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Surfing Sisters

Photography courtesy Wendy Altschuler.

I quickly learned to scream with my mouth shut so that I wouldn’t catch little silvery fish in my teeth. I could see them, hundreds of them, flipping wildly over my surfboard before being sucked up into a wide barrel as the wave swelled and then crashed over my head, ripping my surfboard—and my tethered ankle—back toward the beach.

This was the dance: paddle forward, muster up my courage, get socked backward, repeat. I finally made it over the breaks, farther out in the Pacific Ocean than I’d ever been, away from the safety and serenity of the charcoal sands of Playa Las Flores cove in El Salvador. This was the day my fear morphed into empowerment, the day I would learn to surf.

I wasn’t alone. New surfing sisters that I had met through SwellWomen, a female-only surf and yoga retreat, surrounded me. We had traveled to Las Flores Resort with different abilities and backgrounds but had one thing in common: We were all adventurers. Captaining the bliss ship was Lulu Agan, who’s created an environment where solo travelers can come together, share stories, inspire each other to ride waves and sigh deeply in yoga practice.

An amazing thing happens when a community is built through challenging exploits. I came to El Salvador not only because I wanted to learn how to surf but because I wanted to be a part of an emboldening group of thrill-seeking women. If curiosity is to be kept alive, surrounding yourself with seekers is a good way to start.

At the end of the week, we filled a van with supplies that we had schlepped from home—sports equipment, school necessities, backpacks—and visited a school outside of the fishing village of El Cuco. Kids and teachers—and a couple of bleating goats—greeted us and gave us insight into the educational hardships many local communities face. The children barely spoke any English, which meant we mimed and gestured a lot and sort of smiled at one another.

As we were leaving, I did what my three boys back at home do: the dab. Who knew that this would be a universal language? All of the kids immediately bounced their heads into their crooked elbows and stretched out their opposite arms into an airplane, dabbing back in solidarity. It was beautiful.

The alfresco yoga class that night—on a cliffside space lined with wooden planks that seemed to hang dangerously over the edge—left me with an attitude of gratitude. The sultry sea breeze licking my face and the sounds of the waves rocked me into that zone between being awake and asleep. I thought about the retired 67-year-old judge breathing next to me, who was inspiring me to seek adventures and take risks no matter what my age; the nurse with a serious case of wanderlust on my other side, who has made a life out of traveling the world solo and helping others; and my lovely roommate from London, who, after giving up on surfing, defeated, succumbed to peer pressure and gave it one more shot. She ended up fist pumping the sky and riding a wave. This is the magic of surfing in El Salvador. This is the magic of women.

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