Happiness, Lifestyle Design, Travel

Overcoming Fear in the Post Partum Period and Trying Surfing for the First Time

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 1.10.42 PM.pngMaternity leave is a wonderful opportunity to get some travel in if you are comfortable doing so with your little ones.  For my third maternity leave (yes, with 3 kids!) we are renting a house in Kau’ai for the month of December.  It’s all part of our lifestyle design master plan.

Today I wanted to write about taking massive action as part of your lifestyle design and overcoming fear dialogues.  This blog is bought to you in the context of surfing – my very first surfing experience ever with the Kinimaka School of Surfing here in Hanalei.

I chose Kinimaka after checking out them and Hanalei Surf – Hanalei Surf store was jam packed and I was watching the staff member go through the waivers and insurance, I got the sense that people were being pumped through a system.  At Quicksilver Kinimaka, the vibe was much more easy and laid back.  One of the staff members and I got chatting and I discussed a few concerns with my back, which led to him pulling a surfboard and demonstrating the movements I’d be going through on a surf board which allayed my concerns.  Such a different experience over there so I signed us up on the spot!  I usually make my decisions based on the feel I get from people and places as opposed to research.

I am going to talk about our internal fear dialogues intermittently in this report of what it was like surfing.  Even though I frame it in terms of new motherhood.  I think this is so applicable to everyone and worth the read – so if you just want to read up on the experience of learning to surf, you may want to go back to Google 🙂

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyways.

Surfing? Pretty massive action for a girl who CANNOT stand up or balance on a stand up paddle board to save her life!  And it really required some work on my own fear dialogues, trust me…

Lifestyle design is about actually doing the things you imagine would be really cool.  Everyone makes it sound so easy, you just decide to do something and do it.

Life isn’t really like that.  MOST People drown in information overload and learning but when it comes to taking action, they don’t.  It’s because of all of the stuff that goes on in the inside.

I think that any action that is new to you, especially in early motherhood deserves to be linked with the word massive.  Because it is.

To take action and experience new things, is to choose fear and step into discomfort and humility.

Discomfort is anathema our biology right now, in early motherhood.  Our bodies, brains and hormones are doing everything they can to keep us and our baby safe, secure and comfortable, right down to retaining fat on our bodies in case of a famine.

This is precisely what new motherhood anxiety is.  Except sometimes, that system runs a little too rampant because of our outside environment which levels it up.

Our very own brains are conspiring against us to keep us (and our new baby) safe.  Stay inside, avoid hard things, don’t put your body at risk, fear is out there! danger!  Do nothing new!  Baby!  Baby!  Baby! Anxiety! gah!

I believe that part of this is TOTALLY NORMAL biological wiring to be embraced, but I believe a far larger part of this has been wired into us by the society all around us, particularly North America.  Our European sisters seem more liberated from fear.

Our biology + personhood is immersed in an environment that loves fear. Fear is running rampant among mothers.

Just go to google or your Facebook feed – how many articles do you read that ramp up your fear?  “5 things that new mothers need to know NOW” or “What you are doing every day that could harm your baby.” – these articles all do REALLY well because they play on fear.  Then, occasionally an awful article about a baby and mother, or a family’s misfortune and how it could have been prevented by the parents, will appear on a friends’ wall.  It crushes you and instills more fear.

Internet articles are carefully titled in a sensational manner so that you can’t even look away.  In fact, you click on it.  That is where the term “click bait” comes from.  You cannot help but click on it.  And do you know what the best click bait is? Fear.

Positive articles do not garner a fraction of the readership that fear-based articles do.

One of the most important things you can do for yourself on maternity leave is to continue to pursue a bit of discomfort, embrace a bit of fear and live out some of the experiences you planned for your life, before you even thought of having a baby. 

Do not let the fear beast gain control over you. 


In my own understanding of it, the idea of lifestyle design only begins at pinterest, or vision boards, in a conversation, or perhaps in your imagination.  That is just the opening step.  The next steps are about launching into massive action.

Massive action is about overcoming your internal dialogue and fear, signing up, and doing it.  And doing it again. Until the fear becomes not a shout but a whisper.

To have a lifestyle-by-design is to intentionally decide where you want to take your life, and get busy incorporating these things in your life NOW.  Not “One day.”

Lifestyle design is not just a one-off experience, picked from a brochure while somewhere foreign and novel, only to be filed away in your apps, to pop up in a memories feed in a year time.  It becomes a part of who you are in your habitual daily life.

And so, here we are, in the middle of the Pacific ocean, living a lifestyle that is so different to ours back home.  This is our intentional effort to embrace different ways of living, travel and a life based around the pursuit of fun outdoors.   We always envisioned ourselves as being into a variety of outdoor sports, but neither of us grew up immersed in it. So here we are, at 35 years old with 3 kids, designing our lives and starting from scratch in many outdoor pursuits.

