The Unique Challenges of Surfing During Pregnancy in the Third Trimester

This is part three of a series. Be sure to also read about surfing during pregnancy in trimester one and trimester two

 

This is my first hand experience of surfing during pregnancy in the third trimester. Keep in mind each pregnancy is very different. Always speak to your doctor to see what level of activity is appropriate for you and always listen to your body. Ultimately the body is smarter than the brain when it comes to pregnancy. It knows how to build a baby and it will signal you both yes, and no if listened to.

 

The third trimester is from about weeks 27-40 of pregnancy, or months seven through to nine. With the green light from my doctors and from my body, I surfed up until the last days. My sessions became shorter and less frequent as I drew closer and closer to my due date. For me, there were five main issues that were contributing to my lower-than-normal wave count. 

 

 

Issues Unique to Surfing During Pregnancy in the Third Trimester

 

#1 Energy and Stamina

Everything is harder when there is pressure on the lungs making deep breathing difficult. Couple shallow breathing with having to share a large amount of blood with the baby, and it makes for an exhausting situation. Then there is a huge surge in hormones, especially in the third trimester, which makes the body extra tired.

You know that feeling a couple of days before your period when the thought of charging heavy waves seems overwhelming? Well that is pretty much how I felt the entire trimester, especially in the last few weeks. The same hormone, progesterone, that surges just before mensuration, also surges just before delivery. This gives women that icky PMS feeling for a few weeks or even months.

 

Pregnancy Hormones
Progesterone, the same hormone responsible for PMS, rises sharply in the third trimester.

 

Progesterone also cut a couple of my sessions short for another reason: emotions. Once or twice I got upset with myself for making a mistake and my body interpreted this as the end of the world. I started crying and could not calm myself down. I had to exit the water as being emotionally overwhelmed is never a good way to surf. Just another not so fun pregnancy symptom. 

 

 

#2 Cramps

This is a common pregnancy symptom but does not occur in all cases so you might be lucky. For me, this was the worst part of surfing. My legs and uterus would cramp the minute I laid down on the board. The only way to stop it was to sit up. But then I could not paddle. After every wave, the paddle back to the line up became so painful that it took the joy right out of surfing. I even gave up on surfing entirely for a couple of weeks and just body surfed. Then one day I tried again and for some reason, the cramps had stopped coming. 

 

Lora Cole Surfing during pregnancy
Lora Cole surfing at 27 weeks pregnant.

 

By the way, body surfing was so much fun. I’ve never gotten so many deep barrels in one session. Eventually, I had to stop body surfing because of a back injury which was aggravated by kicking with fins. But if your back is healthy, I highly recommend this awesome substitute for traditional surfing. 

 

 

#3 The Big Belly

Disclaimer, I never got the gorgeous huge belly as some women do. I am tall and the baby was more stretched out vertically than pushed out horizontally. But all pregnant women get big bellies in the third trimester, and it can definitely be uncomfortable when lying prone. Although it is generally considered safe to lay prone it isn’t necessarily fun.

Have you ever laid on a foam roller working out knots in your legs? Well, that is kind of how lying on the belly feels. All the internal organs are getting a massage they might not really want or enjoy. Sometimes I could encourage the baby to shift slightly, giving me more room. Other times I found that putting pressure on my knees in order to lift my butt into the air gave me some relief, but ended up being fatiguing as well.

I tried riding a board big enough to knee paddle. This made everything except the actual surfing easier. The big board was awkward and didn’t fit well to the type of waves I was riding. I kept making mistakes and ending up taking beatings in the impact zone. I think knee paddling would be a great idea if the waves were smaller and more gentle but in my area of Hawaii’s North Shore, that almost never happens. 

 

Surfing during pregnancy
At 37 weeks pregnant my baby bump was big enough that I opted for swimming more frequently than surfing.

 

 

#4 Caution

Where I’m from in Hawaii, it is either flat or the waves are at least head high. I probably would have surfed more if there were more waist high days but I didn’t have the option. That means I had to be very selective about the conditions I chose to put myself in. I had to respect my limits.

Breath-holding is not typically recommended during pregnancy (although Kimi Werner showed us that isn’t necessarily true for a trained freediver.) But I wanted to be cautious about not risking a long hold down. I did take at least a half dozen decent wipeouts, digging the nose of my board on a drop or going over the falls. One time I landed really hard on my side and it scared the hell out of me. I went in right away and drank some cold water to try to get the baby to move, wanting to make sure he was alright. The thought of unintentionally injuring my baby just because mom wanted to catch a few waves is just not something I want to live with for the rest of my life.

In the last month, I wouldn’t go out at all without my partner. I just didn’t feel comfortable without a watchful pair of eyes on me. And even then I let a lot of waves go by before selecting the one I felt confident to ride. 

 

Surfing during pregnancy
Cat Sizemore surfed for almost all of her pregnancy. Photo: Wax Ortega

 

But the caution also served another purpose. I am not a cautious person by nature, which gives me a great deal of drive in the water and allows me to push myself to try new things. However, being on the opposite side of this made me realize that caution can be a very useful tool in surfing. Being more selective on the waves I was riding meant more enjoyable rides. Feeling confident rather than scared on each wave gave my surfing a much more relaxed and natural style. I was able to perform better maneuvers and get longer rides than I had before my pregnancy, without trying. I even got the best barrel I had had in two years when I was 38 weeks pregnant and already dilated to 2 cm. 

 

 

#5 Back Pain

Back pain is very common in the third trimester. Weight gain and loose ligaments coupled with the baby putting pressure on the spine can do a number on the back. Because of an injury, I am especially predisposed, so hopefully, not everyone will experience the pain I had. Several times I opted to skip the hour-long car ride to go surf for the day on the other side of the island. The back pain made it far too uncomfortable to put out that kind of effort. The pain also meant I kept my sessions much shorter. Luckily I didn’t feel any real pain until week 36, but when it hit, I could hardly walk for a few days let alone surf. 

 

So can you surf all the way up until the end of your pregnancy?

Yes, some women can. Should you? That is up to you, your doctor, and your body. Will you be able to surf at the same level? Probably not, but you may experience growth in some of the finer points of surfing. Will you be able to surf as long or as hard? Most likely not. For me, three waves or one hour was pretty much my limit. But each wave became more and more meaningful as the due date drew closer, knowing my baby was getting to experience the ride with me. 

 

Stay tuned for surfing during pregnancy: the fourth trimester. I will share my experience getting back into the water postpartum. Feel free to share your surfing during pregnancy stories in the comments below. 
I am a writer and wanna-be big wave surfer. Surfing is my muse. I write about it and how it’s teaching me to live better. I hold certification as a nutritionist, personal trainer, yoga instructor, and lifeguard instructor. My story “100 Days in Mexico” of how a solo road trip surfing my way through Mexico changed my life can be found here www.melanielainewilliams.com

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