Chasing the Waves

Posted Sun, 14/02/2010 - 11:09am by Bel

Kris McIntyre
Australian Yoga Journal
Dec 2009

chasing the waves

A sleepy town on the New South Wales south coast proves ideal for awakening your inner surfer-chick and expanding your yoga practice, thanks to gentle waves and passionate teachers. By Kris McIntyre

During my first surf lesson, many years ago, it struck me that yoga and surfing are made for each other. With a board instead of a mat and the ocean as our studio we moved through a routine that was akin to vinyasa on water. That sequence of cobra, plank and warrior poses, combined with the meditative bliss of sitting "out the back" waiting for the next wave was my first dose of surfer's samadhi (ecstasy) and I was hooked. Circumstance, however, got inthe way and my newfound love of surfing never fully blossomed. So I jumped at the chance recently to join a three-day surf and yoga retreat at Broulee, on the south coast of New South Wales.

After an easy 50-minute flight from Sydney, we touch down at Moruya Airport. The fact that the tarmac runs parallel to the beach is telling of what matters around here. Ten minutes' drive from Moruya is Broulee, a tiny seaside village consisting of not much more than the necessities: a newsagency, pharmacy, pizza restaurant, café, bottle shop, real estate agent and, of course, a surf school.

Our host for the next three days is Belinda Wehner, owner of the Broulee Surf School and its surf and yoga retreat program, Tidal Dreamings. She's a textbook surf goddess-blonde, fit and tanned with the classic blue-eyed squint of a surfer. She also exudes an easy friendliness and confidence that make you want her to be your sporty friend.

Since catching her first wave at the age of 12 (she's now in her early 30s), Wehner has chased the perfect break from Australia to Central and South America, Europe, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, including a three-year stint as the surf program director at the Costa Rica Rainforest Outward Bound School. Returning to Australia with experience at a Buddhist meditation retreat in Sri Lanka and yoga teacher training qualifications from Byron Bay Yoga Arts, Wehner had the perfect ingredients for the female-only yoga retreats she dreamed of running.

"I think that a regular yoga practice is an essential part of any surfer's fitness regime. It helps to develop the strength and flexibility you need as a surfer-especially when you are first starting out," Wehner says. "The retreats naturally evolved from the surf school I'd already been running for a few years. My clients were eager to learn more about the surfing lifestyle in a supportive environment with uncrowded beaches, healthy food and a good sangha [spiritual community]."

For more than six years now, women ranging in age from teenagers to those in their mid-50s have been coming to Broulee to begin or improve their love affair with surfing. The retreats focus on building strength and stamina to help attendees surf better and longer.

North Broulee's gentle surf break makes it an ideal place to learn to surf. On land, Wehner and her assistant Beth give us the "how-to" of paddling, lying on the board and jumping up, before sending us out to try our luck in the mass of broken waves that are the playground for beginner surfers. To our delight, there's not a soul around to heckle us as we are flung ungracefully from our embarrassingly big "foamies", super-safe surfboards that are more akin to submarines than the scarily tiny and dangerous fibreglass boards that the pros surf on.

Our routine for the three days revolves around two-hour morning and afternoon blocks of surf lessons with 90-minute morning and evening yoga and meditation classes, healthy vegetarian meals to quell our ravenous appetites, and massage treatments to our soothe our aching, tired bodies.

On the yoga front, Wehner incorporates a dynamic vinyasa sequence with gentle stretching especially designed for surfing. She engages a range of different yoga teachers and styles to complement the surf program and on this retreat our yoga instructor is the gorgeous owner of the Broulee Beach Wellness Clinic, Elena Rabuda.

Argentinean-born Rabuda moved to Australia 35 years ago and found herself in Broulee after she wished for a "place in the bush by the sea". Her combination of girlish charm and effervescence defies her 60 years but her wisdom befits her age. With more than 17 years' teaching experience behind her, Rabuda initially studied Kundalini yoga in thetraditional form of the Mahavatar Babaji with Kulavidhuta Satpurananda. Most recently, Elena trained in Alchemic Yoga with Sydney-based John Burke.

During the retreat, Rabuda introduces us to her style of "Alchemic Kundalini Yoga". Combining Kundalini yoga with the Vajrayana Tantra institution of Buddhism, the practice aims to restore the body's natural equilibrium. The first set of asana opens the right side of the body to clear and clean the lungs and vessels. The second phase of the practice works the front of the body, back and spine to rebalance the hormonal and emotional centres, and then the original set of asana is performed on the left-hand side to "fix" the practice. Partner work and massage to soothe aching muscles finishes the session.

Setting aside the science of the practice, the yoga successfully takes the sting out of our tired paddling arms and backs before we collapse into bed for the kind of sleep that only sheer physical exhaustion can elicit.

The retreat normally includes townhouse accommodation across from the beach, but we are treated to an upmarket stay at The Bower at Broulee, five private self-contained ‘bowers' set amongst native Australian forest. It becomes evident this is the perfect setting for the kind of romantic courtships the bird is renowned for. With log fires, deep spa baths, kitchen facilities and a private balcony overlooking bushland, it's a struggle to find a reason to leave if it were not for the beckoning of the surf.

