Surf Sabbatical

Feb 08, 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 discovered Sooz on Instagram during her 30 Day Surf Challenge and got caught up in her adventure. She’s learning how to flow in the water and in life with ‘commitment’ being a priority. Her open, free-flowing style makes living vicariously through her easy! We’ll post the next ten entries as soon as Sooz is done living them. You can also follow along in real-time on her on Instagram account: @sooz_q


DAY ONE Today is the first day of my 30 Day Surf Challenge.

I will dedicate myself to getting on my surfboard everyday, no matter what the conditions maybe - even if I look Kooky paddling out into a flat ocean or testing my strength in more intense conditions. It will require me to become more fluent in understanding surf forecasts and searching for surfable breaks. My goal is to improve my skill level and find my surfing style. But most importantly, I want to test my commitment.

I arrived in Rincon ten days ago and was hoping to begin the challenge on my 29th Birthday, which was January 3rd. However it took me a little time to find my rhythm here.

Today we experienced the first big swell of 2015. We were up at the crack of dawn scoping out the Rincon breaks, and decided to go up north to Bridges in Aguadilla searching for manageable conditions. (And a nice sandy bottom) When we arrived, we were experiencing about 7 - 8 foot waves with a swell period of around 11 seconds! If you planned on surfing today you were going to have to commit yourself 100% to the force of the ocean. The height, speed, and tremendous sound of each wave pounding against the earth forced me to sit the morning session out. However watching can be just as beneficial as being in the water. After lunch we decided to take another look at the conditions. High tide rolled in and from a far it seemed to be more manageable and I was anxious to get some waves.

I climbed down the jagged rocks, strapped my leash to my leg, and watched as giant closeout sets fortressed my entrance. My heart pounded - I can’t even begin to explain just how much adrenaline was pumping through my veins. I kept my mind focused. There must have been 20 people or so just watching this army of surfers in the water. I did not let that intimidate my flow. When I felt the timing was right, I would charge. After about 20 minutes, I finally saw my in. I took a running start, sliding my body onto my board, and skimming the surface of the water. I began to paddle for my life! I ditched my board for the first wave that broke in front of me, and bear-hugged the nose for a second. I ride “The Babanees,” a custom made 7ft round nose pintail, so duck diving is not really an option. I dug my arms deep into the water to gain distance and made it outside without being overly worked. (Yewww!) Once out, I charged every wave I felt I was in a good position for.

I am still about two paddles short of catching a wave, so that I can easily pop up and ride down the line. I was out for a good two hours, even as a rainstorm blew in from the south, making visibility a little difficult. It was strangely beautiful out on the water in the pouring rain - and I was proud for conquering my fear of paddling out into what was the biggest, most intense condition I have ever surfed in.


I wish that my exit had been graceful, but I did not time it as well as my entrance. I figured it would be easy to just ride the white wash in while lying on my board. Mother Nature checked me good, sending a huge closeout set that would break on top of me. I was right under the lip, as my board and I tossed and tumbled under and through the white wash.  My mind screaming - “SURFACE! SURFACE! SURFACE!” I’d make it up and have seconds to gain composure as another wave was breaking on top of me. I was simultaneously pulling on my leash to get my board within reach, taking a deep breath and diving under to get worked – a total of four times in a row. I have to be honest…I wasn’t quite sure how many more waves I could take before my lungs gave out. When the set rolled through, I pulled my body back onto my board and paddled to shore as fast as my spaghetti arms could move! As the landscape on the shoreline grew larger, the white wash became softer and more forgiving, pushing me toward land. I picked up my board when I knew it was shallow, trudged through the foam, and completed Day One.

