Wave of Wellbeing

Posted Wed, 19/08/2009 - 4:51pm by Bel

Cathy Alexander
Canberra Sunday Times Relax Magazine Dec 30 2007
Dec 2007

If you're contemplating healthy ways to start 2008, you might like to follow the lead of CATHY ALEXANDER, and visit a yoga and surfing retreat.
It's 6am and the sky is warming up over the long beach at Broulee. We're facing the waves from a second-floor yoga studio. In a voice almost as calm as the water, our instructor Elena is taking us through stretches which are smoothing out the kinks of an office life. A quiet hour passes, marked only by Elena's voice, the squarks of seagulls, and the sounds of locals dropping into the shop downstairs to buy the paper. We don't really notice the time passing. When the session is over there's some muesli nd fruit for breakfast, then the hard work begins. Wetsuits on. Choose a board. You're going to learn to surf. I have tried surfing before with a distinct lack of success. It may look easy, but standing up on a board in the waves is quite a feat. How often I have sat sadly on the beach watching blond 12-year-olds carving up the waves.

What I'm about to learn is that surfing is not about making it up as you go along to impress your friends. There is actually a method to it. And that's why I'm at the Broulee Surf School's surfing and yoga retreat, located 20 minutes south of Batemans Bay on the NSW South Coast. Because if I don't work out how to surf now, my pro career may never take off. Surfing coach Dazza Hocking gets us to practise our technique while lying down on the beach. You paddle along, then move your hands to the centre of the board, just beneath your chest, and propel yourself upwards in one - just one - movement. Hmmm. It's hard enough to land deftly on the board when you're on dry land. I have a shameful feeling that my previous technique involved clasping the sides of the board and scrambling on to my knees, before pitching into the water. So many no-nos, according to the very cheerful and patient Dazza. Some surfers are a little intimidating, but Dazza is a good-humoured freckly redhead who seems to enjoy splashing around with beginners. The class of eight graduates to the water. The waves are very small. We take turns coasting in to shore as Dazza moves between us, offering advice. Some get it right away. Some don't. It's fun, although it can get frustrating. After an hour and a half in the waves, we eat a healthy vegetarian lunch before another yoga session. That's the pattern for the three day retreat, which is for women only.
Surfing and yoga. Why the combination? Belinda Wehner, who runs the Broulee Surf School and these retreats, says some women lack the upper-body strength to surf with ease. Yoga brings strength and flexibility, and relaxes the muscles. But it's more than that, Wehner says. Women join these retreats because they want the challenge of learning to surf, they want to push their boundaries. Yoga helps them "come back to their centre'' and connect with their bodies.
‘‘Surfing is about confidence and physical strength,'' the South Coast local says. ‘‘It takes quite a lot of determination to learn to surf; it's humbling. They really want to do this, you can see it in their eyes.''
Wehner comes from a surfing family - ‘‘I could always stand on a board'' - and is passionate about riding the waves. For her, there's nothing better than sitting out back on a sunny day, patiently waiting for the right wave.
‘‘It forces you into the moment,'' she says. Learning the rhythm of the ocean - and learning to respect it - is part of the allure too. A good surfer can feel the waves, she says. The retreats are all-female because some women feel intimidated about surfing, Wehner says. More girls start to learn, but
they don't all stick with it. The retreat makes it easy - it doesn't matter if you're slow to learn, and all the gear is provided.
The women in the group are aged from their early 20s to their 50s. They talk about feeling stressed and over-worked; they want to try something different and challenge themselves. They are using the retreat tothink about their lives. That's why they've come.
As the weekend passes, the group gets more relaxed, more tired, and more covered in salt and sand. Everybody's surfing improves. I can stand up, rather gracelessly, but I can do it. Some are learning how to catch green waves. We're taught how to sit on the board properly and how to roll under the water when a dumper comes in.
The yoga sessions - traditional hatha yoga - get more intense. Instructor Elena Rabuda is from Buenos Aires in Argentina. She must be about 60 but looks 45, gets around in her bathers, and is learning how to surf. She's a warm, kind person who makes you wonder why you are wasting your life slaving away
in an office when you could be a mature yoga instructress in Broulee. After a long day the evening finishes with meditation and relaxation and yes, I go to sleep. You don't get more relaxed than that,
do you? I wake up to go to bed - we're sleeping in comfortable units, about 100mfrom the beach.
The surfing and yoga sessions are punctuated by healthy gourmet food; fruit, salad, sushi and curries. I cannot learn to love wheatgrass juice. There's a surprise twist to my three-day retreat which the other women do not share in. Without quite realising what I have done, I have signed up to do a tri-adventure bootcamp at the same time.So as well as surfing and yoga, there's mountain biking and kayaking thrown in(surfing is the third activity). Suffice to say that by the time I drive back to Canberra, I can't change from fourth gear to fifth because I've pulled a muscle in my shoulder that I didn't know I had.
The tri-adventure weekend is run by Wehner's brother Damo, whose business is called Fluid adventures. It's about thrills and spills, adrenaline and minor injuries. The mountain biking is the most fun. We're carted around the Mogo State Forest in a troupie, Damo picking out the absolute best tracks so there's no boring bits - or uphill. We career down narrow dirt tracks, desperately trying to dodge boulders, sticks, trees, puddles and logs. Some of the tracks are really steep. Turns out you can get quite a speed up - we learn how to manage this by braking and cornering properly. I thought I knew how to do this because I used to ride a Kmart mountain bike around the beach. Wrong. You brake with both hands while you hang your body off the back of the bike to put the weight on the back wheel, hopefully preventing you going over the handlebars (which I did big-time in Chile, but that's a story for another day). After three hours we've hared down at least a dozen tracks - and our most gung-ho participant has bled a bit and done something to his hand. It's not that risky, though; Damo is very sensible about safety and using gear the right way, and you can go as slowly as you want.
Sunday is kayaking day so it's off for a sedate paddle down the Tomaga River in one or two-man open fibreglass kayaks. It's a pleasant way to watch the birds and explore the mangroves, although it's not exactly death-defying. Damo says the tri-adventure is for active people who want to try something different. It's a hit with families because ‘‘kids love doing fun stuff with their parents'', he says. ‘‘It's motivating and challenging, and you might discover some new outdoor passion. ‘‘In two days you're going to go pretty hard. But the main thing is that you're having a go.''
Cathy Alexander was a guest of Broulee Surf School and Fluid Adventures.
If you go
■ Surfing and yoga retreats: three days $750
(includes accommodation and food). There are
also seven-day retreats and overseas surfing
tours. For details and bookings contact Broulee
Surf School by phoning 4471 7370 or emailing
infoatbrouleesurfschool [dot] com [dot] au.
■ Tri-adventure boot camp: three-day
adventure, $495 for adults, $425 for kids
(includes accommodation and food). Contact
Broulee Surf School.
■ Broulee is on the NSW South Coast, 20
minutes south of Batemans Bay and about two
hours drive from Canberra. The surf school is run
out of the local shops.

Canberra Sunday Times - DECEMBER 30, 2007