A few weeks ago I hopped on a plane from Australia to take part in the first Salty Souls Experience for the season. And it is fair to say I came out a different person than I was when I went in. To try fit all the reasons why in one article would be a bit like trying to fit a galaxy into a lunchbox, but there are a few things about body image, bonding and being a beginner surfer that I wanted to share to any woman out there wondering wether or not jump on board the salty bandwagon (or rusty pickup truck 😉 )

On living in a bikini for 9 days straight

Most girls have their thing. That thing on their body where they’re like “if only x wasn’t z, I would be happy with my body. If x was like z, I could learn to surf or go on this holiday or go for this job or ask this person to collaborate with me…”

It sounds stupid. But we do it, don’t we? We subconsciously make that link between our self-worth on the basis of how our bodies measure up to the ideal, and use that to measure how worthy we are of having and making the life we dream of.

My thing is my stomach. Over the years, I’ve held my little spaghetti paunch responsible for all sorts of reasons I can’t be happy just yet, my self imposed barrier to my dream life. And the thought did cross my mind before coming that I was about to spend nine days, in a bikini, WITH A PHOTOGRAPHER snapping that paunch in all its unedited, potbellied glory. Here’s the thing though.
Once I got there, I couldn’t have really cared less about it.

For those nine days living either in your bikini or at least sans pants, you become pretty unconcerned with how your body LOOKS because you’re too concerned with what it DOES. You’re not worried about your ‘flabby arms’ because you’re too concerned with trying to get correct arm placement to maximise your balance and direction on your surfboard.

More focus on what the body can do, not how it looks: hiking up Volcan Llamatepec. Photo: Israel Barona

More focus on what the body can do, not how it looks: hiking up Volcan Llamatepec.

It’s irrelevant wether your belly hangs this way or that because when you’re doing acro-yoga with your partner, you’re just trying to align your body to be a pillar of strength and trust to support her weight.

Your legs? Same deal! You just want to be able to keep pushing one leg in front of the other as you hike up the side of a freaking volcano.

Here with the Salty Souls, your body isn’t some indicator of your sexual currency or desirability. It’s an instrument that you start working together with to push yourself physically.

It’s so important to reflect on who we were and what kind of relationship we had with our body before the world of images started telling us, and we in turn started telling ourselves, ridiculous reasons why we should hate it.

For me, those nine days at the Salty Casa felt like returning to a younger version of myself, who used to just see my body as a vehicle that helped me crash through the days adventures, high on curiosity. A younger version of myself that had better things to think about.

On meeting the girls, and bonding, and friendships

Where the wild things are: El Salvador, baby

Where the wild things are: El Salvador, baby!

Usually when you travel with a group of people you’ve never met before, there’s that awkies few-day breaking-in period where you kind of feel everyone out, start introducing yourself, slowly warm up to each other, start to exchange a little bit about what you’re about, all the while putting your best face forward… Bleh bleh bleh ya ya ya etc etc etc.

When you come to a Salty Souls retreat, there’s no warming up period. You’re all red-hot from the get-go. When I arrived, the second last one to arrive, the girls were just finishing a yoga class taught by the firecracker enigma that is Erika Drolet. I was immediately pulled into sweaty, enthusiastic hugs and greetings, barriers dissolved in an instant. It was rad. I was like, Gimme all dat sweat and love, sisters I only just met. And it was lightning-fast connection from that point on.

‘At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and have never been before.’

-Warsan Shire

Remember: these are the girls you dreamed up in your head. All those times you felt overwhelmed by the vastness of your ideas and dreams and yearned to be seen and accepted wholly as you are, all those times you felt like maybe your city didn’t fit you quite right, or you couldn’t quite articulate all the lava erupting in your heart, these are the girls you conjured in your head to make you feel less alone. Here, with the girls participating on the retreat alongside you, you’re valued, you’re validated, you belong.

On surfing, one of the most notoriously hardest sports to learn

Less selfie, more surfie: the Saltyz give extra points for smiling. Photo: Israel Barona

Less selfie, more surfie: the Saltyz give extra points for smiling.

I love the world of surfing. But for some reason it is something I have always held myself back from. I know there are so many women out there who rip, who absolutely kill it, and I don’t want to do a disservice to them by calling surfing a ‘boys club’ but the truth i have been grossly outnumbered in the lineup each time I’ve paddled out at home. I have never seen much community or images of beginner-to-intermediate women who surf reflected in the world around me. This has often left me feeling like my burning passion for the sport was illegitimate, that I had no place in the surfing world because I will never be Laura Enever. More often than not that alone has drove me out of the water and onto the beach to sit on a towel and watch other people carve wave after wave with a burgeoning lump in my throat, a world not meant for me.

My week with the Saltys changed that completely. Firstly you have a surf spirit guide Marie-Christine Amyot who will answer every question, fear or frustration you have as you learn to pop up properly, distribute your weight and execute your bottom turn. Despite the fact she totally shreds she is so dialled-in to the anxieties of being a beginner that you will never feel left behind, or like you don’t belong. Secondo, you have a personal surf coach to help you pick the best waves (and for a constant stream of banter in between sets). And thirdly, you are surrounded by a rusty pick-up truck full of nine other salty, sweaty, sandy women just as thirsty as you are to get wet.

Surf theory lessons with our surf mama Marie-Christine. Photo: Israel

Sweaty, surfed-out dirtbags. Theory lessons with our surf mama Marie-Christine.

There’s nothing quite like having a girl crew cheer you on from the waves and the water, and to later sit around after dinner with tea and snacks to analyse our individual form and style. The Salty souls Experience gave me the amazing gift of making me feel like actually, hell yes, I deserve to be out in the water trying to do this thing, just as much as any other human out there.

So I guess the only question that remains now, you wonderful, powerful, burning soul … is are you ready to challenge your thinking, push your limits, connect deeply and laugh so much your voice goes hoarse? Are you ready to punch through those restraints you put on yourself and realise you actually deserve to not only dream big, but let yourself GO AFTER IT?

Your place is among us, you salty soul. We are your tribe.
See you in El Salva, baby!