Holly tell us a little about yourself: 

I began surfing at age 14 after being told by my mother that surfing was only for boys. It was definitely a rebellious thing for me, but I fell so in love with the ocean immediately that it completely took over my life. I got sponsored by Rusty Surfboards at the age of 17 and after I graduated from UCSD with a degree in psychology, winning an amateur national title that same year, I officially turned pro at the age of 21. I spent the next decade surfing as a professional surfer in both competitions and traveling for photo and video shoots, gracing the covers of surf and mainstream fitness magazines. Eventually I grew tired of the constant travel and wanted to settle down a bit more. I had fallen in love with Central America along the way, buying property in Nicaragua in 2007. In 2010 I “retired” from pro surfing and moved to Nicaragua full time. My favourite thing about traveling as a pro was having adventures with other women, so I founded a women’s surf and yoga retreat called Surf With Amigas to be able to continue to travel, have awesome adventures, and support my lifestyle while being able to inspire other women to do the same. I am now 36 years old, married with two kids (a girl Luna age 2 and a boy Soleo 4 months old), living full time in Central America split between North Nicaragua and Southern Costa Rica.

Holly, did you find it hard getting back into the water after giving birth?

Yes, definitely! After my first baby my body bounced back really quickly. She was a bit fussy and loved to fall asleep while I was doing squats, so I did about 1000 (or so it felt like) squats per day. Im sure that helped! I remember the first time I tried to do a pushup, a few weeks after having her, and I could barely do 1! I made it a goal to be able to do 10 before I got back into surfing. I paddled out for the first time when she was 5 weeks old. I only surfed for about 20 min that first session and it felt like I was surfing a heat because I was frantic to catch waves in a short amount of time and kept looking back at the beach! My husband was laughing because all my core strength was gone and I just kept going over the falls because I couldn’t pull my feet up under me quick enough. The strength came back relatively quickly though and in another month or two I felt like myself again.

With baby #2, I gained more weight and had a much bigger belly. My first was born at just over 7 pounds and my son was over 9lbs, so I was a lot bigger. I also ended up with something called Diastasis Rectis which is a super common but very unknown (i’d never heard of it before being diagnosed) condition more commonly called “ab separation” where your abs separate in order to accommodate the baby. If not dealt with it can lead to a hernia needing surgery. Luckily my midwife pointed it out and I was able to heal it myself using breathing techniques and specific pilates-style moves to strengthen the inner layer of muscles (transverse abdominals) which help to bring the abs back together again. Until that is healed you can’t use your abs in order to prevent making it worse. So that definitely slowed my return to surfing. I didn’t paddle out for the first time until 2.5 months after my son was born, and I took it a lot slower.

As a surf instructor I’m often teaching technique and then just telling ladies to “pop up!”. What I realized is that it isn’t just technique but core strength as well. I had the technique but I still couldn’t do a proper pop up because I had no core strength. It was a great lesson for me to realize that surfing really does start with your strength. Now that it’s been 4 months, my strength is coming back and my surfing too!

Have you got big plans for teaching your children how to surf?

My daughter caught her first wave at 10 months old. She rode standing up in between my legs as I sat on a big fat longboard and a friend pushed us into tiny whitewash waves. She didn’t cry, she just looked around taking it all in, but she wasn’t overly stoked. After that I decided to wait until she wanted to go. She would spend a few months not showing any interest, and then whenever she would ask to go I would take her. She got her first solo wave at Pavones just after turning 2. My husband pushed her in and then I caught her. Now she’s 2 and a quarter, and she wants to ride with me every time we’re at the beach. She feels safest in the piggy back position and we mostly ride white wash, but the other day the waves were pretty small and I actually paddled outside with her and into her very first legitimate wave. She was nervous but stoked and wanted to catch another but I didn’t want to push it. My son is only 4 months so he has a while to wait! 

We’ve seen videos of you surfing during your pregnancy, how did you find this and were you a little hesitant when padding for the waves?

With Luna I surfed up until I was 32 weeks pregnant, video below! With Soleo I only lasted until 30 weeks because my belly was just that much bigger. I rode a shortboard the whole time, but upgraded to my husbands slightly bigger fishy shortboards (a 5’8 Rusty Dwart). One might think that a longboard would be easier, but I actually found a shortboard to work best since the board sinks and takes some pressure off the belly. I would stick my butt up in the air and put the pressure on my ribs and knees to make space for my belly. My popups were slower and I had to be really careful about positioning – too deep and I woudlnt be able to pop up fast enough, too far on the shoulder and I couldn’t catch the wave. I paddled slow and didn’t catch as many waves but I was stoked to be out there and once I was on my feet I felt close enough to normal. 

What advice would you give to new or expecting mothers, who may feel concerned about getting back in the surf after becoming a mother?

Plenty of people made negative judgmental comments when they saw me walking out with the big belly and my surfboard but I knew my body and my surfing. I didnt surf big waves, I avoided crowds, and I didn’t go for turns that I didn’t think I would land. I tried to avoid falling and was conscious to fall on my back rather than my belly if i was going to fall. When I got to the point that I felt that I just couldn’t do it anymore, I stopped.My advice would be to listen to your body and not push it. If you feel like it’s time to stop, then it is. As far as getting back into the water goes, make sure your core is strong enough before you go out there. You’ll have more fun if you get yourself back into a little bit better shape before trying to surf for the first time. Also, check yourself for diastasis. Google how to do it! 

For Holly’s blog about experience as a surfing mum click here.
For more on Holly’s retreat click here.