The lagoon-style pool at Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort.

The lagoon-style pool at Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort.

 

I stayed at my first all-inclusive resort this month in Riviera Maya, Mexico  for the Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) North America Conference. The 2,500 room (read: massive) Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort is one of seven in a family of all-inclusives across the Yucatan Peninsula.

In the end, it didn’t add up to my ideal vacation experience. My biggest problem was the lack of quality food and drink. I also wasn’t impressed by the massive (slightly worse for wear) resort setting and the beach that pales in comparison to nearby Cancun’s white sand and electric blue water. For the full story, read my review on The Points Guy.

While the resort wasn’t for me, they have a loyal fan base of repeat customers with a majority of glowing reviews on TripAdvisor. It also provides great value with generous resort credits in addition to the all-inclusive perks, which includes food, drink and gratuity.

The true merit of an all-inclusive seems to be a divisive topic based on some of the comments on my TPG post. Then again, this wouldn’t be the first time that I dislike something that most people like. A few others include:

  • Ice cream
  • Most Ben Stiller movies
  • Thanksgiving food
  • H & M

So I’m wondering, have you every stayed at or considered an all-inclusive resort? What did you think? Weigh in below.

Nothing like starting a new weekly column dependent on photography, then buying a new camera and computer and taking off on a whirlwind month of travel, often with limited WiFi. Needless to say, I’ve fallen behind on my Pic of the Week postings, but I still have some cool pictures and travel stories to share with you all, so without further adieu, here’s five weeks (five weeks!) of my favorite pictures.

Week of September 22 – Visit Florida Shoot at Robert Fontaine Gallery, Miami

Filming at the Robert Fontaine Gallery with Visit Florida

Filming at the Robert Fontaine Gallery with Visit Florida

 

I was thrilled when my friend, fellow writer and Visit Florida Entertainment & Luxury Insider Kara Franker invited me to join her for her latest video shoot. It was all about Miami’s unique and exciting Wynwood Arts District and we featured Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, Wynwood Walls and the Robert Fontaine Gallery (owned by my dear friend Robert Fontaine). It was awesome to see Kara in action and be a part of the shoot. Video coming soon!

Week of September 15 – Yankee Stadium, New York City

Yankees Jeter

At the Yankees game with Matt and Ted.

 

I was in New York last week for strategy meetings with my team at The Points Guy. It’s easy to turn a work trip into pleasure in New York, and it happened to be one of the last home games of the season at Yankee Stadium. It’s been a top priority to get to a game before Derek Jeter retired. I became a Yankees fan when I taught school in the Bronx. And I became a Derek Jeter fan when I ran into him at a Starbucks on the Upper East Side and he turned out to be the nicest guy ever (and so handsome in person!). Coincidentally, our paths crossed again in South Beach a couple of years later, and along with a few friends, we had drinks together at the W South Beach, so, you know, we’re friends.

I make a point of catching a game whenever I’m in New York during baseball season. And when the Yankees went to the World Series in 2009, I bought tickets to Game 6 and was there to see them win their 27th title. That’s a moment I’ll never forget.

Last week’s game was special too. I went with my best friend Ted and his boyfriend Matt (Ted was also my date to the World Series).¬†The stadium’s energy was surprisingly calm, but Jeter got a standing O at every at bat. It was sad to think that we won’t see him at short stop anymore. He played a solid game and went two for four. Baseball won’t be the same without him.

Week of September 8 – Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali National Park

View from the wing, Denali National Park

 

At the start of the month, my family met in Alaska for a seven-night cruise through the Inside Passage aboard the Celebrity Cruises Millennium. At the end of the trip, we stayed an extra night in Talkeetna near Denali National Park to see Mount McKinley up close. It’s the third most prominent mountain in the world at 20,073′. We opted for a “flight-seeing” tour aboard a cherry red single prop plane with skis on its landing gear, enabling it to actually land on glaciers.

Talk about a feast for the eyes. We took off and flew over fields with amazing meandering rivers. The fall colors were starting to show and enormous mountains were covered in lush green and also red and yellow. It looked like something Matisse could’ve painted. We flew over glaciers and ice fields and golden rocky peeks rising through the fog.