DAY DOS Reminders. I decided to surf Dogmans Break this afternoon. I have the most history there: fin to the booty, leash caught around coral, shallow, and gnarly wipe outs. Surfing Dogmans last year was a game changer. Before I entered the water, I remembered a woman I had met who began surfing mid-life (so rad!). She told me she would say a prayer before paddling out, thanking the ocean for allowing her to come inside, ride waves, and find herself. The ocean is a powerful living force. It has high and lows just like humans; it can be peaceful, beautiful and fun – or it can be rip-roaring and dangerous. Today, when I entered the water I said a little something too. It was more to the effect of, “Hey Dogmans! It’s your girl Sooz! It’s been a while and boy it feels good to be back! I’m ready.” During my session I was reminded of all the lessons I had learned there last year in the surf. Good lessons stop us from repeating the same mistakes; we find growth when we take different approaches to how we interact in the water as well as in our lives. Life is all about making mistakes. But if we remain self-aware, we can break through the waves. Hey we might even find the courage to surf them!


DAY THREE Steps. I began surfing around 120 days into my sobriety. I can’t really decipher which one has had a greater impact on my life. It feels like both practices joined forces and set me forward on the ultimate spiritual journey. But let’s be real, it’s not always rainbows and sea turtles (I haven’t seen butterflies out in the ocean yet!). Even after I purchased my one way ticket, life still made sure to throw in some unexpected plans I had to work through. The same goes for my surfing - just because I am living in a surf paradise, doesn’t all of a sudden mean I am surfing well. I have a long way to go. It’s going to take commitment. I’m going to take it one day at a time.

Day_Three_Surf_Sabbatical.jpgI surfed this morning at Parking Lots. There were some decent size sets rolling through. Looking back at the wave to watch its movement and time my paddling, a few times I thought to myself, “that’s a Big Wave!” Hesitation at that point really only leads to one thing – a wipe out. It’s better to just surf it. I wanted to go out for an afternoon session, hoping the waves would be smaller. Even though it’s great to get out in overhead conditions and test my will power, I know the real change happens in small steps, in conditions that are comparable to my capabilities. I didn’t get another chance to go out, gnarly clouds rolled through and it pretty much poured until sunset. However when the rain did let up, it revealed a beautiful rainbow that seem to stretch from Parking Lots all the way to Maria’s. It was a sign – bear these tough first days of the challenge, for they too shall pass, and something amazing will unfold.


DAY FOUR Stay Stoked. I woke up today and pressed snoozed…on every alarm.  I finally did get up sometime close to 11am. I fussed around a bit, felt a little lost, made excuses. Why? Because I am human and sometimes we can allow our internal funk to steer. I think it is in our nature to focus on negative feelings – pain, fear, anger. These feelings will always find a way to exist, even in paradise. One of the many important things I have learned through recovery is that we are all responsible for our own happiness. It is our right to feel good. I think the trouble lies in where we search for that “Stoke.” You cannot rely on a person, place, or thing to provide you with everlasting joy. People…they can let you down. Places…they can get old. And Things…they break. Don’t sabotage your happiness by getting yourself so caught up in the negative feelings that naturally occur in life.  Make sure you have something that allows you to find internal happiness – like surfing.

This picture is everything. It reminds me of how much fun I have when I am out in the water. This past summer, when I was dealing with some heavy issues, I would paddle out feeling anxious or angry, probably to a point where it took a little while to get settled on my board. I’d come out of the water feeling peaceful and happy- sometimes I’d even forget what it was that had me so bent. Anything that can produce a smile that big is worth doing. It lets me know that I’m on the right track. It’s wild to know I woke up in a funk, but by sundown I was stoked!

And hey sometimes you can look at the surf report and it might be a total bummer. But in an instant it can change! Then all of sudden the waves are looking clean and fun all week! (Which is what the surf report is showing now. I love me a little knee to waist high fun wave!) Nothing is permanent, so make sure you know how to find and keep your stoke alive!

DAY FIVE Comunidad.  It’s not easy to uproot your life to a foreign place, leaving behind family, friends, work - but I didn’t have any other plans. So why not head to a Surf Paradise and work on becoming a better surfer… and person. I know that I have been given the opportunity of a lifetime. I have made sacrifices to get here, but I trust that in the end this is apart of a greater plan for me.

