactly be the same thing but I was anxious to see what it was all about. I knew that there was a growing surfing community in NYC. Several of my friends and neighbors even surfed.

Birthday surf with a huge red board!
The first time Ed and I went out to the Rockaways was on my birthday in June. Since we weren't familiar with the beach, break or anything really, we decided to take a lesson from the local surf school. It was more of a chance to get our feet wet and to become familiar with the surf conditions. It was a wee bit different than what we were used to. For one, the water was cold! I hadn't fully appreciated the luxury of surfing in just a bikini and rash guard.

The next time we went out by ourselves and I felt like I was the new kid on the playground. In Costa Rica, it was like we were in this nice, little protected bubble. Everyone was friendly out in the water and looking out for each other, hooting and hollering every time anyone caught a wave. Now, I didn't have the comfort of my surf coaches flanking me, showing me the ropes, helping me figure out which waves to go for and which ones to pull back on (and sometimes literally pulling me back by my leash), and making sure I didn't drop in on anyone.

Paddling out into the line-up the first time was probably one of the most intimidating things I've done. Thank goodness the line-up only consisted of two or three other people. But still, I had to watch and observe the rules and culture of this new "playground." When it was finally my turn to paddle for a wave, I didn't want to be that kid who face plants off the monkey bars. I wanted to show the world that I could hold my own, catch a wave, stand up and ride it somewhere - anywhere! Needless to say, that just meant more nervous and anxious energy for me, resulting in lots of fun nose dives. Yes.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Turtle Rolls


Now, about those turtle rolls. Can I just tell you one thing? I really really don't like turtle rolls. I know that hate is a strong word but I am pretty close to hating turtle rolls. Yet, if you ride a long board like me, turtle rolls are a necessary evil.

With a long board, you can't really duck dive under the waves. The boards are too big and buoyant that it is nearly impossible to submerge the whole board, and with control, to get them under the waves. So what do you do? Hopefully, you've watched the waves and waited for a lull so that you can paddle out with dry hair. Maybe you even found a rip current to help carry you out the back. You've timed your paddle out such that you are able to weave in and around the waves to get over its shoulder before it gets too steep or else do a press-up and over the tops of waves before they break, maybe punching through the last one or two waves. However, there will be times when you are caught paddling out and your timing isn't perfect. A set starts to roll in and you are caught in the impact zone. You have two choices - 1) turn around and go back to shore, or 2) battle your way out.

Basically, a turtle roll involves flipping the board over so that you are beneath your board underwater as the wave passes over the top of the board. Once the wave passes, you then flip the board back over and hop back on and continue paddling. Sounds interesting, right? That's what I thought. I basically laughed out loud when my coaches began describing this technique. You want me to paddle straight into an oncoming wave at maximum speed, flip myself over, hang out underwater while the wave passes and then just nonchalantly get myself back up on the board and keep going? Sure.

My sessions would go something like this.

Coach: Right, we're just going to roll right through this one.

Me: OK (turtle roll, swallow a bunch of water, climb back on my board breathing heavily, stunned and scared)

Coach: Great. Now climb back on top and paddle. We're just going to roll through the next one too. 3, 2, 1 and roll.

Me: (repeat above, a bit more flustered and mumbling to myself, OMG OMG OMG)

Coach: Great. Keep paddling. Keep going. 3, 2, 1 and roll.

Me: (repeat above, even more fluster)

Coach: Fantastic. Now, just one or two more and we're almost out there. Keep paddling. Here comes another one. 3, 2, 1 and roll.

Me: AGH!!!!!!!!!!!!

I seriously thought that turtle rolls were going to be the one thing that kept me from surfing. They are taxing. Physically, my shoulders were screaming after a couple of sessions paddling out. Psychologically, I didn't think that I could do it. Even as a strong swimmer, I would find myself completely out of breath once I made it through one wave only to be faced with another wall of whitewater. Oh yeah, and that fear of the ocean thing starts to kick in pretty strongly when you're hanging off a surfboard underwater.

But I know that turtle rolls are an important tool I need to have and we came to an understanding. They still aren't my favorite but I don't necessarily dread them in the same way. I know that I can manage about 4-5 turtle rolls before I start to think about going to shore. OK, maybe more like 4. Each time I do them, I try to work on one specific part of the technique. This helps to take my focus away from my fear and anxiety and gives me a concrete task to concentrate on.

Smack. Oops again.

As for technique, here's what I learned.

1) Paddle into the oncoming wave. You want to make sure that you are paddling straight with some speed, as opposed to lying on your board and waiting for the wave to get to you. If you do the latter, the wave will definitely knock you off your board and tumble you around.

