I recently had the opportunity to participate in a Social Media Club workshop in Hawaii as part of Podcamp and WordCamp in Hawaii. I asked folks who was doing interesting social change work with Aloha spirit. Several people pointed to Cynthia Derosier, author of The Surfer Spirit Book and recently published The Survivor Spirit : The Beauty, Passion, and Power of Breast Cancer Survivors. I was to track her down for an interview.
Cynthia is convinced surfing can help Hawaii's at-risk youth. In partnership with Girls Court and The Surfrider Foundation's O'ahu Chapter, Derosier started The Spirit Sessions, a six-week program aimed to help at-risk teens redirect their lives in a positive way through surfing and other ocean-related activities.
1. How did you get interested in surfing?
I grew up in Hawaii and always loved to ocean. I've always loved swimming and body surfing and paddling a canoe. In high school my friends and I decided to learn how to surf, but back then the boys were pretty territorial and short boards were the "in" thing so it was difficult to learn (we never really ever got good enough to stand up) and a lot of the boys would hassle us about getting in their way etc...it wasn't worth the stress considering we had so many other options, so we just dropped it and went back to all our other sports.
When I moved back home after living in NYC for 12 years I decided it was something I wanted to learn. I got a group of friends together and we went down to Waikiki beach and learned how to long board like the beach boys. The first time I stood up my world changed and I was hooked. There is no better feeling than standing on a wave and living purely in the moment.. Something inside me woke up. In retrospect it was the first time I realized I had a surfer spirit.
2. What is the connection between surfing and healing?
There is a saying "only a surfer knows the feeling" and it's true. It's hard to describe, but I can tell you, anyone who has ever caught a wave, whether they surf throughout their life or only once, everyone remembers that first wave. I taught some Buddhist monks to surf and they told me that it is very much in the spirit of being a Buddhist because you must live in the moment.
Surfing keeps you in balance, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The physical part is obvious. The rest, becomes obvious the more you surf. It's the only sport I can think of where you play with nature. not on it, not in it, but with it. You sit in the right spot then wait for a wave, then it does what it wants with you. And if you are skilled you know how to respond to it in a way that works for you. And no two waves are ever the same. And no surf spot is ever static.
I see a lot of self-esteem enhancement with the kids in our surf program (The Spirit Sessions). Most don't think they can surf and we get them up and riding on their first lesson! They get a great workout, learn a whole new sport and positive activity (vs some of their other less positive habits. They also develop a whole new social circle. In addition they start to see the ocean and the environment differently and they start to ask us marine biology questions, which lead to general environmental education. For many of our kids its a chance to practice and reconnect to their Hawaiian culture. So there is also cultural healing as well.
The Hawaiians believe that the ocean itself is healing. He`e Nalu is the Hawaiian word for "surf" it literally means "to slide on churning water"...but "nalu" also refers to the amniotic fluid and He`e Nalu also implies being born. In many ways, surfing was regarded as a way to celebrate life and be cleansed.
3. You also created a surfing program for breast cancer survivors. Can you tell me about that?
As part of Make A Difference Day, the kids from our Spirit Sessions Program
helped us teach some of the women who were breast cancer survivors to how to surf. It was a rainy and cold day, but a few of the women came down anyway. They had a blast and I think at least two of them are going to keep surfing! In exchange They gave the girls some life advice about being positive and never giving up when faced with life challenges and most of all continuing to celebrate life and enjoy what good there
is in the world, surfing being one of them!
4. What is your new book about?
It's a celebration of spirit. I believe that everyone has a gift to bring to the world, and everyone has a unique spirit, and that it is our obligation to find our light and share it with the world.. While we all have certain physical needs, we also need to pay attention to our spirit's needs, and if we honor and feed our unique spirit, we will be stronger, and our light shine brighter and we will all benefit. In my case, surfing keeps me in balance and focused. For the women in the book, they each had something that helped them endure their battle with cancer and made them stronger, better, brighter. As a result, EVERY woman I interviewed noted that her life is better now because of their experience with cancer! They each discovered something inside them they hadn't realized before. Pretty powerful stuff!
5. Wow, this makes want to go surfing. Any tips?
The most important tip is to just try it!
Cross posted at BlogHer.