By the third day, we are ready for our induction to surfer bliss-the dawn surf. Yes, the common-sense notion of steering clear of dawn and dusk for the best chance of avoiding a shark attack was front-of-mind. A tête-à-tête ensues between me (the brave new surfer) and me (the chicken-livered scaredy-cat) about the relative merits of conquering "out the back" versus skulking on the beach.
Brave me wins and, ignoring the murky shadows beneath the ocean's surface, I ride my first green (unbroken) wave. I'm astounded at how far I've come in the space of a few days and my once-fleeting desire to take surfing up is rekindled.

There is something beautifully local about this retreat-I envy the simple lifestyle here. The locals seem to have a life and community unburdened by the competition of what you do, where you live and what you own that prevails in the city. The retreat itself feels more like hanging out with a bunch of girls in their hometown than a commercial endeavour. Through the sharing of girly stories and wetsuit shyness, there is an ease with which we are able to enjoy each other's company. Wehner puts it down to the humbling nature of surfing as the great leveller and bonder between women on her retreats.

Kris McIntyre is the host of YOGA TV. She has studied Ryoho Yoga and Zen Shiatsu with Andzrej Gospodarczyk and Lisa Foster. She teaches yoga classes in Sydney and runs retreats around Australia. Kris travelled to Broulee as a guest of Tourism New South Wales.

Fact File

Tidal Dreamings surf and yoga retreats run throughout the year at Broulee, North Stradbroke Island and the Sunshine Coast in Australia, as well as Bali and Hawaii. Prices start at $750 for a three-day Broulee retreat including basic townhouse accommodation, five surf lessons, yoga classes and all meals. You can also design your own retreat outside of the scheduled surf & yoga retreat dates.

Broulee Surf School offers daily surf lessons from $45 per person. You can also hire surfboards and wetsuits. (02) 4471 7370.

Broulee Beach Wellness Centre offers daily yoga classes and massage treatments. (02) 4471 8599.
The Bower at Broulee offers midweek accommodation from $350 per night and weekend packages from $690 for three nights. George Bass Drive, Broulee. (02) 4471 8666.

How to get there: Broulee is located on the Eurobodalla Coast, approximately four hours' drive south of Sydney or a short drive from Canberra ACT.

Yoga poses to improve your surfing

To be a good surfer, you need to have power in your lower body, a low centre of gravity and strong belly tension. These exercises (practised a couple of times a week) will help you get there:

Clock Pose
Stand with your feet together, your fingers interlaced and your arms stretched above your head with your palms facing outwards. Inhale (through your nose) and exhale (through your mouth) as you stretch sidewards/clockwise to one o'clock. Keep moving around the clock to three, five, six, seven, nine and 11 o'clock, breathing in at each stop and exhaling as you move to the next position. Repeat in opposite direction.

Warrior II Pose
This pose strengthens the legs, reduces stiffness in the neck and shoulders and improves the flexibility of the hip and knee joints. Step your legs wide (your feet should be just over one metre apart). Make sure your arms are in line with your shoulders. Turn your right foot out at a 90-degree angle so the heel of the right foot aligns with the arch of the left foot. Turn your left foot in slightly. Press down through the big toe of your front foot and the heel of your back foot so that the weight of your body is evenly distributed through both legs.

Inhale, then exhale and bend your right leg at a right angle so that your knee is above the heel of the foot beneath it. Lean your torso back slightly towards your back leg so that your spine is straight. Inhale, and exhale as you turn your head to look down your right arm. Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed and the arms at shoulder height. Extend through the fingertips of both hands. Hold for 5-10 breaths (breathing in and out through your nose). Inhale, straighten the right leg and turn the feet forward and repeat on the other side.

Moving Triangle Pose
Stand with your feet wide and your arms stretched out to the side (your ankles should be lined up with your wrists. Inhale (through your nose) and exhale as you bend at the waist to one side.
Inhale come back to the centre and exhale as you bend to the other side. Repeat 10 times.

Sit-ups from Reclining Hero Pose
This pose helps to open the front of your body, build belly pressure and lower your centre of gravity. Start kneeling and then ‘stand' on your knees, take your feet slightly apart and pull your calf flesh outwards. Sit between your heels with your buttocks on the floor and your feet beside your hips. Lean back onto your elbows (one at a time). To come into the full pose, gently lower your back onto the floor. Tuck your tailbone under, squeeze your knees together, lengthen the back of your neck. Hold your ankles, inhale (through your nose) and exhale (through your mouth) as you pull on your ankles and try to sit up. Repeat 10 times. To come out of the position, untangle your legs and gently press down on your elbows.

Easy alternative: Stretch one leg straight out in front and bend the other knee (so you do one leg at a time). Hold one ankle and have the other on your belly as you try to sit up.
Caution: Take care if you have lower back or knee problems.

Duck-waddling and hopping
Both these exercises help to lower your centre of gravity and strengthen the knee tendons. Squat (like a duck imposter) and walk from heel to toe for as long as you can stand it. Stand with your knees slightly bent and your arms stretched above your head and your fingers interlaced (palms facing up). Keep your knees bent and your torso straight and hop for 10 to 20 jumps.