Q & A with Professional Surfer Holly Beck: On Surfing, Yoga & Giving Back
A calling. A passion. A destiny. Professional surfer Holly Beck has found the elusive and exhilarating state in which the boundaries between work and play are blurred. After years traveling the world and surfing some of the most remote and exotic beaches from the islands of Andaman in the Indian Ocean to Sao Tome off the Gulf of Guinea, Holly is continuing her adventure in Nicaragua. She’s founded a women’s surf camp, Suave Dulce, and is sharing some of her favorite things — surfing, yoga, local food, and adventure. From her commitment to improving the local Nicaraguan community, to her focus on breath in yoga, to her garden of blackberries, chard, and mint, Holly embodies the MindBodyGreen spirit and is inspiring people to lead better, healthier, and greener lives.
MindBodyGreen: How did you first come to love the ocean and surfing?
Holly Beck: I grew up in Palos Verdes, CA which is coastal but my parents aren’t beach people so it wasn’t until I started going to the beach with friends as an 11 year old that I fell in love with the ocean. We would boogie board in the shorebreak and I would stay in the water until I was blue and teeth-chattering because even though it was cold it felt so good! Around 13 I first noticed surfers and decided I wanted to be like them. My mom said, “No! Surfing is for boys and you should be sitting on the beach looking cute in your bikini not out competing with them. You’ll never get a boyfriend that way!” A year later I had saved up enough babysitting money to buy myself a surfboard and wetsuit at a garage sale and I haven’t looked back.
MBG: After spending years traveling and surfing the globe, where are some of your favorite places to surf and to visit?
HB: Australia is amazing, Bali is exciting, but I love going further off the beaten path to places like the Andaman and Seychelles islands, the tiny West African nation of Sao Tome, Taiwan, and Haiti. Going to places like that where McDonalds, Holiday Inns, and Starbucks haven’t taken over is so much more interesting. I love to explore and discover, and while the world is constantly getting smaller, there are still a few places where you can really get away and I appreciate that.
MBG: Do you have any beginners tips for someone who is looking to improve their skills on the board?
HB: The hardest part of learning to surf is learning to read the ocean. You have to learn which wave is going to be good and how to position yourself to catch that wave in the right spot then maneuver according to how the wave is changing. There’s no secret formula to learning that other than spending a lot of time in the ocean and really paying attention to the waves. Other than that fitness definitely helps, as well as self-confidence. If you believe in yourself anything is possible.
MBG: How did you become introduced to yoga? How has yoga helped you in and out of the water?
HB: I am a late convert to yoga. I grew up dancing — tap, jazz, ballet — and always had my own stretching routine. When yoga started to become popular, I thought it was just a fad. “Why do I need to pay someone to lead me in stretching?” Then a friend dragged me to a class and I realized what I’d been missing out on. Yoga is so much more than stretching! I was really surprised by how much strength is involved but my favorite part is the breathing. Being able to be calm mentally and continue to breathe while holding a difficult position is such a great skill to have in surfing and life in general. In surfing, especially in big waves, it’s really all about staying calm and breathing, and yoga is a great way to practice that mentality while also maintaining physical strength and flexibility.
MBG: You are passionate about healthy eating and organic food. How did you develop this lifestyle? What are some of your favorite healthy foods?
HB: I’m not a vegetarian. I will eat almost anything. I grew up in a family that got a dozen doughnuts every Saturday morning and had a bowl of ice cream after dinner every night. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started thinking about eating healthy and even later until I realized the importance of organics. In the last few years I’ve read Michael Pollan‘s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, as well as watched documentaries that expose our food industry and it’s attempts to separate people from how our food is made in an effort to get us to eat more processed and engineered foods, while trying to convince us that they are better for us. All of that has really opened my eyes and made me a lot more conscious of my choices at the grocery store. My boyfriend and I have a garden in our little apartment patio which grows blackberries, tomatoes, chives, green onions, romaine lettuce, chard, mint, basil and a variety of chili peppers. My garden in Nicaragua has many of the same things plus a lot of fruit trees. I know that organic, locally grown food is not only better for my body and the environment but it tastes and feels better. I can’t imagine going back to eating the way I did growing up!
MBG: You started Suave Dulce, a women’s surf, yoga, and volunteer retreat in Nicaragua. How did you get the idea to start Suave Dulce and what makes it different from other surf retreats?
HB: I love inspiring people and after spending so much time traveling the world I’ve learned a lot about what makes a trip memorable and meaningful. Sharing a love of surfing and yoga, while helping and encouraging people to improve their skills in those areas is great, but I realized that the most memorable aspects of my own travels have been the chances to interact with the locals — to meet them, see how they live, share a smile and hopefully have a positive impact on them. Nicaragua is the perfect place for this because the water is warm, the place and people are beautiful, and tourism is relatively new so it still feels pure and real. It is also the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere so there is a lot of opportunity for positive change in the lives of the average Nicaraguan. We have fed and given clothing donations to families that scavenge at the local dump and helped to build a community center that when completed will provide access to sewing machines, computers, and clean water for a village previously lacking those things. The difference for guests is that not only are they getting surfing advice or lessons from a professional surfer in warm uncrowded waves, plus yoga, healthy, locally grown food, plenty of unique adventures, but they also come away feeling good about their contribution to the place they visited and all the more grateful for everything they have at home.
MBG: What’s one thing we can all do to help keep our oceans beautiful and clean?
HB: Be mindful. Plastic in the ocean is such a huge problem. Plastic on the beach gets into the ocean, gets broken down by waves, sun, etc. into small pieces that look like food, get eaten by fish and birds, then become a part of the food chain. The ocean is becoming plasticized and as a result, so are we when we eat the fish that have eaten the plastic. Minimize your plastic consumption. Consider the packaging when you purchase anything. Never buy plastic bottled water, juice, etc. I drink filtered tap water and buy juice in glass bottles which can be recycled, and if they do find their way into the ocean are less harmful. It’s hard, but every little choice counts.
MBG: What does a typical day look like from you from a training standpoint?
HB: I’m one of those annoying people that have a really high metabolism and don’t have to workout to stay shapely. Of course, staying strong is always important. I hate the gym. I don’t like working out. I do like to play, so I try to play as often as possible! Yoga and surfing are both great for mind and body but if I can’t do those things I’ll ride my skateboard, go for a hike, take my dogs for a run on the beach. I live most of the year in Nicaragua off the grid. I have to pump a well for water which means every time i shower, do the dishes, water the garden, do laundry (by hand), even flush the toilet, I have to pump the well first. It’s great for the environment and also my body. Just living is a work out down there!
MBG: What does MindBodyGreen mean to you?
HB: MindBodyGreen is a term that reinforces the notion that everything is connected. The health and well-being of our minds, bodies, and the earth are one and the same. Ignoring one while trying to nurture the others is unsustainable. For any one to truly prosper, the health of all three is necessary.
MBG: Who or what inspires you?
HB: I’m inspired by intelligent adventurous people who live outside of normal societal expectations and find a way to pursue their passions as a career that lasts a lifetime.
MBG: What’s next for you?
HB: I’ll be spending July, August, and September in Nicaragua. Aug 30 – Sept 6 I’m co-hosting a surf, yoga, volunteering trip with a non-profit called SYRV where we will be putting the finishing touches on that community center. See SurfwithHollyBeck.com for details on that and more retreats in November/December.