Evolution of a Babanees

Mar 04, 2015

Whereas many of us dream of going on a surf yoga sabbatical - Sooz is taking the board by the rails and doing it! We continue to follow Sooz on her journey: this time, with some unexpected sad news that we are honored she allowed us to share with the community. You can also follow along in real-time on her on Instagram account: @sooz_q

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DAY ELEVEN Evolution. So, here I am. A third of the way through the challenge and I have seen vast improvements in my surfing. I’d be fooling myself to think that thirty days straight of surfing is going to get me to a place where I am confident in catching waves but it’s a good start.  I wanted to redeem myself today. As the weekend swell died down, I went back to Maria’s for some more.  It was an okay day. The wind got on the waves again and it was super crowded. I ruined some dude’s ride while paddling over a wave. It was probably one of the best waves of the session, but that’s the breaks when the waters are congested. I’m excited for clean, waist high conditions tomorrow. I’m going to pull a double session, time to really step it up!

My paddling and movement throughout the water is become stronger each session yet I’m still missing waves. All that means is that I have to continue to dig harder into the water. I watch surf instructors push their clients into waves and I think, “Man I wish I had someone to position and push me!!!” When those notions start to arise, I take a step back and remind myself that I am learning how to surf on my own. I think the first step to being good at anything is being in tune with yourself. You should be aware of and appreciate where you are at, but never settle and always strive towards your goals.

I’m in Rincon right now. The corporate  life I was struggling to build at home fell apart. I decided to take a chance on myself. For a long time I was holding onto things that I knew, in my heart, weren’t making me happy. I felt secure so, I wouldn’t let go. I was evolving and instead of embracing the change I fought it. We are all guilty of this at some point in our lives. Evolving in life is not easy, in fact it’s terrifying to let go of old habits and identifications.

You must learn to accept that you can’t always be who you once were if you intend on achieving greatness. You’ll have to lose things you never expected to lose, but you’ll gain power you never knew you had.

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DAY TWELVE Surf Sabbatical. I am sitting in my Caribbean studio apartment. I’m soaking my foot in a bowl of hot water to make it easier to tweeze out the sea urchins spines. I know…I know, how can surfing be so awesome if all I keep talking about is how banged up I get and how hard it is to actually ride waves? Well, there is a saying out here in Rincon, “If you ain’t hurt then you ain’t trying hard enough!” Right now, my life revolves around surfing. I eat. I sleep. I surf. When I’m not surfing, I’m talking about surfing with everyone I come in contact with. Oh! Did I mention that I crushed tonight’s sunset session? I caught and rode almost every wave I paddled into! I almost forgot…I can surf.  However, I can’t surf The Babanees…yet! The waves were absolutely perfect for me today. Clean, waist high sets kept rolling through at Parking Lots. Once again, I was having trouble getting into position on my board. I either can’t paddle fast enough into the wave or nose dive. I got out of the water after two hours of paddling and went straight to Rincon Surf School. I walked into the office, and said to the manager Brett, “I want an instructor now! I need someone to tell me what I am doing right and wrong..” Surprised by my request, he offered to go out with me for a sunset session, and suggested I take a bigger board. We went with an 8’6 epoxy and though it is heavier to maneuver in between sets, everything about catching waves was easier with this board.

While driving to work on a Monday morning this past summer, I was  listening to a morning radio show discuss people who took sabbaticals to clear their minds and figure out what their next step in life should be. I got into work, sat down at my desk, and began to cry so hard I made my nose bleed. It’s been six months since then - and I’m on a surf sabbatical. This is about more than surfing. This is a spiritual journey, aligning my heart and mind. The passionate athlete in me is satisfied by the sport of surfing, but the soul searcher in me knows I am in the process of something much greater.

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DAY THIRTEEN  Work for it.  It must be a lucky thirteen that made today my best day of surfing yet. I went down the street to Parking Lots at sunrise, the morning dew still thick before the tropic sunrays burned it away. I looked out at the head high sets rolling through and decided to paddle in. I took out the 8’6, which was probably a little too big for the conditions, but this board and I are vibing  – so why spoil a good thing.  Paddling out requires endurance, awareness, and patience. But once I’m outside, those sizeable waves just don’t seem so big anymore. I’m getting use to the bang ups and the washes. I’m coming to understand that the ocean makes you work for it.  It’s just not going to take a beginner surfer and allow them to paddle into a perfect wave, glide down the line, and then paddle back out with ease. You have to be willing to dedicate every part of your body. There is no such thing as beginners luck out here.  If you want a piece of the stoke that Mother Nature is offering up, you better be willing to pay your dues. You better be willing to face your fears and test your strength.