The transition into the water here has been amazing due to the incredible people who flock here from all walks of the Earth in search of one thing – Stoke! I am finding that every time I exit the water I am a little more confident and definitely more self-aware of the things I need to work on tomorrow.  My interactions with locals and vacationers are really helping me grow. I’m not really sure what category I fall into here. When people ask me what I am doing, I just reply by saying “ I’m on a one way ticket” – yea it’s that open-ended.

What I am most grateful for is the time that people have taken out of their surfing to school me about the break I am surfing, or give me some pointers on my positioning and pop-ups.

Today, a young local boy told me to raise my chest higher off the board. “Don’t lay flat and keep your feet together.” (Cobra Pose) The other day this dude I have seen out during my morning sessions, Brad, showed me where the line was at Parking Lots. “If you line up between the cut down palm tree…give or take fifteen feet from either side, you’ll be on the peak every time. And Home-girl, come in closer…your not gonna catch any waves paddling out to Desecheo.” There was also an older local gentlemen who gave me the run down on entering and exiting at Dogmans. He directed me a few yards north and said, “Make sure to swim with the current, when the waves are bigger here you’ll use all your energy trying to enter.” I thanked him as I wrapped my leash up on the tail of my board and began to walk  back through the beach brush. “Are you here alone?” He seemed confused. “Yea. I brought a one-way ticket. I didn’t have any other plans.” “That’s courageous,” he said, “See yah around.”

DAY SIX Endurance. Wipeouts suck. Wipes out cause injuries. I wiped out today and slashed my wrist on my single fin. Thankfully it was only a surface wound, but I can’t put pressure on it, which made it hard to do sun salutations in yoga this evening. Don’t underestimate small days. The conditions today were not ideal, any good surfer may have thought twice about paddling out. But I’m almost a week into my 30 Day SuDay_Six_Surf_Sabbatical.jpgrf Challenge, and I committed to surfing everyday no matter what the conditions may be. I will endure crappy waves, I will endure injuries, and I will endure every single kooky moment I have in the water because all I am focused on is improving my surfing.

The combinations of not having enough wax on my board (I have a mix of cold water and warm water wax on my board, which is causing some funkiness on the surface) and not riding the most appropriate board for today’s conditions (a traditional longboard would have worked best) were the reasons I lost my footing on a pop up and slid backward off the tail of my board.  So not only am I learning to coach myself at some pretty advanced surface breaks, but I am also learning how to ride a board that is about 2 feet shorter and 2 inches narrower than what I learned to surf on.

I gotta give it up to the team Rincon Surf School. They are the best neighbors a surfer girl could ask for! I stopped by the office after my Domes session to grab a longboard. I was determined to get back out even though my wrist was looking and feeling gnarly. Travis, the owner, decided to switch up the fin setup from the tri-fin thruster I had been surfing with, and made it a quad. We then packed up the boards and went down the street to Parking Lots to test it out. The board felt 100% more stable, and I finished up today’s session (a total of four hours) in a good place.

I would also like to publicly apologize to my Best Friend Colleen for understanding my need to surf today. She’s on vacation visiting me. It is said that it is tough to date/make plans with a surfer because waves take priority, and that was certainly the case for me today!

Sooz_Surf_Sabbatical.jpgDAY SEVEN On the Seventh Day We Surf.

So everyday I paddle out with the expectation that - I am going to see an improvement in my surfing and something or someone is going to inspire my session, giving me a theme that I can tie into my reflections. I have never participated in a physical challenge, and then incorporate another level of work into it by using social media as a forum – it’s intimidating. I have tracked my sobriety (662 Days Yeeewww!) but that was a life choice, not a life challenge.

However, today when I paddled out at Domes for another sunset session, the thought crossed my mind, “I don’t think I’ll ever want to go a day without surfing again!” (And I’m only seven days in).

