Learn to Surf in Paradise with Surf Getaways
Learning a new sport as an adult can be intimidating. Surf Getaways in Vanuatu is the perfect all-female introduction to the empowering sport of surfing. If surfing is something you want to learn or improve in, use code STILLSTOKED for a 5% discount on any full-priced tour.
On a hot July day, I was relaxing comfortably with ice on my back in my home on Oahu. I was dreaming of winter waves while checking my email. One subject line caught my attention. Would I be interested in an intro to surf retreat in the South Pacific country of Vanuatu? Having spent the last eight months recovering from an injury and facing a heavy upcoming surf season on the North Shore, I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to get back in the water in user-friendly conditions.
Use discount code STILLSTOKED to save 5% when you book your next surf holiday with Surf Getaways.
“Where are you going?” asked my mother. I must admit, I didn’t know much about the country either, except that it was a chain of islands near New Caledonia and sorta-but-not-really near Fiji and the Solomon Islands. I assumed it would be beautiful and an adventure. Upon arrival, I was not disappointed.
The first thing I noticed when I got off the plane was a large sign that read, “Vanuatu: Voted the world’s happiest people.” Looking around I found myself in a sea of massive smiles that didn’t seem to disappear for the next eleven days!
I arrived four days before the start of the Surf Getaways start date. Enrolling myself in a PADI open water scuba certification course, I spent the next three days seeing some of the most beautiful underwater scenes imaginable. Vanuatu is famous for its world-class diving and snorkeling. I was not disappointed.
On Sunday morning I sat outside my hotel waiting for my transfer organized by Surf Getaways to bring me to Reflections Retreat, about 45 minutes north of the main town on Efate Island, Port Vila. Suddenly a white van pulled up, the sliding door flung up revealing four women in their 40’s and a pile of longboards. My heart leapt as I breathed a sigh of relief. I was nervous about how my back injury would hold up. But the sight of these friendly-looking longboards and the smiles on the women’s faces was exactly the reassurance I needed to ease back into surfing.
That afternoon I met the other women, seven students and two coaches, ranging from age 38-50. Their experience level ranged from never having surfed to being able to catch waves in the whitewash and occasionally paddling out to the break on smaller days. I was instantly in love with this little group o f women that would become like family before the end of seven nights.
During our first dinner, we all shared our reasons for coming to Vanuatu that week. Some of the women were divorced and wanting to do something nice for themselves. One woman was traveling to Bali with her family later that month and wanted to surprise them by renting a board and paddling right out. She told her husband and kids she was on a yoga retreat and conveniently left out the surfing part!
One thing that struck me was how vulnerable each woman was willing to be, sharing personal stories and struggles. It was clear to me these women were warriors. They had come to Vanuatu to surf, maybe not to slay double overhead waves, but to slay the voices in their heads that told them they were too old, too unfit, too busy, too whatever, to be a surfer.
Meet the amazing women on the camp
Surf Getaways partners with high-end retreat centers and resorts around the world to offer their camps. (Other destinations for more advanced skill levels include Bali, Fiji, Telos, Maldives, and Byron Bay). In Vanuatu, we stayed at Reflection’s Retreat. Owned by a naturopathic healer and a yoga instructor, it was the perfect setting for restoration. The four-room boutique resort included private water access with world-class snorkeling right out front, a pool, kayaks and paddleboards, hammocks, a waterfront yoga deck and an endless supply of coconut palms.
Mealtime was focused around micro-nutrition. Each meal included local organic produce. Gluten-free, dairy-free and delicious, there was no need to compromise a healthy diet while on this holiday. The chef was great at working with my pescatarian diet as well as accommodating the other vegetarians. Meals were always light so you never felt too heavy for activity right afterward.
The perfect balance of activity and rest
Each day started with a gentle yoga class. Our instructor Brad, the co-owner of the resort, could not have been better. As a former yoga studio owner myself, I’m picky when it comes to yoga instruction and Brad was amazing. Brad knew exactly what our bodies could and could not handle at 7am on the day after surfing. Our group didn’t have a lot of experience with yoga so Brad kept the vibe light with opportunities to ask questions as well as laugh. With a view of the harbor right out front, we were all in zen land by the end of each class.