I rode “The Wave of My Life” today.  I paddled in, popped up, kept my stance low, and took that wave all the way in. As I was riding another wave, and realized it was closing out, I dug my feet into the rails, turning the board tight against the wave, and then cut through the water so I could dismount over the back. I’ve been watching other surfers do this maneuver for week. No words can describe how much fun it is to just let your body fall back into the water after a good ride. Even knowing that you don’t have too much time to relish in the glory. You need to get back on your board quickly, and paddle out before a set rolls through, stealing your energy. My arms are getting toned, my core is getting tighter, and my mind feels strong. For the last thirteen days I kept pushing myself because “ Today could be the day.” Today could be the day you ride the wave that sets you forward on your journey. Today could be the day that all that hard work finally pays off.

DAY FOURTEEN Calm Before the Storm. So…technically it is day fourteen, but it should actually be day fifteen of the 30 Day Surf Challenge. Here is the problem: You need waves to surf. So I can and will paddle out into a flat ocean, but can that technically be considered surfing? No. Yesterday was a wash. Rincon has great morning surf; the early bird catches the wave so to speak. Since I am a total night owl, it is a challenge for me to make sure that I am up everyday at the crack of dawn ready to surf. I’ll just need to add that one to the list of skills I need to work on.

We waited all day yesterday for the wind to die down, hoping that a little swell might build enough to ride a long board. I sat in the office at RSS watching the Surfline cameras that are set up all over town, but the ocean was empty. We then decided to SUP at sunset. Any board time is good time spent, and at least I could be working on my core strength. We packed up the boards and headed down to the Marina, only to find a storm moving in. Epic Fail! The ocean’s conditions where the only thing that could stand in my way of surfing everyday when I began this challenge. It’s not like a yoga or cross fit challenge, where your work is stationary. I’m dealing with a living force of nature that is ever-changing. If the ocean is flat or firing 15 foot waves, I would consider both unfavorable conditions for my skill level. The surf report is forecasting that by mid-week we are going to see some strong swell here. I’m looking forward to the waves building steadily, in hopes that I can mentally and physically prepare myself for what’s to come.


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So today, I got up early and went down to Parking Lots with Brett of Rincon Surf School. He let me ride his 9’4 Stewart Pintail Perfection with a tri fin thruster. The board was insanely fast! I didn’t have too much trouble catching waves, but once I was up and riding, I was definitely taken aback by the power the board had. I would consider this week to be my first successful week of surfing. Tomorrow, I’ll be half-way through the challenge, with a big week of surfing on the horizon!

DAY FIFTEEN Are You Having Fun Yet? Doubt naturally happens in life. I don’t think it’s wrong to take a moment and ask “What the hell am I doing?”  You have to listen to your mind and you have to follow your heart – and then somewhere in between there needs to be this perfect balance where both are completely in sync and everything just flows. You don’t get frustrated, you don’t feel overwhelmed, and you don’t drop in on someone’s wave because you didn’t look to your left and see that they had the right away on the peak.  But again, it’s natural to have moments where we question ourselves, and times where the only way we are going to learn is when we make mistakes. I was rattled for a good thirty minutes after I dropped in on this girl’s wave, and collided with her board.


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I woke up to text messages from friends saying there were some little waves down at Antonio’s. We all met at Rincon Surf School, strapped a few long boards onto the truck and headed down the street. I was out in the water today with Jenn, who is an awesome, experienced surfer. I was in awe of how she hunted down waves, paddled into every one that rolled through, and then cross-stepped on her longboard down the line. She was giving me great pointers today. - She was also yelling “No!” as I paddled into that good wave with another local surfer chick. It can be like tunnel vision once you decide to turn and go. I watch and listen to the people I surf with intensely. I feel fortunate to have made friends who are all really great surfers, and don’t mind taking me out with them to learn.

But I know today I questioned my surfing. “How long is it going to take before it all comes together?” As much as I wanted to paddle in and call it a day, I continued surfing. The water cleared out of surfers, and I had room to catch some waves, and begin learning how to consistently ride them down the line. I spent the last half of my session this morning laughing and stoked by the waves I was catching. This is the most water time I have ever had since I began surfing back in August 2013.  As I exited the water on a wave, I paddled in where it was safe to get out. I got a little push by an unexpected wave, and giggled to myself as I bodyboarded onto shore.  A tourist taking pictures noticed me laughing and commented, “Are you having fun?” “YES! I replied. I’m having fun.”