And so… surfing…

Learning to Surf in Hanalei with the Kinimaka Hawaiian School of Surfing

Back home in Canada, we have really enjoyed stand up paddle boarding in the spectacular (but icy cold!) lakes of the Canadian Rockies, and rent inflatable SUPS from the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre (great rental rates!)  so we were very, very curious about trying surfing while we are here in one of the most famous surf spots in the world.

We arrived at the Quicksilver store in various states of nervous excitement, which shows up in each of us, in various ways.  I was bouncing around the store like a four year old, equal parts doubt and excitement.  My internal dialogue was chattering.  Fear.  Nervousness. Anxiety.  Is it really a good idea to try this with herniated discs, no core and being only 5 months out of childbirth?

The others, I can only guess.  My husband was quietly watching the big wave surfer videos on the walls, wondering what we were in for, and my cool-as-a-cucumber brother was standing with a smirk on his face.  What were we in for?

We set off for Hanalei beach, our instructor Keaton obviously much more confident in our abilities than any of us were.  None of us have any familiarity with surfing.  Nothing.

So here we were, on the spectacular sands of Hanalei Bay, mist coating the surrounding Na Pali coast mountains with a soft haze.   We could see surfers being pulled out through frothy white wash to ride the big waves just beyond the reef.  As Keaton set up the boards we watched a few guys get pummeled by the North Shore swells.

Keaton began giving us instructions on the beach, and within minutes we were down on the boards, learning about positioning, our ghostly white Canadian thighs blending nicely with the white of the board.  He reassured us that the 12 foot boards were great for beginners, very stable and easy to balance and get up on.  He proceeded to teach as if he had no doubt in the world that we’d be standing up.  What? 

Just when we were beginning to figure out the placement of our bodies on the board, it was time to hit the surf and take that massive action.

It is so true to life that you can acquire all of the knowledge you want, but none of it will settle into your being until you put it into practice.

We stepped into the water nervously, our leashes tangling among our ankles and the surfboards slapping on the waves.

My stomach was leaping up and down with the waves coming in and when Keaton excitedly pointed to an incoming swell, my heart rate joined the dance.

Our first few waves, Keaton coached us through, excitedly calling for us to start walking, get on our boards, paddle slowly, paddle faster and GET UP GET UP! He was an adept instructor, cueing us, correcting us with each wave, but what was the most gratifying (next to catching a wave) was the pure joy and excited cheers that came from him as gradually, each of us caught our first few wobbly waves.

That is the mark of a true teacher, who is still able to be with his students – not just physically, but emotionally too – Keaton was with the experience we were having.

Our joy was running with the waves and he was right there in that joy too.  It was revealed with his cheers, shouts and excitmement with each incoming swell.  This is a guy who was surfing as soon he was walking, who surfs in the monstrous swells – yet here he was in 2 foot waves loving life along with us.  That is what will always stick with me.

If we can find enthusiasm everywhere in life and retain that beginners’ wonder and joy without becoming jaded, that is the key to a happy and fulfilling life.

Though you will no doubt wrestle with nervousness and doubt as you first get into the waves, it quickly dissipates – whether you are a new mom fiddling with her rash guard and pulling it down over her swollen belly, confident outdoorsy adventure type or average landlocked Canadian whose whtie thighs are visible from the international space station.

The feeling of timing it right, being scooped up by that first wave, and the board accelerating beneath you is completely intoxicating and unlike anything I have ever experienced.

We have been completely hooked by this incredible blend of human and nature.  The mind clears, the body engages and you are truly in the moment on a surfboard. I get it. I get why surfers can sit out there for hours on their boards watching the incoming swells.

I can only compare it to about 30 years ago, when our five year old selves tried boogie boarding first time, screeching with laughter and joy as we rode in on waves and skimmed the sand.

Our grins, laughter and smiles were just as big this week, as they were in those childhood days.

When learning a new sport for the first time you wrestle – you want to release all of your pent up excitment on an incoming wave, and just go for it, with the natural flow of the wave, but then you remember you are a beginner and you need to focus on those cues –  most importantly looking up at the beach and keeping the end of the board up.

This is why we really, really appreciated the instruction of Keaton who would gently pull us back from our child-like excitment with a few easy cues to enhance our rides.  By the end of our 90 minute lesson, we were riding waves here and there, and completely hooked on the sport.  Our mid backs and arms did get quite fatigued towards the end – 90 minute is a perfect length of time for the first time.

That evening, sitting around the pool, we were all so happy and relaxed.  Deep contentment is the only word I could use to come close to describing it.

Without hesitation, we rented surfboards for the rest of the trip and know this will not be our last time surfing.

On surf rash: Though it is innocuous in appearance, the surf rash is a nasty, searing, burning experience that is like a severe sunburn. At the end of my lesson, my thighs and knees were burning in the salty water, and the next day they were definitely in rough shape – putting on sunscreen and romping with the kids at the beach in the sand (carrying them with their sandy feet digging into my thighs) was quite painful!

