When I signed up for a fitness retreat through Surf Yoga Beer over Thanksgiving week, I thought that I was just trying to get away and explore a new part of the world with my boyfriend. I was excited about the beach bootcamps, surf lessons, and yoga sessions that I already knew would be part of the experience, but I truly had no idea how life changing this trip would be. Among the 22 participants, the only two people I knew going into it were my boyfriend and my friend Mantas, who I went through SoulCycle instructor training with about four years ago. Everyone else was new to my world, and each person gave me a gift that I will hold in my heart forever—the gift of sharing their stories openly and honestly, while listening to mine as well.
Throughout our lives we learn to wear certain costumes—versions of ourselves that we believe are socially acceptable and desirable. When we arrived in Playa Maderas, Nicaragua, you could tell immediately that everyone felt safe enough to take off their costumes, and present themselves to one another in a real & vulnerable way. After all, when you're being woken up at 6am every morning by a disco ball speaker blasting music in your bedroom and Mantas getting you to dance yourself awake in preparation for that morning's beach bootcamp workout, you don't have much time to think about impressing anyone.
As we began that first beach bootcamp workout together—full of relay races, team building exercises, and partner workouts—we began to develop our relationships with one another right away. We cheered each other on while pushing ourselves as hard as we could, not because anyone asked us to, but because we knew that we were participating in something much greater than simply working out and burning calories. We were inviting one another into our world, seeing ourselves as one team working together & celebrating every single moment for exactly what it was... messy, sweaty, challenging... and there were zero complaints.
After our morning workout, we enjoyed a healthy breakfast at the main house before heading back down to the water for surfing lessons. Some people, like myself, were beginners, so those with surfing experience became our teachers, our coaches, and our motivators. When I was finally able to stand up and ride my first wave, I could hear myself screaming from the inside out, "YES!!! YES. YES. YES."
Everything about this trip was a huge YES.
There were so many incredible moments throughout the trip, like the night we had a bonfire on the beach. One of our SYB teammates, Phil, brought his guitar and performed while we all sang along to songs we knew and loved, then he taught us the Surf Yoga Beer theme song that he wrote while on another retreat in the Amalfi Coast. A real life praying mantas came to visit, landing perfectly and precisely on Mantas' head. We all smiled and stared in disbelief. It was one of many signs from the Universe that we were exactly where we were supposed to be. We looked into each other's eyes, listened intently, and shared openly. I learned things about my new friends that I suspected few people in their worlds at home knew. I stood up at the bonfire and decided to vocalize my gratitude for sharing our lives with one another, telling the group that it's because of people like them that keep us all learning and growing as human beings. "I cannot become greater without learning from you, and I hope that learning from me somehow helps you become greater as well... all we really need in this life is community and water."
On Thanksgiving morning, we didn't let a little hurricane warning stop us from going on more adventures. Half of our group went zip lining through the jungle, and the other half went on an ATV tour. Zip lining was a huge highlight of the trip for me, especially when a Canadian woman inspired our whole group to try zip lining upside down! Could you imagine if we hadn't met her? We could have done the whole thing right-side-up and never realized that there was a whole other way to experience it. After the zip lining tour was over, we grabbed some road beers and headed to town for lunch. As soon as we sat down, however, the hurricane alarms sounded and the entire town was evacuated.
It was Thanksgiving day, and we were unable to go to the store or any restaurants for food, so we waited as the team began to brainstorm some ideas for getting everyone fed and keep the positive vibes flowing. Our SYB cocktail expert from New York, Liza, began teaching everyone the basic components for creating a well-balanced cocktail, while Eddie used everything available to him in the kitchen to create a unique, yet totally satisfying, Thanksgiving meal. The rain began to pour as we sipped on blended cocktails, ate full plates of pasta and grilled veggies, and listened to one another—sharing stories of fear, heartbreak, and life experiences that helped shape us into who we are. It was a beautiful thing to recognize that many of the challenges we have faced on our own, are the similar challenges that others have faced as well.
The next morning, the storm had cleared and we were once again woken up by our SYB leaders, Mantas and Carl, breaking into our rooms at the crack of dawn for beach bootcamp. This time, however, we knew much more about one another than on that first day. We were a family now, and we wanted to celebrate this togetherness as much as we could on our last full day in Playa Maderas. When Mantas asked my boyfriend, Nick, to lead the group in our final workout, it reconfirmed the importance of collaboration throughout this adventure. Nick played football for UC Davis, something everyone learned about during one conversation or another, so Mantas invited him to teach us some of the football drills he used to do with his teammates. Nick taught us how to call out the drills, then invited others to lead the drills from then on. We all took turns leading a drill that some of us had never done before, but we did it with the excitement and enthusiasm that radiated throughout our journey together. We high-fived, smeared mud all over each other, and assembled a human pyramid to finish the morning strong.
Our unbelievably strong bond was solidified that night at our final dinner in town. Before we ate our food, Mantas took us down to the beach and handed out an award to everyone, praising their best moments on the trip and gifting them with some sweet SYB swag. As we celebrated each person, it was clear that these people had all affected our lives in incredibly inspiring ways. From powering through workouts with the best attitudes, to making sure everyone felt heard and included, there wasn't a single person that didn't play an integral role in making this trip truly life-changing for everyone. We were a family now—a tribe of SYB warriors. We were all a bit nervous to say our goodbyes the next day, but instead of succumbing to our anxiety, we DANCED. Phil went on stage and performed, but unlike his bonfire singalong, this time he had the entire restaurant band backing him up. The smiles were relentless and true. No one was faking it. We were all so genuinely happy to have experienced everything together and we just wanted to make every moment last a little longer that night... which eventually turned into a late night game in the pool called "tequila carwash," but you'll have to learn how to play once you sign up for a retreat yourself!
Surf Yoga Beer Nicaragua changed my life in a way that I never could have predicted. It renewed my faith in humanity and reminded me about the importance of listening to others and learning from our shared experiences. We can look at someone and think we know their story, but human beings are so much deeper than the costumes we wear. We are complicated, imperfect, strong individuals who have lived a lot of life and have so many stories to share. "The only way to recognize the greatness within ourselves is by recognizing the greatness in others." Striking a balance between hard work and having fun is what Surf Yoga Beer is all about, but turning that idea into a reality is where the participants come in and make it happen.
I am so inspired by this trip and will continue to use the lessons I have learned to develop into the woman, friend, leader, and lover that I was put on this Earth to become. But as I have learned, I will never accomplish this goal alone. It will take more people, more stories, and continuing the relationships that began in Playa Maderas to keep the momentum going.
To the 22 people who became one huge friend family for life, thank you for filling me up. Thank you for listening to me, thank you for sharing yourselves with me, and thank you for reminding me what life is really about. We are forever connected and now we have a responsibility to continue our roles as leaders in our hometown communities. It is never goodbye, just see you later... I love you all with my big, full heart.
If you are looking to go on a trip that pushes your physical limits and heals your heart through physical activity and team work, Surf Yoga Beer is for you. Mantas and his team have retreats running throughout the year, so check out their website if you are interested and sign up! I promise you will not regret it. In fact, I promise you will LOVE it.