DAY SIXTEEN For Baba. I got a call this afternoon that no one wants to get when they are thousands of miles away from home. My Grandma, I call her Baba, had suddenly passed away. I was walking up the street to check in at RSS and see about a sunset session, when my Mom called with the news. Tears immediately began to flood my eyes. “I never got to say goodbye,” was what I kept repeating. I thought I’d get a chance to see her again, and share all the adventures I have had here so far. I know she would have loved seeing all of my sunset surfing pictures. I will forever be grateful that she was able to be with me the night before I left for Puerto Rico. Her hot water heater was broken. My brother-in-law picked her up to spend the night at our house. We celebrated my upcoming sabbatical and 29th birthday. She was there to sing to me one last time and enjoyed a little ice cream cake.

MDay_sixteen_Surf_Sabbatical.jpgy grandma came here on a ship from Croatia in 1952, which took a month to reach its destination in NYC. She was 20 years old, did not speak English, and had nothing to her name. I always talk about the importance of taking chances with our lives, getting out of our comfort zones, and putting everything we have on the line for the small possibility that something amazing could happen. Baba met my grandfather in 1954, and they had three wonderful children. She passed away today with 9 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren. It is more than she could have ever imagined having when she was poor and sleeping on a bed made of straw in Sibenik, Croatia. I didn’t surf at sunset today. However, I did have an amazing morning session, where I rode my first left wave! Juno arrived this afternoon and is in full effect in the water. I knew I wasn’t mentally in a place to paddle out into this evening’s conditions. Instead, I sat on the shore at Domes Beach, watching some surfers get their final stoke of the day on some overhead waves. My grandfather was a fisherman and Baba’s one true love of 53 years. I know that he was waiting for her when she left us today.

There was a sailboat on the horizon that cruised past the setting sun and faded into the Caribbean Sea. I watched it with a sad, but comforted heart. It was as though I was watching both of my grandparent’s souls reunited, sailing off into eternity together.

Sooz went home to be with her family and attend her Baba’s funeral. She said to me that she learned even though she committed to this challenge to surf everyday, some things are still more important than surfing and nature will ultimately decide when you can paddle out. After her visit home Sooz got stuck in New Jersey due to a massive snow storm.  She shared this on Instagram:

Surfing sucks...said no one ever. I'm sitting on the runway at Newark Airport waiting to take off to Miami, so that I can connect to San Juan. It's 5:46AM with a current temperature of twelve degrees. There's about a foot of snow on the ground in New Jersey. I've got a good fifteen hours of traveling ahead of me before I'm back in Rincon. Once I'm there, I'll immediately be moving into a more permanent residence than the one I was previously living in. At the moment, my life is feeling very uprooted and rattled. But when hasn't it? Then there's this 30 Day Surf Challenge that I am stuck smack in the middle of! It has become the driving force of my life these past weeks. It has given me a purpose. Through hell or high water, I am going to get back to Rincon and finish what I started. Unexpected loss, change in plans, or weather can't stop me. This is no longer about the 30 consecutive days of surfing, this challenge has become a personal test of mental and physical strength - in and out of the water. I purchased a one way ticket to Rincon so that I could spend the winter in the sun and surf. I was unsure of how long I was going to stay. Once I arrived, there was no doubt that I had found a place I could call home. But just when I thought I had set my life up to not experience a Northeast winter again, life finds a way to remind me to "Never say never." But there is one thing in my life that is certain: surfing is everything.

We will post Days 17 - 20 shortly, stay tuned.



Category: ISIY Journal

Sooz Teel

Sooz_teel_author_profile.jpgAt 27 years old, Sooz Teel made the epic life decision to become sober after battling substance abuse for ten years. She is now almost two years clean, fresh out of her 200 RYT.  She believes she found “surfing through sobriety and yoga through surfing.” Sooz documented daily surf sessions through photography and writing during a surf sabbatical in Puerto Rico. Sooz lives by the affirmation, ‘I Am Mine,’ which reminds her to trust that everything is going to be alright (thanks Eddie Vedder!). She has found strength and inspiration through surfing, yoga, writing, photography, fashion, and music. For Sooz, surfing and yoga is about “taking yourself to an uncomfortable place that forces you to reveal your inner strength, flexibility, and beauty.”

You can find Sooz on Instagram and look for future posts here from this engaging Surfini.

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