Surfing Through Pregnancy

Words by Pooja Munshi & images by Stuart Smith, Graham Swindell & Pooja Munshi

As women, we’re fortunate to be able to nurture new life and bring it into the world. But it’s no easy task. The transition phase of 9 months could be like a dream session with perfect waves or a hurricane that creates havoc.

Not too long ago, when I found out that I was pregnant, one of the first things I did was to look up the internet to see how it would impact my surfing. Was it safe to surfing when pregnant? How far into the pregnancy could I continue surfing? Any modifications to allow for the growing belly?  

So many questions, but not many answers. I read about Bethany Hamilton. She had surfed through her pregnancy and then some more, tow-surfing her way through Jaws at 6 months postpartum. Sure, I considered myself an amateur athlete, but I was just a mere human who surfed for casual pleasure. What worked for her was certainly not going to work for me!

I reached out to surf mamas, friends and acquaintances in far corners of the world to learn about their experiences. They shared some insights and I wove them in with some intuition to create my own journey. I wanted to share some of those thoughts, in the hope that going to be surf-mamas around the world can dip into this pool of collected wisdom.

Kori Hahn at her home break in Bali, taking it one day at a time. Check out her worldwide yoga/surf retreats at Photo by Stuart Smith @smythe_photo

1. Be open. Things may or may not stick to plan

Regardless of shape, size, fitness, diet, lifestyle, we never know what the 9 months will hold for us. 

Summer, who grew up on the shores of Hawaii, had all the plans to surf until the due date. But, due to a severe case of nausea, she was unable to lie down on a board throughout her pregnancy. And while Holly surfed almost till term end with her first, she wasn’t sure if she would surf all the way through with her second pregnancy. Trisha, a Hawaiian through and through, preferred to take it one moment in time, not expecting much, but just allowing her instincts to guide.  

Surf Simply coach, Francela Gonzarlez still charging everyday on her short board during the first trimester. Photo by Graham Swindell

2. Look out for this in the FIRST trimester 

Nausea, tiredness, headaches. But what does it mean out in the surf? Surf mamas Trisha and Holly say shorter sessions, longer boards and mellower waves, separately or in some sort of combination. 

Holly Beck, an ex professional surfer slashes at a cuttie at 32 weeks pregnant. She lives in Northern Nicaragua and runs surf and adventure retreats for women. Click here to see more.

3. Look out for this in the SECOND trimester 

This is the time the belly starts growing and we become more conscious about making modifications in the water. Holly an ex professional surfer, began to adjust her paddle technique. “I would sort of stick my butt in the air to take the pressure off my belly. That made the tail of my board sink since I was putting pressure on my knees and it made me paddle slower.” Kori paddled on her knees at all times. “Once I was up and riding all was good and cruise-y. But paddling on the knees was tiring so sessions were cut short.”

At this point, most surf mamas started avoided aggressive crowds, strong currents and close outs.

4. Look out for this in the THIRD trimester 

By this time you’ll pretty much feel like a whale. Core strength is non-existent. Movement on land is slow like a snail. Pop ups in the water are an ordeal. 

To accommodate for this, Holly started using boards that matched her growing weight. She needed to be exactly in the right spot. Too deep and getting to her feet was a challenge. Too far on the shoulder and it was hard to get into the wave. Tricky times! She was increasingly yearning for the longer waves and nice rides, without the struggle of having to catch them. By this time, Kori only went surfing a handful of times. But this is also when she found a new love for bodysurfing and had an absolute blast. 

On the other side of the spectrum, Tricia and Summer stuck to the stand up paddle board. Summer’s managed to get up on a paddle board while her loving partner paddled her into the deep blue. Just being in the water after months of nauseau, felt almost “psychedelic”. “Once in the open ocean, I was compelled to feel the board under my feet. Feel my toes on the grip, feel the micro muscles in my ankles and legs as they kept everything in balance. Feeling the resistance of the water against the paddle. I paddled back and forth for as long as my nauseous stomach allowed me and it was more satisfying than I could have imagined. Sheer magic.” Tricia used a 12’ SUP board to balance out her big belly, cruising around in the sunshine, without bothering to catch waves. 

Francela, surf instructor and yoga teacher with Surf Simply took the middle route, surfing into her third semester but when she got too big, she just boogie boarded her way through it.

Trisha Cabral sings and produces fun island lullabies, mixing whale songs and melodic Hawaiian tunes. Click to have a listen.

5. How to overcome the surfing blues?

Life as a surfer girl has come to a pause. Channeling the missing surf stoke into something positive is key. 

Tricia still spent a lot of time in the water and came out refreshed and elevated. But instead of the board, she went in with her mask and fins and swam around with turtles and dolphins. She says watch out it doesn’t end there as it can difficult even post baby. Seek out other surf moms so that everyone can take turns to watch over the babies while the others paddles out. Kori swam in the ocean too but after being pulled out by a rip at 6 months she resorted to only swimming her flippers and with her partner around. Holly used the “out of sight, out of mind” technique, staying away from the beach, waves or the surf report! Francela on the other hand, mind surfed her way through the blues and believed it helped her stay in touch with the ocean.

Surf Simply’s Francela with her daughter, Paz. Photo by Graham Swindell.

6. When is it safe to paddle out postpartum? 

A lot will depend on whether you had natural birth or C-section. 

Holly paddled out 5 weeks after her baby was born. She felt weak and it was harder than ever to do a pop up. She was anxious about leaving her baby on the beach. The session lasted only 20 mins. But that session gave her a starting point to start getting back into shape and it all came back in a matter of a few months. And while Tricia took her time and come back after 5 months, Summer was in no rush, focusing first on integrating her little one into our planet earth. 

As for me, I stopped surfing after month 1, mostly because my local line up was way too crowded. I swam everyday with fins and when there was no ocean I jumped in the pool. That helped me keep up the paddling arms and I was able to hit the water after 3 months of giving birth. 

Currently based in Jakarta, Pooja surfs as often as she can in Java and Bali. For more on her travels, check out @poojamunshi on Instagram.

I hope this range of experiences helps you better understand what surfing through pregnancy could be like. Ultimately of course, it a very personal experience and different for everyone but while it’s important to listen to your body, remember to always double check your intuition with your doctor.

Leave a Comment!