The Art of Surfing While Pregnant

If you surf Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz, CA, then you’ve undoubtedly noticed a group of women regularly gathering on the beach with their young childre – some of the women wearing bright pink shirts saying “Baby on Board”. This cadre of talented women calls themselves the “Surf Mamas” – a support system of Santa Cruz mothers/surfers featured in a new short documentary, “The Super Stoked Surf Mamas of Pleasure Point”. The film documents how the women support each other through pregnancy (sharing tips with each other about how to paddle and surf while pregnant) and how they help each other balance the role of motherhood while being a wave-obsessed surfer with the formation of what they call “surf swaps.”

Longboarder Katie Loggins, who we spoke with recently on the phone, is one of these women. Loggins grew up near Pleasure Point and when she decided to have kids, continued surfing into her 8th month of pregnancy. We caught up with her to find out more about the film (which won the Audience Choice Award at the International Surf Film Festival last year) and how being a committed parent and surfer requires a lot of work and support.

How’d this group come together?

When I was pregnant with my first child, my friend Jenny Bennett was pregnant with her son and [surfer/shaper] Ashley Lloyd Thompson was pregnant with her son and we would all surf at Pleasure Point together while pregnant. It was really cool to have other people with similar interests and to feel like we already had a support system, because when you’re pregnant you feel so vulnerable. One of the biggest things that we were having such a hard time with [after having the kids] was not getting in the water – when surfing is the thing that keeps us balanced and rejuvenates us. So one day we were all sharing our feelings and we realized we could all help each other out here. We decided to do a surf swap where half of us would watch the kids and the rest of the mamas would surf. We were able to help each other come back into our own and find that balance we needed.

I assume the process of your body changing every day for 9 months must be a challenge – especially so when you continue surfing. What were some of those challenges you dealt with?

Oh gosh, so many. Around 15 weeks, I was out surfing on a mid-size board and I could feel this baseball-sized bump on my stomach and I thought, ‘Oh this doesn’t feel right anymore.’ As you continue to grow with pregnancy, obviously your belly gets bigger, but your hips get wider too and you start to become more unbalanced. And as you’re out surfing, because of this continual change, your normal is no longer normal. Normally you don’t even think about paddling, popping up and catching a wave, but then all of a sudden you’re out there thinking, ‘How do I paddle, how do I pop up?’ It’s like going back to the beginning and it’s incredibly frustrating and incredibly humbling. Paddling is one of the biggest challenges. None of us were able to catch the wave on our knees, so we had to create this funny-looking technique where you put pressure on your breastbone and you’re kind of on your knees sticking your butt up. It’s super awkward but that’s how you avoid putting pressure on your belly.

Other challenges were things like putting my wetsuit on over this massive belly. And it’s not just your belly that grows – your hips are wider, your thighs are bigger, your breasts are bigger. In the end, I was wearing my husband’s spring suit.

From left to right: Ashley Lloyd Thompson, Vicky Vogel and friend. Photo: Courtesy of Margaret Seelie/SURFER

I imagine it takes a while to get back to feeling normal after you give birth as well.

After you have the baby you are so weak – you don’t even feel like you have abdominal muscles anymore. I had the expectation that everything was going to be the way it was before I got pregnant, but I was hit by the reality that it’s not. I remember the second wave I went to push myself up on, I couldn’t get up and I was so devastated. I went in and I just cried. Then you have this really small window of time if you’re breastfeeding – I would literally be in my wetsuit, feed my baby and put the rest of my wetsuit on, run out there for an hour, then come back out and feed my baby. So those two or three-hour sessions that you would have are now an hour at the most.

When do doctors typically tell women to stop surfing? Do you think they’re being extra conservative or fair?

For me, it was around 14 or 15 weeks. Pregnancy is a very fragile time in life and in order to have a healthy baby, you need a million things to go right. So if you’re voluntarily putting yourself in a situation where something could go wrong, it’s a choice but it’s also a risk – so you have to weigh things out. You need to know your skill level and how well you can control your board. My concern was that I can’t control anyone else around me. I enlisted a lot of my friends to be my blockers – people who would position themselves around me to make sure I was safe. Then my husband made me these outrageously bright pink shirts with a caution sign saying “baby on board.” We put them on and we would stand out in the crowd. We knew that we were visible and people were really good about backing off and letting us go.

But the honest truth is that the first trimester is such a fragile time period of the growth and you really do want to be incredibly careful. So the whole entire time of pregnancy I was constantly weighing the risks and the benefits – thinking about my skill level, thinking about how to make this experience something I could keep doing but stay safe.

That must’ve been an incredibly special feeling to be carrying your baby while also surfing a wave.

Oh, yes. When you’re pregnant, at least the first time around, it’s all you think about. You’re always like, “Wow, I’m growing a human being in my body.” Going out into the water and being so aware of what your body is going through and that you are growing a human being – I would sit out there and soak up the salt water and everything about the experience. I would feel the ocean moving underneath me and I would hold my belly and I’d think, “Can my baby feel this?” And when I got that rush and excitement when I popped up I would think the same thing. I remember just holding my belly while I was riding a wave and would think, we’re surfing!

I can’t speak for all women, but I know some women surfers get nervous at the thought of having children because they feel like their surfing will take a back seat.
Yeah, I want to lie to you and say you get as much surf time after you have a kid, but it’s just not the same. At least not for me. The transition is hard and emotional. I used to surf every day and I could go as long as I want, but things are just different now. But with that said I’m one of those people who believes that you can create your life into however you really want it to be. With my friends and community, the surf swap was our way to have that brief moment to fill ourselves up and rejuvenate us. We would do it for a half hour to an hour each person. Half of us would go for half an hour to an hour and we’d come back, then the other half would go.

I think it helps seeing women like you – or Bethany Hamilton and Lisa Anderson – continue surfing after having children. And to see that you all relied on each other to make that happen seems pretty powerful – and a great idea for moms who love to surf.

You just have to figure out how to do that. You have to put the effort in and I think that’s something people don’t know how to do. I believe we can make choices in our life if we participate and reach out and ask for help. We can actually get those things that we truly need, but you have to stand up for yourself. And that’s actually one of the messages that I try to relate is that. Stick up for yourself. You deserve it.

The thing about when you have children, sometimes you don’t know how to ask for help and then we feel like we are weak if we ask for help or accept help or are a burden. Having a child truly challenges you to learn how to ask for help and how to accept it. But if you can honor your needs and do that, then you can experience so much more in your life. You have to work on those challenges – for some reason our society just isn’t built the way other societies are built where you’re just surrounded by family and friends. We don’t live our lives that way here.

How did the film come about?

Mayra Aguilar [one of the women in the film] was in a film by Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Paul Ferraris called “La Maestra.” Mayra moved out here and became one of the mamas and one day I reached out to Elizabeth and said, “You know, I’ve got this film idea, if I ever wanted to do something with this, what would I do?” I thought she would write back a long list of things I would never do, but instead, she wrote back and said she wanted to make the film with Paul. She really connected to it. She never got pregnant because she thought it meant that she had to stop surfing, and what she realized by hearing our story is that you don’t have to. Our society believes that when you get pregnant you stop doing all those athletic things you used to do. She realized by our story that you don’t actually have to and maybe other women can realize that too.

You can check out the full film on the Surf Network.

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