2) When the oncoming whitewater is about a board's length away, that's when you begin the turtle roll. After a couple of tries, you begin to get the feel for how long it take you to get off your board, flip over and punch through the wave.

3) Grab the rails of your board. Bring your hands back down towards your ribs so that your elbows stick out like chicken wings. Bringing your hands back is super important and will ensure that you will be in the right spot when you get back on your board. Hold tight!!

4) Despite the "turtle roll" moniker, you don't just want to roll off your board. Push up slightly with your hands and then jump your legs down off one side of your board. You want your body to be as pin straight as possible in the water so it helps if you are able to jump down with a bit of force. That way, your body acts as a bit of an anchor, keeping your board in place and keeping you from being knocked around by the turbulence of the wave. When I just roll off my board, I find that my body immediately goes horizontal and I'm much more likely to get thrown around and/or lose my grip on my board.

5) Now, you're hanging off your board underwater. You've flipped yourself so that your face is facing towards the shore and your back is facing the on-coming wave. Holding on the rails of your board, forcefully move the board over your head in a backwards stabbing motion. Basically, it's like you are trying to pierce through the oncoming wave with your board. Sounds weird, I know, but the force helps to punch through the wave, again reducing the amount of turbulence you are likely to experience from the ongoing wave and whitewater.

6) Once the wave has passed by (and I promise you will know when that is), roll back over onto your board. Remember, your board is pretty damn buoyant so when you bring the first rail under water, you can guide it down into the water and in towards your body. You can then kind of scoop your body up with the edge of the board as it rights itself in the water. Then you don't need to exert as much energy getting yourself back up on the board.

7) Get back on your board and keep paddling. Even if it seems impossible, try to get a few paddles in before the next turtle roll. That will help you keep making some forward progress to the outside!

8) Last thing, don't let go of your board! Not only is that a no-no, it's super dangerous and you could seriously injure another surfer in the water. I know it happens sometimes but try your hardest to hold on to your board!

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Thursday, November 24, 2011


I tend to associate Thanksgiving with being home with my family in California. My brother, sister, cousins, aunts, uncles and other assorted family friends gathered at my mom's house for a ridiculous feast. We usually have traditional American Thanksgiving food (turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, etc.) but it's mixed together with Chinese food like sticky rice instead of stuffing, bok choy or Chinese broccoli instead of green beans. The food is lined up along the kitchen counter buffet style and everyone steps up to get their first serving. Then their second. Sometimes even a third. It's delicious and comforting.

We haven't had Thanksgiving at my mom's in a long time. The plan was to go this year but we decided to move our trip a month earlier since I was less than enthusiastic about traveling over the holiday weekend - the busiest travel time of the year. Instead, we drove down to New Jersey to spend the holiday with Ed's parents and grandmother. I am thankful for having family nearby. Instead of the Chinese-American Thanksgiving dinner, we will have a Polish-American Thanksgiving dinner.

I've still been thinking a lot about gratitude. I am trying to be more present in order to be more centered. Rather than thinking about all the things that I should be doing or the challenges I may be facing or other things that I'm not happy about, I'm trying to just focus on the crazy, silly, cute things that my sons are doing right now. Focusing on the smiles on my sons' faces when we pull into their grandparents' driveway. It's a work in progress. Here's an interesting piece on cultivating gratitude both in our children and in ourselves.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope that everyone has a wonderful day with their family and friends.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Riding Unbroken Waves

Thrilled with the ride. You can't wipe the smile off my face.
Photos by Oriana Fowler/Surf Simply

{Blog Note: March 26, 2012}
I'm linking up this post as part of Alison's and Ado's 1st Blogoversary Blog Bash! Both are incredible women and bloggers. They asked us to link up our favorite blog post of all time. I choose this post, describing my first experience catching and riding a wave on a surfboard, for two reasons. 

First, surfing is the reason that I started this blog. I learned to surf in April 2011 and completely and utterly fell in love with it. Some might even say I am obsessed. In either case, I experienced a sense of exhilaration and happiness that I haven't felt in a really long time. I started this blog because I wanted to stay connected to that feeling as well as chronicle my quest to learn to surf and what I learned along the way. There aren't many resources out there for newbie surfers. 

Second, today - March 26, 2012 - I am having my ACL reconstructed in my right knee. I'm having surgery because I want to continue to lead an active life, one that includes running, yoga, swimming, hiking, playing with my kids, skiing and surfing. What better way to remember this day than by celebrating one of the main reasons why I want to get better.