Unfortunately, that fog set in during our flight, making landing on the glacier too dangerous, so we didn’t get to actually walk on a glacier, but the views were truly out of this world. On the way back, our pilot spotted a couple of male moose wading through a river. Alaska’s beauty is overwhelming. It was hard to pick my favorite picture from the flight, but I love the texture of the snow on the peek in this one and the glimpse of the plane’s red wing.

Week of September 1 – Hubbard Glacier at Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier majest

 

We were treated to so many amazing glacier sightings on this trip. We took an airboat ride around the Taku tidal glacier near Juneau. We spotted hanging glaciers along mountain ranges as we cruised the Inside Passage and we saw amazing fields of ice in Denali National Park. The Hubbard Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park was unreal. This is where an Alaskan cruise comes in handy because you can really only view this glacier from the water. It rises 350′ above the water and there’s another 150′ below.

Our ship approached it at 6:30 a.m. as we sailed from Juneau to Seward. We made our way to one of the observation decks to marvel at it up close. There was a lot of glacier cleavage that morning and the sound of the ice cracking from the face of the glacier and falling into the water was amazing. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Even as we sailed away, I headed to the aft deck to watch it disappear on the horizon.

Week of August 25 – George Inlet, Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan Dungenesse Crab

Dig into the succulent dungeness crab

 

Our first port of call on the cruise was Ketchikan. We arrived on what we learned was a typical rainy morning, as Ketchikan is considered the “rainfall capital” of Alaska. It’s surrounded by the Tongass National Forest, which is actually a temperate rainforest. We headed to George Inlet, a wooden lodge on a dock to feast on fresh caught dungeness crab.

We sat in a private dining room with a fire as the rain fell steadily over the water. The setting was cozy perfection and the crab was so fresh, cold and delicious. We learned how to properly crack all of the joints and get to the most succulent parts of the meat. We washed it down with an Alaskan Amber beer and cheesecake covered in blueberries for dessert. Yum! To cap it all off, we took a seaplane ride to view the beauty of Tongass.

Post-surf sess toes in the sand in Long Beach

Post-surf sess toes in the sand in Long Beach

 

On a recent trip to New York City, I did something I’d never done before. I took the LIRR to Long Beach for a morning surf session. Ever since returning from my weeklong surf camp in Costa Rica, I’ve been dying to hit the waves, but they haven’t exactly cooperated in Miami.

A bunch of my surfer friends are from the tri-state area and they helped me realize that there are indeed waves in New York. I considered the Rockaways and Ocean Grove, New Jersey, but ultimately decided on Long Beach, Long Island thanks to some solid advice from my friend Brad Wells who grew up surfing there.

It was the only morning on the trip that I sprung from bed as soon as my alarm went off at 7 a.m. By eight, I was on the train to Long Island and by nine, I had my rental board from Long Beach Surf Shop under my arm as I walked to the beach. It was a pretty cool experience and I told the whole story this week on The Points Guy.

Read the article for tips on making the trip, as well as five other bastions of surf culture in the city ranging from custom board shapers in Brooklyn to high fashion apparel and a coffee shop in SoHo.

Next time I’m up there I’m dying to check out Rockaway Beach Surf Club and the whole “hipster beach” scene. Watch this video that the New Yorker made about it:

For more, read my story How to Take the LIRR from Penn Station for a Surf Session in Long Island on The Points Guy.

Loggerhead sea turtle

Top: Loggerhead sea turtle hatchling on the sand. Bottom: Look closely. The little turt is swimming out to sea.

 

This week, I had the opportunity to join the City of Miami Beach as they released a nest of little baby loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings at Haulover Beach. To say it was the cutest thing ever is about as accurate of a description as I can muster. The little fellas were about three inches long and wriggled around in the sand, their natural instincts leading them to the water where they swam away to start their lives at sea.

They’re an endangered species and Miami is one of their critical habitats. This year, approximately 182 nests were found in Miami Beach, over 100 on Key Biscayne, 35 in Golden Beach and 19 in Fisher Island. The vast majority of these nests were loggerhead sea turtles, but endangered green turtles and leatherbacks were also represented. A total of 14 million hatchlings are expected to be released statewide this year.

Nesting season is from May to October and it typically takes 50-60 days once the eggs have been laid in the sand for them to hatch. You can spot these nests on the beach partitioned off with yellow tape and warning signs not to disturb.

The largest threat to the species comes from their habitats washing away, light pollution from urban development, pollution and predators in the water.