Up until yesterday my board was not riding well. I was having a tough time finding the “sweet spot” on it and I felt completely off balance. If I hadn’t of hurt myself yesterday, I would have never taken the board over to RSS and I probably still would be trying to ride with a tri-fin thruster that was getting me no where. Today was a game changer. Today I finally found the position on my board and had no trouble paddling into waves. Time to now work on my pop ups and steering! Of all the sunset sessions I have surfed here, tonight was especially awesome. Not just because I finally saw major improvements in my skills, but also because I was surrounded in the water by super cool and extremely talented groms! (That term means 'young surfer' or 'child surfer.') It was the first time that I had ever seen the waters here filled with children who- just getting stoked! Their excitement and laughter brought a beautiful, light hearted energy into the water. The great thing about kids is that they do not care about what others think. They do everything for pure fun, without worry or embarrassment. I know that I surfed well today because I was able to relate and let my inner child loose. As the sun fell below the horizon, and the waves became too dark to read, I could here that child in my mind protesting, “Do I really have to paddle in for the night? Can’t I just catch one more wave?”

DAY EIGHT Commitment. It took eight days straight of surfing for me to touch upon the topic of commitment – it’s an interesting one.

“There are no more committed people on the planet than surfers. We fall down a lot. We turn around, paddle back out, and do it over and over again. Unlike anything else in life, the stoke of surfing is so high that the failures quickly fade from memory.”

That is my favorite quote about surfing by Gary Sirota. I surf because I want to be committed to myself; I want to trust myself completely. I want to work hard at something that can’t be taken away, and that will never seize to make smile. I have been getting worked in the water everyday, but it doesn’t stop me from getting back on my board and charging waves. There is a correlation between what I want from my surfing and my personal life. Patience, strength, grace, awareness, trust, balance… shall I continue? These are high vibrating virtues that people dedicate their lives to acquiring. Of course there are other things people strive for too – power, wealth, beauty, fame, control. You gotta ask yourself what you need to survive? What is it that keeps you paddling back out? Whatever it is, spiritual or materialistic; just make sure that it’s worth the wipe outs.

Day_Eight_Surf_Sabbatical.jpgRight now, all I want to do is surf.  A career, marriage, or children – that is not on my radar. I won’t pretend that those aren’t things I want one day, but right now I am taking 30 days and dedicating myself to something that is for me. No one else is benefitting from my surfing, and I am the only person who can let myself down here.

My best friend Colleen goes back home to New Jersey tomorrow. This entire week she has been supportive of the time I needed to surf. As always, we have had a blast – jumping off 30 foot waterfalls, doing yoga, making fun of each other, getting lost in the Caribbean Sea on paddle boards for two hours only to be rescued by a Banana Boat! I understood that I’m probably not going to have many visitors on this surf sabbatical, and Col took the time away from her life to come and see what life is like here for me. She always keeps it real and she always has my back. It was awesome to be able to get out of the water everyday and have her there chilling on the beach!

DAY NINE The Babanees. Day Nine coming at you a little late because as I settle into the beautiful atmosphere of Puerto Rico, I am beginning to understand that life is for living. Talk about a Sunday Funday Puerto Rico celebrates MLK Day too, and Rincon was buzzing with tourists, sunshine, and fiestas yesterday! It was Colleens official last day and we kicked it off with a two hour surf at Dogmans! I was stoked that I was finally able to get her on a surfboard. We rented a NSP 9’6 from the surf school and paddled out into relatively mellow waters. But as I explained to Colleen before she entered the water, don’t be fooled by Dogmans, it’s a constant paddle out and paddle in.