I am carrying extra weight from all of the baby building, especially in my thighs so this was an area of intense chafing on the surf board – for new moms, or anyone carrying weight in their thighs, I’d strongly recommend longer shorts or a wetsuit to avoid this!

My second day, I did not wear a rash guard in the water and that is definitely something I would not recommend either. It is always worth buying a rash guard. Always.  I am off to buy one today! The surfing rash is quite intense when you get it on the tender skin of your stomach (in my case it is still quite distended from childbearing and most likely, all of the beer I am drinking here – not a good combo with the foam on a surfboard, haha.)

The third day began with tenderness.  I was only in the surf an hour my second day and my stomach looked like it had been on a cheese grater.  Pretty gnarly, as they say.

Overcoming self-limiting beliefs and internal fear messaging:

I guess I am writing a unique blog post in that I don’t want to just tell you about what it is like surfing.  I am always interested in the deeper stuff that goes on in our minds, bodies and spirits.   I am reading the Autobiography of a Yogi right now, a random book purchase (I am not a yogi) with absolute gems of knowledge from India’s spiritual figures and gurus. Though this book is based on a guru who lived more than 100 years before us, the knowledge expounded in this book is universal.  The stories and anecdotes of the author growing up as a young boy in early 20th century India are so enjoyable.

One of the things discussed in this book is how we can see (and describe with words) the external landscape of a person right away (what they look like, their job, etc.)  but the internal landscape is something that language cannot adequately capture. It is simply too complex.

This is the landscape I hope to capture with my blog posts, and what I try to capture in talking with people. My questions probe – both as a coach and in normal conversation with friends, it’s where I want to go. I like to go deep and dive beneath the surface.    There is SO MUCH MORE to something than just “I tried surfing today and it was awesome.”

There are the highs, the lows, the internal victories, the battles, the multitude of experiences that happened in the 3 seconds before catching that first wave.

And that is where I am going now with this blog.  What were the other fears  and self-imposed limitations I had to work on to achieve this dream of surfing today?  Diving deeper, what was this surf lesson about today?

Managing Fear

I was  pretty worried about my back while surfing, as I have a degenerating spine and several herniated discs, and my back pain / back injury story has been a real lesson for me in not letting self limiting belifs take over.  But you know what?  It was false messaging.  It was there, I surfed, and it dissolved. I was absolutely fine and made sure to do some yoga before the lesson.

I also had a story in my mind, that I am a new mum, overweight, out of physical condition and with horrible balance.  As a coach I am constantly working with clients on them letting go of self limiting beliefs and self-imposed barriers and these above, are definitely mine.  Guess what?  They all dissolved quickly in the foam of that surf.

We all carry self-limiting beliefs that are designed by the old brain to keep us safe.  Your internal fear messaging system will always be activated in times of nervousness.

For me, it is fear of injury. I only know this because I’ve spent many, many days in deep introspection asking myself over and over, “Carina, what is it you are really afraid of here when you say ‘I’m not sure if I want to do this?”

For others, perhaps it is fear of judgement (being a beginner surfer is a spectacular display of wipeouts that are enjoyable to watch from the beach!) – to each, their own fear stories.

Fear will start the brain chattering. Lights will go off.  That old, primal part of your brain senses that something new or novel (danger! discomfort!) is coming.  And as a new mom, that part of your brain, unfortunately, is on hyper – alert right now, because of biology but also because of society’s conditioning.

The primal brain activates all of the messages that it knows will get you back in line and back to safety and routine.  Your brain knows exactly how to talk to you – which messages it can send you, that will stop you from such follies!

But the beauty is that your deeper, inner self can overcome these messages and say “that’s cool, I know you feel that way but let’s go ahead and do it anyways.”

The back pain fear?  Here’s my fear, and it’s probably not even physically possible. I am afraid that the adhesion / prolapse of my spinal chord and/or the herniated discs will move and affect my spinal chord and mobility, or that my pain will increase from the current 4/10 back up to an 8/10 which was a really tough stage in my life.

These fears are unfounded, both physiologically, and because on the surf board you are mostly in a position of extension which for me, was absolutely fine (flexion is my issue) – the only soreness I experienced was muscle fatigue and soreness in the chest, neck and triceps from paddling.  I was simply an out of condition female who had to paddle like a fiend to catch the smaller waves at the east end of the bay.  But its not even that bad, it is like doing a great workout on the upper body with normal soreness the next day.

As I sit here with my coffee writing my post, I am eager to get over to the store to pick up a rash guard (lesson learnt) and simultaneously have another chrome tab open on how to heal surf rash.  I suspect the answer is get back out there, so the joy of riding vastly outpaces the suffering of surfer rash.

Looking down at the red spots all over my thighs, I consider it  my initiation into a new layer of my life, a rite of passage and a reminder that I overcame fear this week and took massive action.







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