I hope you like it. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Happy Blogoversary Alison and Ado!

{Original Post: November 21, 2011}

The first time time that I paddled out the back - out past where the waves were breaking so that you're in position to catch unbroken waves - was amazing. It was a little nerve-wracking to paddle up and over waves that looked like they were about to crash on my head at any minute. I felt like I was bracing myself for battle, taking on each oncoming wave one at a time - at least in theory until my fear and anxiety began to rise. Then I started to sprint and quickly get out of breath. 

But once I'm out, it is so peaceful. You get to sit on your surfboard, enjoying the view while noticing how lumps start to appear on the horizon and watching how they roll in and change shape to get a sense of where the wave will break, if it's surfable or not and where you would have to be to catch the wave. You watch as your fellow surfers start to paddle for a wave, start to stand up and then disappear down the other side of the wave.

As I sat there watching everyone take their turn in the line up, I looked out to the horizon and noticed a larger lump moving in. Uh-oh, thinking to myself that this one looked like it's going to break sooner and way before it gets to me. Crap. That meant that I would have to paddle out to meet the wave. That meant that I would probably have to turtle roll in order to get through the wave without getting crushed. And so I did. And I survived, again waiting in the calm beyond the wave with my heart pounding in my head.

The next time we paddled out, I catch my first unbroken wave. And then my second. The first was OK. After I caught the wave, I was a little off balance. The front edge of my board dug in and I fell off. The second wave was AWESOME. It wasn't a big wave but I got up, managed to turn my board so that I trimmed across the face (a little bit at least) and rode the wave all the way into the beach. It was an exhilarating experience. You feel all that power of the wave, surging forward and backing off slightly before surging forward again. And it just made me happy. 

As I get back out to the line-up, Ed asks me, "So, was it worth it? Was it worth all the paddling?" All I can answer is "YES!!" 

"And it's worth the turtle rolls?"

"Totally worth the turtle rolls."

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Friday, November 18, 2011


The other morning, as we were getting the boys ready for school, I got upset with my four and a half year old son J. Not just upset but angry. You know what we were fighting about? He didn't like his new shoes. I know, a little trivial and ridiculous. We go through this drama every year with new shoes and jackets and clothes that he needs since he seems to be growing so fast. He has a hard time with adapting to change and accepting new things so I should have expected it. 

But it was something about the way he rejected the shoes that struck a chord with me. It was the fact that he didn't seem to appreciate what he had - how lucky he was to have these things that keep him warm and dry. There must be an old Chinese lady lurking inside of me because I started saying things like, "Fine. If you don't want them, you don't have to wear any shoes to school." Really? Did that seriously come out of my mouth? In that moment, I just felt defeated and deflated, like can't you just appreciate what you have, that Mommy and Daddy work hard to provide nice things for you and your little brother DD? OMG. I am turning into my mother.

With Thanksgiving coming up, I've been thinking a lot about gratitude - that there is so much in my life to be grateful for but I don't express it enough or appreciate it enough. Maybe that's why I got as upset as I did...or maybe it was because I was tired and groggy and sick and just wanted to get the day moving. Either way, I know that it wasn't right of me to get upset with J. I know that gratitude and appreciation are grand sentiments for an almost five year old to grasp but it made me think about the values we are cultivating in our children. Why are we always searching for something better instead of being thankful for what we have? How can we slow things down enough for ourselves and our kids to learn to notice the details and center ourselves in a more conscious way?

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Understanding the basics or how to handle a surf board so it doesn't smack you in the face

One of the things that I really appreciated about the coaching at Surf Simply was the way the coaches were able to break everything down into simple and manageable steps and to build on those steps at each lessons so that it didn't seem overwhelming. They didn't just tell you to "feel the wave" and didn't speak in technical surf talk but used very specific, concrete language that you could understand and relate to. Plus. delivering feedback on my miserable surfing in a British accent always seemed to make the situation seem slightly brighter.

We spent the first two days in the whitewater, learning the mechanics of our board and how to control it before even thinking about venturing out the back to catch unbroken waves. We learned how to accelerate the board (by shifting your weight forward) and how to decelerate (by shifting your weight back). We practiced this over and over again, sliding our bodies up and down the board while lying down. Those rash guards really earned their name during those first few days. Once we practiced that, we moved on to learning to turn our board left and right and the difference between trimming turns and carving turns. Back in our room after our lessons, I frantically tried to take notes and scribble drawings so that I could remember all the things I was learning.