Other non-surfing activities
After yoga and a beautiful breakfast we normally had time for a surf lesson as well as snorkeling, kayaking or stand up paddleboarding. One morning we went to visit the local village on another island. We were received into the local school with a beautiful song by the children. We dropped off school supplies and little gifts, played tag, and duck-duck-goose and left with huge smiles and warm hearts. The local women brought us intricately woven handcrafts; rugs, placemats, earings, baskets, purses and more.
Another morning found us on a tour of a cascading waterfall complete with cliff jumping and rafting. The resort also offered us a cooking class as well as a hands-on demonstration (and tasting!) of all the uses of the coconuts that grow on site. For me, these cultural immersions activities were some of the highlights of the trip.
The most wonderful bonus of the trip was the three (yup THREE!) included massages. The massage therapists offered wonderful relaxation massage. At any time of day, you could spot a member of our group leaving the massage room with that drunken look of bliss on her face.
Mornings were filled with dryland and flat-water surf training. At first, I was itching to get into the waves but the more I listened in on these coaching sessions the more I wished I had been given that same instruction when I first learned to surf. Coached by Serena Adams, a fifth-generation surfer from Byron Bay, the women received information each morning that I had struggled to learn over the course of my first several years of surfing. Serena has decades of experience in coaching. She truly understands what works and what doesn’t, and it shows. By the time the girls did finally enter the open water, not only did they look like they knew what they were doing, but they also had loads of confidence.
Serena was the most positive and encouraging coach I’ve ever worked with. I couldn’t imagine anyone more perfect for these women who were already taking a step outside their comfort zones. Each day the women had breakthroughs and felt they were improving. I really can’t say enough about the quality of the coaching. I’ve worked with numerous coaches over the years and Serena is truly a 10 out of 10.
Although the waves were small and conditions less than ideal during my visit, these beginner surfers didn’t care in the least. After each of our four surf sessions, the girls returned to camp with faces full of stoke! The ride home from the waves, although almost an hour by car, seemed to pass in an instant as we all sang along to ukulele island covers of classic rock songs, totally surfed out and happy as clams.
Who is the Surf Getaways Vanuatu trip for?
As an intro to surfing trip, Vanuatu was the perfect environment for these women who had long looked at surfing as something they would like to do but were afraid to try. Some women had fear of getting their face in the water, others were not used to strenuous physical activity, some had bad experiences in the past with aggressive attitudes coming from other surfers. Gathering together as a group of women only, with supportive female coaches, and surfing extremely mellow waves, was exactly what these women needed. Each participant expressed how much she was looking forward to paddling out at her home break upon her return.
What I took away
On the first night, many of the women described themselves, not a surfers, but as a person who tried to surf but did so badly. Serena offered a different perspective, “You have a board, you go to the ocean, you paddle around and you get your hair wet, you are a surfer.” These women each wore many titles; mother, employee, wife, girlfriend, but by the end of the week they all proudly bore a new title: “Surfer”. Jokes flew almost as freely as hugs. I can honestly say I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. We went from strangers to sisters as we watched our confidence and comradery grow.
Good to know
Vanuatu is known to have cool weather in the winter (May-September). Bring a light wetsuit and some warm clothing for the evenings. Alcohol is BYO and Vanuatu does not sell alcohol on Sundays so best to purchase a couple of bottles at duty-free on your way in. Meals at the Reflections Retreat were very light so packing snacks is recommended for those with a healthy appetite. There are no convenient board rentals on the island, and for this particular beginner camp, Surf Getaways provides beginner boards. If you already know how to surf and are looking for a significant time in the ocean and moderate waves of size, you will want check out one of the other destinations offered by Surf Getaways such as Fiji, Bali or the Maldives.
The Surf Getaway’s Vanuatu camp in video!
Surf Getaways’ Vanuatu tour is the perfect intro to surf holiday for women. Book your holiday today and use discount code STILLSTOKED to save 5% of any full prices surf camp.