When I discovered I was pregnant, I felt like I was paddling out into an unknown break with challenging waves – excited, a bit fearful and slightly sick. Staring at the pregnancy test stick, my surfing life flashed before my eyes: would it be safe to surf pregnant? How would I get through the 9 months if not? And would I even fit into my wetsuit?
While the majority of doctors now advise pregnant women to exercise, surfing is not the number one suggestion due to it being classed as an extreme sport. However, many women decide to keep wave-riding throughout their pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies. As I was one of those women who carried on surfing until late into pregnancy, I thought I’d share my experiences and some tips I found out along the way, which helped me feel the stoke through the 9 months.
1 – Speak with your medical professionals. At my first ante-natal appointment, I chatted with my midwife about surfing and exercise. I’ve been active all my life and it’s one of the things that really makes me tick, mentally and physically, so I didn’t just want to stop when I became pregnant. After all the checks indicated that my pregnancy was ‘low-risk’, I was advised that I could continue what I was already doing – surfing, as well as yoga, swimming and strength work – but to listen to my body and adjust things accordingly as the pregnancy progressed. This gave me the confidence that I was fit and strong enough to carry on surfing as well as boosting my mental health, well-being and avoiding the dreaded pregnancy back pain.
2 –Keep fit and exercise whether you carry on surfing or not. In the past, women were discouraged from exercising while pregnant, due to some old-fashioned beliefs and social norms rather than scientific evidence. Thankfully these views have since been proven to be false, with current research suggesting that moderate regular exercise can have great physical and mental health benefits for expectant mothers with no negative impact on the health and development of the baby. So whether you continue surfing or not, keeping fit and active will be of benefit in pregnancy, birth and getting back into shape afterwards. Swimming, yoga and walking are great low impact forms of exercise and can help pregnant surfers maintain a level of conditioning.
3 – You don’t need to stop – you just need to adjust. The way I considered pregnancy was adjusting my activity level to suit my changing circumstances, exactly as I would have done if I had another physical challenge or injury. How much and what I did depended on my stage of pregnancy and how well I was feeling. Some weeks I felt great, others I just felt too tired, too sick or my digestion was causing me havoc. I always listened to my body and never surfed or worked-out if I felt dizzy or hadn’t been able to eat enough. A great piece of tech which assisted me was my Garmin watch, which monitored my daily activity, heart rate, and quality of sleep. Another good rule of thumb I used was the ‘talk test’, being able to maintain a conversation when exercising. So if you’re unsure whether or not you’re overdoing it, start chatting, even if it’s to yourself!
4 – Get clued up about the changes happening to your body – So many changes happen to the body during pregnancy – emotional as well as physical – and being aware of them beforehand helped me through all three trimesters. A book which really helped and reassured me was ‘Bump it up’ by Professor Greg Whyte. It gave me some great advice on the altering physiology that might occur during each trimester as well as giving me some guidance on exercise during pregnancy. With this knowledge, I managed to keep surfing and exercising by listening to my body, getting enough rest but also knowing when it would do me good to get going.
5 – I accepted that my surfing wouldn’t be at the same level. Although I surfed until around 30 weeks, it was not to the same level pre-pregnancy. I surfed on quieter, mellower days where I wouldn’t be competing for waves or in danger of a heavy wipeout. I always ensured that I had company, in case I started to feel unwell or needed to get out of the water, and was very picky with wave selection. I considered carefully each time I chose to paddle-out and wouldn’t get in if it had been raining heavily. When I was out in the line-up I kept very alert and aware of the people around me. If I felt uneasy, I would simply get out. I accepted that my surf sessions wouldn’t be as long and my wave count would be a lot less. I was just happy to be in the water and loved the thought of my growing baby nestled inside me, already catching some waves.
6 – Choose your boards wisely. As each stage of pregnancy progressed, I switched to sticks which suited my level. For the first couple of months, I rode my regular shortboard, then changed to a 6’3 mini fish in my second trimester, when I started getting heavier, before switching to my trusty 7’6 magic carpet after that. When it wasn’t comfortable for me to paddle on my belly any longer, I upsized to my 9’1 longboard, which meant that I could knee paddle and take off earlier on smaller waves. However, surfing a bigger board also meant carrying it down the beach and as I got larger I really relied on my husband not only to help me carry my longboard, but also to help me get my wetsuit off afterwards – seriously the hardest part I found of surfing pregnant!
7 – Adapt your wave-craft. As well as surfing different boards throughout my pregnancy, I also had fun with other wave-craft when I couldn’t take my surfboard out. Whether I used my surf-mat, stand up paddle board or body surfed, I always had a massive smile on my face after spending some time in the ocean.
8 – Eat well and keep hydrated. This may seem obvious, but when my energy levels were low it was really tempting to reach for tea and biscuits or junk food. Especially crisps when I had crazy carb cravings! Refined sugar is terrible for the immune system, so when the sickness subsided after the first few months, I found smoothies and soups were a great, quick way of getting enough energy and nutrition in my body. I would also prepare meals in advance if I knew I was going surfing or exercising and stocked up on healthy snacks as well as always carrying a water bottle.
9– Listen to your body and keep healthy – Another seemingly obvious one but I struggled at first to know how to listen to my body in the chaos of hormones and bodily changes. I was receiving such mixed signals. I still marvel at those first few months of pregnancy at how I could feel horrendously sick yet hungry at the same time. Having been in tune with my body for so long, it was difficult to gauge my new limits and how much I could do. However, I soon adapted and learned when I was genuinely tired or when I needed to get off the sofa and do something active. No matter how tired I was, I found some gentle stretching or even 5 minutes of fresh air made me feel a bit better and more energised.
10 – Know when to stop. Although I love surfing and wanted to carry on for as long as possible, I stopped when it felt right. For me, this coincided with some heavy winter swells and rough weather, as well as not being able to fit in my regular wetsuit any more. I was also feeling much bigger and cumbersome and was beginning to experience slackness in my joints, so I didn’t want to put my baby in danger or get injured.
While these were things that worked for me, your experience may be completely different. Everyone’s body, pregnancy and surfing skills are unique. I was fortunate that I had no complications attached to my pregnancy and I was able to maintain a good level of strength and fitness throughout. I would have reconsidered my decision to continue surfing had I been advised that my pregnancy was high-risk or if I wasn’t confident in my physical ability in the water. If you do decide to surf pregnant, please consult with your medical professionals and be aware of the potential dangers to keep you and your baby healthy.
I’m now only a couple of weeks from meeting my baby and I’m hoping that maintaining my activity levels during pregnancy will help us during birth and get me back into shape afterwards – I will be posting an update on this soon!