But, by the end of those first couple of days, we had the tools we needed to feel comfortable and confident in the theory. While I rationally understood what I was supposed to do, it was a different story trying to get my body to do what my brain was telling it to do. I felt like a stumbling fool most of the time. There was just so much to think about and remember. It's hard not to rush it when the urgency starts to rise as you feel the wave begin to pick up the back of your board. Instead of thinking about bringing my hands back and looking up so that I can stand up on my board, I'm just thinking, "Crap Crap Crap!!" And trailing behind me are the cheery sounds of my British coach saying, "Right. Nice one. Just climb back on your board and give it another go." Sure.

Yet, it is an amazing feeling to catch a wave, even in the whitewater and feeling all of that power behind you. And that's what hooks me and sends me on this quest to experience that feeling again and again.

Photo: Oriana Fowler/Surf Simply

OK, here are some of the basics (more for my own benefit than anything).

Trimming turns are gently banking turns that allow you to ride across the face of the wave. For me, as a natural foot stance (meaning when I stand on the board, my left foot is forward), I shift my weight to my toes, keeping most of my weight on my left toes, to trim to the right and shift my weight to my heels, keeping most of my weight on my left heel, to trim to the left (backside). Obviously, it's the opposite if you stand with your right foot forward or goofy foot.

Carving turns are sharper turns that allow you to quickly change direction. To do this, you need to shift your weight back in order to lift the nose of the board up in the air so that the board basically pivots around - the pivot point being the tail of the board. However, by bringing your weight back to turn the board, you've also in effect stepped on the brakes and slowed down the board. So, once the board comes around, it's critical to shift your weight back forward to accelerate again.

OK, sounds great in theory, but how does this actually work? How do I actually make this happen out in the water and shift my weight back and forth and left and right? Well, apparently, it's all about the stance. Our coach also hammered into our head a "stance mantra" that would help us get up into the most stable position each and every time.

Feet: Slightly wider than shoulder-width, feet perpendicular to the length of the board
Hips: Squared off and weight forward
Hands: Hands are out to either side of the body i.e. one hand in front and one hand out by your bottom
Head: Look up and where you want to go!

For me, the one thing that I need to remember is to make sure my knees point inwards - kind of like you are knob-kneed - rather than pointing outwards like they do when you are doing a plie squat, especially my left knee (my leading knee). When I consciously remember this, I find that I'm more stable on the board and I'm less likely to dig the front of my board into the water or fall off the back of my board.

Surf Simply has created a set of podcasts that go through all the fundamentals which you can find here.  I have found them to be great, straightforward refreshers on the various lessons we learned.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Best. Surf. Camp. Ever.

Photo: Oriana Fowler/Surf Simply
So what and where exactly is this magical surf camp? It's Surf Simply, located in Nosara, on Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula. The beautiful resort is located about 800 yards from Playa Guiones and its consistent, year-round surf along four miles of white sand.

Ed relaxing in the deep pool at the Rancho after our morning surf lesson.
Neither my husband Ed nor I have previously surfed and I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this experience. For once, I left the entire vacation planning to Ed. I literally had no idea where we were going or what we were getting ourselves into. In April, a few days before we left, we received an email from Gem, one of Surf Simply's owners, outlining our arrival and first 24 hours at the Rancho. Breakfast, surf lesson #1, surf theory class, lunch, yoga, surf lesson #2 and dinner. Repeat five times (plus a day off mid-week). Whoa. I was a little intimidated but excited at the same time. However, after the first time I waded out into the water, battling the whitewater while trying to control the huge board banging against my arms and legs, I was a bit skeptical that this was the best way to spend our vacation. After those first two lessons on Day 1, I was overwhelmed and completely humbled by the ocean. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain and physical activity, but I wasn't sure if I was going to survive the whole week, especially given my fear of the ocean and open water. Did I mention that before?

In the end, it was the coaches and my fellow surfers that got me through the week. By the end of the week, we were all cheering for each other out in the water, so proud of everyone's accomplishments. Seriously, it was like a pep squad out the back, hooting and hollering every time someone caught a wave.

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Monday, November 7, 2011


I never intended to learn how to surf in my mid-30s. I definitely didn't intend to become completely obsessed by surfing, surf theory, surf culture, surf contests, surf forecasts, the pro tour...but I can't seem to help myself now. I am hooked.

