Surfer Girl: How One Wave Can Change Many Lives

By Bev Sanders

Ten years ago, I would not have believed that a single experience would cause me to redirect my entire life. I had heard of this happening to other people, but I never connected the phenomenon to my world. I always felt that a “life-changing” experience was either so earth-shattering that it forced a person to change, or that the experience merely inspired a person to move in a direction they were already headed.

But that was before I learned to surf.

I would never have expected that such an obvious, typical activity would get under my skin, but surfing my first waves gave me a new sense of clarity. It reawakened the sure-footed confidence in me, a confidence that helped me break away from my long career as co-founder and marketing director of a successful snowboard company. Playing in the waves, I reconnected to that part of myself that was independent, joyful, and free. By the end of my first year of surfing, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the next chapter in my life; I would share my new sense of freedom by teaching surfing. I would make girls out of women.

And so, in 1997, I launched Las Olas Surf Safaris, a company that quickly set the standard for women’s destination surf schools. Our surf safaris offered women of all ages the chance to learn and enjoy surfing in a relaxed, noncompetitive environment. Yoga, oceanside villas, healthful meals, massage, and a host of other activities helped reconnect us to ourselves and our community.

Again and again, I hear stories from our alumnae about the manners in which the Las Olas experience has spilled into their lives, and the positive energy that returns home with them. The following stories are from real women who have attended Las Olas. In their own words, the reveal their apprehension about learning how to surf, and they share their victories.  For many, the experience changed their connection with themselves, the ocean, and the world around them.

It’s exciting to know that these women were able to change their lives for the better, simply because I decided to change mine.  Here are a few alumnae stories and quotes:

pic1“Within the course of a month, I lost both my job and my boyfriend – who I thought I was going to marry. This was a time of great upheaval and self-examination. When I stood up on the board for the first time, an epiphany occurred. With the backdrop of the other women whooping and clapping, I knew I could do anything, and the rest of humanity wanted me to be a success! My life was going to be just fine.”—Joanne, Public Relations, Washington

“I think I am probably the story of the non-athelete who, without realizing it, became one. First, the decision to learn to surf became one of the steps in ending a long, but unhappy, marriage and finding my own independence. I was never a swimmer. One day at the beach with my now ex-husband, I saw a sixteen-year-old girl out on a longboard with her father beside her. I watched her and said, `I want to learn how to do that.’ The response I heard was, `Are you kidding? Maybe you should think about a boogie board. You can’t do that.’

“In a moment of total clarity, I knew two things: one, I would learn to surf no matter what. And two, I couldn’t stay with someone who had time and time again shown me that he had no belief in me. I went out the next weekend and bought a board, and went right out into rough surf. Scared me to death, and bruised every part of my body. It was my mother who found the Las Olas ad and said to me, `This is what you need.’ And that is what I did – I was on one of the first safaris. And I didn’t do that well. I actually cried on Izzy’s shoulder, I was so terrified of the water. But I was learning. Not one to give up, I have kept at it, learning the ocean and learning about me. Overcoming fear in life and in the water, I have since returned to Las Olas two more times, always learning something new. And look at me now!”—Lynda, Graphic Design, New York

“Being a native New Yorker, the ocean was never in my backyard; it was an experience I had maybe once or twice a summer. I truly learned the virtues of patience and communing with nature. By the end of the trip I was catching waves. Now I remind myself on a daily basis how to be patient and work with nature, not against it.” —Erin, Sales Coordinator, New York

I felt a combination of freedom, total relaxation and unknown challenge. After I returned home, I found out I was sick. Again, I face the feeling of unknown challenge, but hold onto the memories of that trip as a carefree time. I know I’ll be back in a year or two! —Connie, Teacher to US refugees, New York

“I attended the Las Olas women’s safari at a challenging time in my life.  My business partner was dying of cancer and I had an infant child at home.  I had started to identify myself in those words, business woman, wife, mom. But for some reason I said yes when my childhood friends proposed the idea.  Off we went, three girls that grew up in the pools of the YMCA together again at the age of 33.  We had a blast.  I felt like a kid again.   The camp taught me more than to surf.  For many years I had put off doing things in fear of not being good or not wanting to look like I did not know what I was doing.  Las Olas changed that for me.  Surfing has become a part of me.   Now I challenge myself in ways I never imagined.  I ski harder, run faster and I’m back on a mountain bike.  Now I am a business woman, athlete, mom, fun chick wife!” —Jennifer, Retail Management Buyer, Idaho

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