I was excited because it felt like I had an option of two boards. When we paddled outside to where we thought the waves weren’t breaking, we switched surfboards. Colleen’s favorite part of surfing is paddling out and lying on the board, though she did manage to find herself in a few waves! I thought, “Finally it will be easy for me to catch waves because I’ll use the longboard! Just like the old days!” I started paddling into waves and sure - long boards do pick up speed and their volume provides stability, but something didn’t feel right. I had the Babanees Board shaped for me in July by Josh Hoke Handcrafted Surfboards and I get nothing but compliments on it’s shape and style, but it’s been a completely different experience learning to ride her. It’s been hard. After paddling with the board, Colleen made a true assessment like she always does. “It seems as though the Babanees is a board for a more experienced surfer. Where as the longboard feels more like having training wheels. But in the end the training wheels are going to have to come off. ” I paddled around with the longboard for about a half hour before asking for my board back. The Babanees is a 7’ board that is 21.25 wide. It is a mix of a longboard and a short board. The nose is wide, keeping it easy to paddle, with a narrow pintail that gives me a good pivot point, and now that I have the quad fin set up, the board feels more controlled when handling aggressive surf.  
Riding a different board made me realize that the Babanees is exactly what I want and need to improve my surfing skills. Everything about the board feels right, even if surfing is harder. Sometimes we think back to the places or things we once had, and we long for that. The past provides this illusion that somehow things were different and better because maybe the present isn’t exactly how you pictured it to be; maybe it’s harder. Sometimes we will even step back into the past, and that makes us realize why we wanted something different …we wanted growth.

DAY TEN Pearl Jam Girl.  I wish I could tell you this was easy. I wish I could say that I am gliding on waves gracefully without ever grazing reef, but that’s not the reality – at least not today. I got bacDay_Ten_Surf_Sabbatical.jpgk from San Juan late last night and decided to stop by a bar in town to see The Disfunction. Let me just say that watching this band play makes me feel like I am watching The Strokes play in some dive bar on the LES circa 2000. The whole town comes out to see them jam! They are just one of the many aspects that make up the very happening art scene here. Rincon is to Surf Culture what Haight and Ashbury was to Hippie Culture. I somehow managed to strike up a conversation with the lead singer, Manny, while congregating with some folks in the parking lot. Someone asked me what my tattoo on my forearm said. ('I Am Mine' in Eddie Vedder’s handwriting) The dude called Manny over and he broke out into an acapella rendition of Pearl Jam’s 'Black'… RAD! Today, I got in the water for a sunset session, and the waves were big: chest-shoulder high. The wind was all over it, and the ocean was disorganized and choppy.  

I first drove to Maria’s, and then to Domes, then back to Maria’s, which was where I decided to paddle out. The conditions were, for lack of a better word, shitty. I actually contemplated not surfing. Getting out was not as bad as it looked, which gave me a little hope.  As I made my way outside I saw Manny chilling on a boogie board. “HEY!”, I hollered. I was excited to see a familiar face. It took him a moment to recognize my face before he said “ Hey, Pearl Jam Girl!” We hung out in the water and talked about music for about an hour before we decided to go in. The surf was terrible; big, shallow, treacherous breaks. I got caught in the impact zone for one big wave, and had no idea which way was up or down as I washed around under the water. This definitely threw off my flow, and I wound up paddling with the current to avoid getting wiped again. I was dragged straight into a large piece of sharp reef and rock and my board got jammed in between the two. Small waves broke behind me and a quick response, to situations like these, is imperative. I was able to pull my board out on the first try. Using all my strength, I began to paddle straight back out, so that I could angle myself to exit at a safer spot. Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid a few scrapes and cuts.  Manny was waiting for me as I made my way to shore. It always feels good to have friend in the water, especially one whom you can talk to about the greatness of Pearl Jam!

Category: ISIY Journal

Sooz Teel

Author_profile_Sooz_sabbatical.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, and living in Rincon, Puerto Rico on what she calls a 'Surf Sabbatical.'  She believes she found “surfing through sobriety and yoga through surfing.” Sooz has been documenting her daily surf sessions through photography and writing. She is also an aspiring surf wear designer, who looks forward to building her brand Babanees Surf while residing in “Surf Town.” Sooz lives by the affirmation, ‘I Am Mine,’ which reminds her to trust that everything is going to be alright.  She prefers Eddie Vedder’s description in the existential Pearl Jam song, I Am Mine, where he says, “It’s what’s inside you. You own it, and you have the freedom for it to come out. It’s allowed to come out. It is about personal safety, the feeling of being secure, and free.” 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. The correlation between both the physical and spiritual aspects of the practices are incredible. I don’t how they could possibly exist without one another – at least in my life.”

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