Overlooking Playa Pelada in Nosara, Costa Rica

It happened inadvertently. When Ed and I were looking for ideas for a vacation for just the two of us, we wanted to go somewhere we hadn't been before and we wanted to do something active - something that we wouldn't be able to do with the kids. We settled on Costa Rica and were originally going to do the typical jungle-hike thing. But everyone kept talking about the surfing in Costa Rica. While I've always been fascinated by surfing, I was beyond surprised when Ed suggested going to surf camp. What started off as "just a vacation" turned out to be one of the best vacations. Maybe it was the thrill of learning something entirely new in your 30s. Maybe it was immersing myself in a lifestyle that's so completely different from the one I lead at home - my only responsibilities being to learn, surf, yoga, eat well and hang out with new friends. Whatever it was, I returned home craving more.

When I got home, I searched for websites and blogs and hunted for sources about surf theory so that I could continue learning. But I couldn't find anything that I could relate to. Most of the information out there assumed a certain level of knowledge and/or experience and didn't address basic questions or the trials and tribulations of a beginner surfer. 

But was it realistic to think that I was going to continue surfing while living in New York City, working and raising two young boys with my husband Ed? It's a lot easier to think that the answer is yes when you're hanging out in the jungle of Costa Rica with no work or family responsibilities. But back home? Was it possible? That's what I wanted to figure out. Not just whether I would continue to surf but whether I would be able to incorporate the lessons I learned and the perspective I gained into my everyday life.

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

November Fools!

Yesterday, as I was trolling through my Twitter feed, I came across a tweet from Kelly Slater saying that there had been a mistake and that he hadn't won the World Title yet. What?!? As many of you have probably heard, Kelly Slater did not clinch his 11th World Surfing title on Wednesday as we all thought. Looks like the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) miscalculated and the race for the World Title isn't quite over. Ooops. Technically, Kelly still needs to win one more heat - either Round 4 or Round 5 - to seal the deal. If he doesn't win another heat in San Francisco and if Owen Wright wins the Rip Curl Pro Search, then the race continues to Hawaii at Pipeline. The craziest thing about it all is that Kelly Slater himself apparently brought this to the attention of the ASP. Honest mistake or manufactured drama?


Friday, November 4, 2011

World Surfing Champion x 11

Yesterday, I had to the opportunity to witness history in the making. We are in San Francisco, making one of our pilgrimages out West to visit my family and to let the boys spend some time with their Grandmother and cousins. It just so happened that Rip Curl chose to hold its annual Search contest in San Francisco this November...when we were going to be in town.  When the news was announced a few months ago, I was super excited that the contest coincided with our visit. And then, a few weeks ago, after Kelly Slater came in second in Portugal and we learned that he could potentially clinch his 11th World Title in San Francisco, I was beyond stoked. He just needed to win two heats - just four good waves - and he would win a record 11th ASP World Surfing title.

I checked the surf forecast religiously, hoping that the swell would fill in and that the fickle San Francisco conditions would cooperate so that the contest would run during the first few days of the waiting period. And it did. Beautiful, uncharacteristic fall days in San Francisco. I mean like crisp blue skies, NO FOG in Ocean Beach, pumping waves and downright hot. We managed to convince my Mom and my brother to take the boys to the zoo in the morning so that we could head to the beach early. When we learned that Kelly would be surfing in Heat 6 of Round 3, around 2:30pm, I promised my Mom that we would be home by 4pm. There was no way that I was going to miss being there on the beach to watch his heat.

There was an incredible crowd on the beach and throngs of people rushed towards Kelly as he made his way to the waters edge on the northern end. With Dan Ross in the lead and Kelly was no where in the heat for the first 15 minutes or so, you could feel the tension and anxiety building on the beach as everyone focused on that orange jersey in the water. He finally got some decent waves but he needed a 6.88 to move into first place. As it always seems to happen, Kelly got the score he needed - a 7.60 - with one minute to go. Kelly seems to have this uncanny connection to the ocean, a way of making waves appear out of nowhere, to almost will it to happen, to take a meager looking wave and rip it to shreds. 

Kelly Slater paddling out for his heat. Can you see him there in the orange jersey?
I don't know why I feel so moved by his win. Maybe it's because of my new found obsession with surfing and appreciation for surf contests. Maybe it's just because it's truly an incredible feat from an amazing athlete and competitor. I feel humbled to have had the opportunity not only to watch him surf in person but to see him surf in familiar territory like NYC and SF. Plus, he's like one of my teen idols. But what I appreciate most is the fact that he's been doing this for 20 years professionally and his ability to adapt to basically any ocean condition and to his competitors in order to take his game to a higher level. It's that ability to adapt and to be flexible and agile that I would like to cultivate more in my life, to not be so bound by convention and expectation, to be OK with things as they happen, to evaluate a situation, come up with a plan and execute it.

Congratulations Kelly Slater. Here's a pretty cool video highlighting his amazing year.

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