What does yoga and surfing have in common? More than you think and Angelica Olstad, founder of Pop Up Yoga NYC, found out first hand. We asked her to write about her first experience surfing and how yoga plays a role.
I had managed to paddle myself out there just fine. The water was warmer than I expected and the ocean was clear and blue, I could see to the very bottom of the reef. The weather was perfect and sunny, just what I needed as an escape from the cold dreary NYC weather. “Look, you didn’t even get your hair wet.” said Roger, my host at the surf villa I was staying at. Nega, my instructor was calmy but firmly telling me, “Paddle, Angelica, paddle. Ok, good, now sit on the board. No, not there, move back, yes yes, no too far back. Remember, when you feel the back of the board lift you count one-two-three then cobra pose, then up on the board. Ok? Don’t think, just do.”
I was on my first surf lesson in Rincon, Puerto Rico. A couple weeks back I had had enough of New York weather and just said, “Fuck it, I need sunshine, I need yoga, I need OUT.” I went on Google and after looking around for the cheapest airfare booked a ticket to Puerto Rico. I originally bought the ticket with a hostel in mind that looked fun and offered a waffle breakfast (I love waffles) but the hostel went out of business the next day so after some calling around around I came across Surf787, a surf school with a yoga room, beautiful amenities, and a gorgeous view. After a brief conversation with the owner Roger, I knew this was going to be my spot. “Yoga is the only sport besides swimming that helps with surfing” said Roger, “come here to do yoga but you should also do a surf lesson- yoga and surf go very well together.”
Surfing first popped up on my radar about a year ago when I coordinated a fundraiser with my company Pop Up Yoga NYC to help Rockaway Beach Surf Club to help rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. RBSC had played a huge part in rebuilding the coastline and building community post storm. After reading about their philanthropic efforts I wanted to help them get their own club back in action. We did a month long fundraiser that hosted weekly giveaways and an end of the month wrap party with drinks, raffles, and prizes. Not only was planning the fundraiser fun but I also got to know a lot of NYC surfers and all of them seemed like really chill, easy going, and nice people. I ended up becoming close friends with a couple of surfers and was always fascinated by how much the topic of surfing came up in conversations: taking lessons, a really good ride, how the waves were breaking, and the next time they could go out there for the next surf.
Admittedly, I have been terrified of the ocean as long as I can remember. As a Colorado native I have had minimal exposure to the ocean. My prior experience with the ocean consisted of wading in at waist level for a few minutes before going back to lie out in the safety of land. I didn’t understand how waves “worked” or what the ocean was about. Also, the few episodes I’ve seen of Shark Week didn’t really help things either. Going out into the ocean, in the midst of the unknown, where scary things reside, was never high on my priority list, but, there I was, on a surfboard, trying to find my balance and catch my breath, taking it in and ready for the next challenge.
“Ok, Angelica, here comes your wave, go go go GO!” said Nega. I felt the lift of the board, my elbows locked up I was on my knees and I felt the power and speed of the wave grow behind me and push me forward, way too fast. I wiped out, my board went over, I screamed like a mad woman and flailed about pretty pathetically. A couple of the surfers nearby chuckled good-naturedly – first timer. After getting wiped out by a couple more waves I finally recovered and paddled out to where the rest of my group was. “Angelica, don’t lock your elbows. Yogaaa, use your yoga, someday you’ll be teaching yoga from a paddle board. The ocean is healing, don’t fight the ocean, feel the ocean heal you. Don’t think, just do.” said Roger.
“Ok, here comes your wave, paddle, Angelica, paddle!” said Nego. Ok, I thought, cobra think cobra. I felt the wave lift beneath me. Ok, cobra, bend your elbows, slide forward, one-two-three, UP and to my own disbelief I was up, riding this wave. It felt like I was floating on a magic carpet ride, I had never experienced anything like it before. The next two hours was total bliss and fun. I was able to stand up every time after and the only thing that stopped me was pure happy exhaustion from paddling out to get the next wave.
Needless to say I am hooked. Roger, was right, the ocean is healing. In life we can’t always control every detail, every situation, and in order to succeed we have to let go of the things that hold us back – fear and uncertainty of the unknown.
Last night, I had my first surf dream about riding the water. I’ll be back out there soon.
Thanks so much Angelica for your sharing your story with us. If we can only bottle up the feeling of riding your first wave and sell it, we would be set for life.
Look out for a future YORK SURF x Pop Up Yoga NYC event coming soon.