I wake up in the darkness before dawn, grab my bikini and wetsuit and jump in my car. My long board has been loaded since the night before and I drive a few minutes to the beach. As a the cool rays of first light appear on the horizon I am greeted by my beautiful, smiling friends Hayley and Yaz. Some days we have a bigger group of girls to hit the waves with but Hayley and Yaz are always there. One of the girls ‘friend carries’ our boards with me down to the glassy shore and we reflect on how lucky we are to be there in that moment. Have I mentioned that I am 30 weeks pregnant? As I knee paddle towards the back over the silky ocean, the sky turns fiery shades of orange, red and pink and we know the sunrise will be amazing. I wait for a wave with my hand on my belly and know that my growing baby can feel the magic too. Gliding across my first wave of the morning gives me an amazing feeling of stoke and joy and puts the most enormous grin on my face. The girls cheer me on and I do the same for them as they catch fun and beautiful waves of their own. The sun peeks over the horizon bathing us in golden light as we continue our morning session. We find time to talk and laugh about the morning’s waves and wipeouts and over coffee before we each head off to work. We feel happy, energized and ready to take on whatever we are faced with throughout our days, already looking forward to tomorrow’s session. I can’t say it better than Duke Kahanamoku who said, “the best surfer out there is the one having the most fun.”
MECHANICS OF SURFING PREGNANT
It is definitely getting more challenging to surf now that I am 30 weeks pregnant. Luckily I have been surfing at least 4 days a week throughout my pregnancy so the changes to my body and the ways that I have had to adapt my surfing have happened gradually. I could ride all of my boards, including the shorter ones until I was about 14 weeks pregnant. After that, even though my belly really didn’t stick out, it got uncomfortable to lie on and pop up from. Because of this, I started to exclusively knee paddle my lovely 9’5 long board and learned to pop up from my knees when I caught a wave. It was difficult at first to learn where my new balance point was and I missed many of the waves that I would paddle for. I was extremely happy to get pushes into the waves, many from Hayley who would shout out, “that’s what friends are for,” as she pushed me. After a while I figured out exactly where I had to be on the board to catch the wave. The bigger my baby belly gets, the more I have to modify the way I pop up, as my centre of gravity is shifting and my growing belly makes it increasingly awkward. I get tired quite easily and have to take more breaks after I paddle out to the back. I am still lucky to get the odd push from Hayley or other friends on days when my balance is really off or my paddling skills are not working for me. Until I was about 14 weeks pregnant (and before my pregnancy of course) the girls and I sometimes had fun catching the same wave together on our long boards and doing silly things like joining hands to ride the wave together or jumping onto each other’s boards. After about my 15 week mark, I decided to stop silly surfing like that as my balance was not quite the same and I didn’t want to fall onto one of our boards and hit my bump. Because pregnant women are supposed to be careful about lifting heavy things, ‘friend carrying’ (where one friend holds the noses of 2 boards, while the other friend holds the tails of the boards) is how we get my reasonably heavy 9’5 long board easily down to the beach. If I am surfing without my friends or husband, I carry my board to the shore by balancing it on my head, which distributes the weight more evenly and safely.
I have been surfing for around 4 years and while I am definitely no expert, I have the confidence and ability to surf safely and competently in many types of conditions. Now that I am pregnant, I am careful to only surf waves that suit my situation. I live in Manly, Australia and the local breaks offer such variety that there is almost always a beach offering nice waves that are below shoulder high. If there is a bigger swell and the waves are head high or over, I take the day off. I prefer waist high or smaller waves but have surfed pregnant in shoulder high waves when the conditions are amazing. I think it is always a good idea to be careful and surf within your limits – especially when you are pregnant. If I do have a big spill, I make sure that I am in the fetal position when I am getting rolled around underwater to protect my bump and somehow I always come up smiling.
When I tell people that I am still surfing while I am pregnant, I often get a strong response from them. Most people are positive and happy for me while a few launch into the ‘isn’t that dangerous’ speech. Surfing is such incredible fun, amazing stress relief, and great exercise that if I think it would be dangerous for my baby, i would stop surfing! Other surfers or people who spend a lot of time in the ocean understand when i say that I take wave size and water conditions into account before I paddle out and they can imagine how surfing could be modified to suit a pregnant woman. It is usually people with no surfing experience who seem to imagine that I am recklessly surfing massive waves on a short board like a scene from the movie Blue Crush. Unfortunately, those people often freely share their judgments and negativity without even asking me any details about how I surf pregnant. I try to point out the amazing fitness and stress relief aspects of surfing to people with a negative mindset and draw their attention to the fact that everyday situations such as crossing the street, or driving a car pose many more risks to a pregnant woman, or any person, than surfing. I am grateful that I have two amazing crews of girls (and some guys too) that I surf with; my ‘Seagals’ from Maroubra and my ‘Northern Beaches Girls’ from the Manly area, and I do not know what I would do without their support, encouragement and positivity in and out of the water. My doctor, who surfs himself, has applauded my decision to keep surfing as a part of my healthy lifestyle, recommending of course that I surf sensibly and carefully with regards to my pregnancy.
DAYS THE SURF IS TOO BIG
On days when the surf is too big for my baby and I to surf safely I swim, do incline training up hills or stairs in my neigbourhood, or SUP in a flat harbour. I will probably do some of those pre-natal yoga classes soon but I find it tedious to work my schedule around the class times and pregnancy has made me so exhausted after about 4pm (whether I get up before dawn or sleep in until 10am) that all I can really do in the evening is rest.
I feel very lucky to have the support, encouragement and love of my surfer girlfriends and my husband as I know that all of that positive energy is having an amazing effect on my growing baby. Good luck to all my pregnant surf sistas – have fun, listen to your body and share the magic of surfing with your baby!