Our Surf and Yoga Camp in Nicaragua is only a few weeks away. Are you stoked? We sure are.
We are going to be logging a lot of time in the water and putting our body into some awkward and new positions. To help us unwind from a day’s worth of pop-ups and cycles in the yoga washing machine (wiping out) Antonio, Chief Experience Officer of Surf the Greats and certified yoga instructor, will be guiding us through daily yoga. I am familiar with yoga and always notice how much it helps with my pop up, keeping my lower back loose and just general increase in flexibility but I have lined up some questions to pick his brain and get deep on the surfing and yoga.
For how long have you taught yoga and what made you want to become an instructor?
I have been practicing yoga for thirteen years and have been teaching for over a year. I have always seen yoga as the perfect element to balance my surfing. There are so many similarities between the two and the deeper you dive into yoga the more benefits you discover. When I first started practicing, I was doing it more for the physical challenge and to keep my sanity on flat days. That said, it didn’t take me long to begin to notice the change in my overall wellbeing. As I explored different styles of yoga, I got exposed to a wide variety of approaches—each with its own sets of benefits. Once I got into the more meditative aspect of the practice, I had a real 'a-ha' moment and that’s when the connection to surfing became clear. I had been surfing for more than two decades and teaching surfing for a couple years when I decided to do my yoga teacher training so I could teach both disciplines from a more integrated and holistic perspective.
What are your thoughts on the combination of yoga and surfing?
Yoga can have various meanings for different people. To me, yoga is the practice of connecting with my inner truth by aligning breath, body and mind through stillness and movement. When I am out surfing, I also seek this internal balance but with a deep connection to our natural environment. In order to catch a wave, you need to be fully present in the moment, and you also need to vibrate in the same wavelength as the ocean or the lake. I find that mindfulness meditation is the perfect tool to practice that state of mind on land, and that not only help you connect with the waves but it bring benefits to all aspects of your life. When it comes to an active yoga practice, there are different tools we can use to stretch, strengthen and rest our bodies. Surfing requires a great deal of strength and flexibility, and through a regular yoga practice we can condition our bodies to excel in the water. Not to mention the benefits of restorative yoga practices that allow our parasympathetic nervous system to reset while opening and restoring any stressed areas of our minds and bodies.
I have noticed the increase in flexibility in my surfing after a few yoga sessions and love it, can you explain how specifically yoga helps with surfing at any level?
A yoga practice will help you connect with your breath and calm your mind through breath work, meditation and a series of asanas or postures. These postures can be practiced to stretch and strengthen your muscles, improving your overall flexibility and stability. In Tidal Flow, we practice a series of asanas flowing from one pose to the other in a very fluid and ocean-like way. When it comes to increasing your flexibility, the best way to improve it is by stretching your muscles in a safe way and giving it the appropriate amount of rest. Surfing is all about awareness, strength and balance which makes yoga the perfect discipline to counterbalance your time in the water.
We are going to be arching are backs literally all day and putting the rest of our body through some interesting positions. Will our daily yoga with you help alleviate the new aches and pains that going along with learning to surf?
Most surfers will encounter back problems at some point in their lives due to hyper extension of their lower back while paddling on the board. The safest way to paddle without causing stress to your lower back is by engaging your thighs and core and opening your chest and shoulders from your mid back upwards. Without proper training, our bodies can get used to over extending the lower back to compensate for any weakness in our core, and this can lead to pain, stress and injury. During our daily yoga practices, we will be working on specific areas of our bodies to avoid common injuries related to surfing. In addition, we will use different techniques to stretch and relax different muscle groups.
I get easily distracted when the surf is on and sometimes lose focus of just being in the moment and having fun. Do your sessions offer a mindfulness that we can apply to a day of thoroughly enjoying the waves?
Absolutely. Any of my yoga or surfing lessons begin with breath work and meditation. This is how we force ourselves to slow down and really connect with the present moment. Mindfulness is also a very powerful tool to staying in control while out surfing. Whenever we are faced with adversity such as a big wipeout or a big set that will most likely clear the line up, our immediate response is to freak out. Once you begin to applying breathing and meditation techniques to those moments, you will be able to remain calm and deal with adversity in a much more controlled way. Remember, the waves of the ocean are just like the problems in our lives—they will just keep coming—and all we can control is how we respond to them.
Lastly, I can’t even touch my toes let alone sit in full lotus, will I benefit from the yoga classes even though I am a rookie?
Absolutely! Most people have a misconception of yoga. They think yoga is not for them because they can’t touch their toes, but that’s not the point. In fact, I’m not a very flexible person myself and I practice yoga almost every day. Our bodies are all built differently and there will always be postures that are easy for some and very challenging for others, but the point is not to take it as far as you can but to take it as far as it feels appropriate instead. As you practice with consistency, your body begins to open up naturally and even if you never get to a point where you can touch your toes, you will always benefit from your practice.
Interview by Matty Weiler. Photos by Elie Landesberg and Lucas Murnaghan.