I am in Bali. If I weren’t so out of body, I might not believe it. Certainly the jet lag is not adding to any recognizable dimension of reality. After having checked into an utterly charming hotel on the recommendation of my friends at i-escape.com, I am finally ready for the moment when I join my fellow surf goddesses to partake in an 8-day retreat of surfing, yoga and relaxation at Surf Goddess Retreats. I am very focused on the surfing part of the equation. That is why I came, in a nutshell. The rest of it is the syrup to the sundae. I am on the one hand exhilarated by the idea, but also terrified at the fear that my body will not be so keen to partake on this adventure.
And while we’re on the subject of my body, let’s hit another source of gut-wrenching fear (no pun). Hey, I am 47 years old. My body reflects that. I like to think I am in reasonable shape, but my abs are not anywhere near 6-pack status, like many of the women in the surf goddess photos. I had mentioned my body issues (ladies – WHY do we put ourselves through this ridiculousness?) to Chelsea Rostill-Huntley, the Surf Goddess herself, in one of my email diatribes, lamenting (yet ever hopeful of) the fact that I intended to drop a quick 20 lbs by the following Friday. Standard parlance in my life. She attempted to allay my fears by saying something about how surf goddesses come in all shapes and sizes, and that she herself, was a real-sized woman. The good news was this made me feel better about my physical self. The bad news is that it created a new anxiety that Surf Goddess was going to be some automotron fembot Amazonic cult, a combination of surfing, Sapphos and the Stepford wives, where everyone walks around saying things like, “We are surf goddesses and we are beautiful inside and out.” I wondered what flavor the Surf Goddess kool-aid would be.
Of course, like most myths, this idea was dispelled quickly – actually, the moment I met the other goddesses – a virtual poo-poo platter of women in their 20s, 30s and 40s. And this is really where the journey begins. These women are very much the experience. Because really, a group travel experience, by definition, is about the dynamics of the group. I have traveled in these kinds of situations before and it has been my experience that my journey is enhanced so profoundly by the people with whom I am sharing the adventure. Surf Goddess is no different. When I asked Chelsea about this, wondering, of course, if there were any really bad groups, or how she selects the girls in a group, I was interested to hear that in the 8 years she’s operated Surf Goddess, she’s had maybe one tricky group. And I completely get that. In meeting these women – going around the room and hearing the reason they are here – I am reminded that regardless of age, culture, or part of the world we all may come from, ultimately the reasons we are here are so similar, so familiar. And this is our connection. This is our pack. Or pact, I suppose.
For example, there is the beautiful A., who is here to really push the boundaries of her surfing while using this retreat as a well-needed opportunity to charge her batteries, find her center before she heads off to begin a totally new chapter of her life. While the surfing may be the obvious reason she is here, I suspect the big-picture benefit for A will be the strength, friendship and emotional support that the 11 women here will instinctively and unhesitatingly provide, ultimately making this life change of hers less scary and wholly empowering – just that kick she needs to kick ass in the next stage of her life. Which she will.
Then there is R – another touchstone for the experience here. This is a woman who is powerful and confident, who runs her own successful business. Who is curious and decisive. A New Yorker who brings to the table all the qualities you would expect from a woman coping on a daily basis with what many might see as the chaos that is naturally associated with being a successful, single woman living in the big city. She’s bright, full of energy, and also deeply sensitive. And oh yeah – she can surf. Yet what is so intriguing about R is that instinctively she seems to recognize when her coping mechanism gets a little low, books herself a surf holiday and checks out of the rat race. This dynamic is like a healing tonic – an estrogen-induced lifeline. A breather to gather ourselves, refocus and go out stronger. Powerful stuff.
These are just two of the goddess stories. What I find particularly interesting, is that both A and R (and I suspect, all the goddesses) haven’t just booked a random holiday, they have chosen to spend that time – that much-needed opportunity to regain their balance – with women. I cannot say for sure if this is the case – if surrounding themselves with like-minded women for a week was a major factor in the decision to be here, but I would argue that these 12 women – myself included – knew intuitively that being with other women with similar mindsets, would provide emotional and spiritual support in ways that we needed – maybe even didn’t know we needed – and would not be achieved in a different dynamic.
Clearly, Chelsea Rostill-Huntley is well acquainted with the healing nature of the Goddess. And it shows. This 8-day retreat, comprised of 12 women, is sold out. Actually, Surf Goddess is sold out through May. December sessions are already sold out, as well. Bottom line – Surf Goddess is blossoming just like the lotus flower of its logo. And Rostill-Huntley is chuffed. Surf Goddess, which started in 2003, is wholly her vision. And her oh-so-capable hand and sense of style can be seen in everything – from the villa design and chic furnishings to the timing of the surf lessons to sync with the tide and weather to the careful planning of the menu, highlighting local and organic produce. The professionalism and attention to detail is superb.
No shock, Rostill-Huntley’s mind is in expansionist mode. She has recruited more talent to go with the roster of specialty staff she already employs. Sister Jade Blevens has recently been imported from the US to provide back-up and much-appreciated client support, as well as another pair of hands to sift through and respond to the ever-increasing number of email requests they now receive on a daily basis. And underneath Rostill-Huntley’s cool island exterior, the wheels of commerce are turning turning turning. Think brand extensions. Think international franchising. Why not? The Surf Goddess brand is poised to be a power player in the specialty leisure travel space. I can assure you, there is a market for this experience. I know this first hand. I am that girl that wants to surf and enjoy the physical and mental rigors of that act, and then dive into the plunge pool in my private villa to savor the experience (before heading out to a much-needed massage). Beware of copy-cat Surf Goddess retreats, though. Speaking as a goddess who is not into cheap imitations, I can safely state that Rostill-Huntley has a very special knack of tapping into this zeitgeist and leveraging it to greatest benefit – for her business and most especially, for her clientele. She gets it. She is a goddess, after all.