It’s always a thrill to see a sea turtle while snorkeling, on a boat or even swimming at the beach, and it was really special to see these tiny hatchlings wriggle their way out to sea. In the picture above, you can see a close up of one of the hatchlings at top and below, if you look very carefully, you can see him in the water.

Farewell little turtle, I hope you have a long, happy life and maybe one day we’ll meet again swimming at the reef somewhere.

The rooftop of South Beach's new Vintro Hotel & Kitchen

The rooftop of South Beach’s new Vintro Hotel & Kitchen

 

In an effort to keep my Wanderlust Chameleon readers in the loop with my wanderings, I thought I’d introduce a new column, “Pic of the Week.” As a travel/lifestyle writer and editor, I’m constantly on the move, scoping out trends and news, and gathering material for upcoming stories for various publications.

With “Pic of the Week,” I thought I could distill the highlight of my week into a single pic and “pick” (get the double entendre, there?). Think of it as a travel recommendation snapshot. Some weeks will be more eventful than others, I’m sure, but I look forward to see what emerges.

To kick things off, I selected this rooftop pic of the newly opened¬†Vintro Hotel & Kitchen¬†in South Beach. I toured the property yesterday for a story on Miami.com. It’s an exciting 50-room boutique hotel on the edge of Collins Park (and a stone’s throw from my house, so I’m excited!). They’ve done an amazing job honoring South Beach’s Art Deco past by consulting with a historian to learn more about the property’s and the neighborhood’s history, which dates back to the 1930s. They’ve also got their finger on the pulse of what makes Miami so fresh and exciting right now, and that’s contemporary art. The hotel is basically a living, breathing gallery with modern works and commissioned murals on every square-inch of the property, and all the pieces are for sale.

They’ve taken advantage of their unique location on the Collins Canal with an intimate and beautifully realized back patio that I loved. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to coming back to check out the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, which just opened last night.¬†For travelers, the rooms are fun and modern, and surprisingly affordable (starting at $199 per night). If you want to know more and see more pix, check out the full story on Miami.com.

Spa treatments are kind of like designer jeans. There was a time when spending $100 seemed like an obscene amount of money, but today we’ve somehow been conditioned to think it’s acceptable to drop $180, $220, dare we say $260 and up for either of these luxuries. Of course, that’s where a good sale comes in handy, and for Miami spa-goers the biggest sale of the year is happening right now through the end of August. The Greater Miami Convention and Visitor’s Bureau presents Miami Spa Month with a $99 promotion on select treatments at participating spas.

If you’re like me, you pat yourself on the back when you score a great bargain, but sometimes you just want what you want and that means spending more money. Whatever shopping mood you happen to be in, summer’s a great time to spa in Miami. Here are a few of my favorite spots along with the treatments I recommend (saving or splurging on). All spas listed are participating in Miami Spa Month unless otherwise noted.

Exhale Spa at Epic Hotel or Loews Hotel Miami Beach

The pool deck at the Epic Hotel

The pool deck at the Epic Hotel. Photo Credit: Epic Hotel

 

Exhale has been my go to spa for over a decade and I was thrilled to recently become brand ambassador in Miami. What I’ve always loved about Exhale is that their therapists are truly a cut above the rest. I love a 90-minute deep tissue massage ($200) with Robert at the Epic and their Power Facial ($245) has saved my skin on more than one occasion. The great thing about Exhale is that they’re always offering special promotional rates and throwing free Core Fusion and yoga classes into the mix. Check out their Miami Spa offers here. I like to make a day of it at the Epic with a class, a spa treatment and¬†lunch by the gorgeous 16th floor pool overlooking Biscayne Bay.

Lapis Spa at Fontainebleau Miami Beach

Mineral pool at Lapis Spa. Photo Credit: Fontainebleau Miami Beach

Mineral pool at Lapis Spa. Photo Credit: Fontainebleau Miami Beach

 

I almost forgot just how exquisite the 40,000 square-foot Lapis Spa at Fontainebleau Miami Beach is until I visited recently for a completely customizable 80-minute Masters Massage ($129 during Miami Spa Month). They’re offering a fantastic upgraded Spa Month experience Monday through Thursday with longer, more luxurious treatments deeply discounted, but a few bucks more than the typical $99 promotion. Make a day of it and unwind in their lavish water ritual that includes a mineral pool, rain tunnel, deluge shower and heated marble hammam lounge chairs to nap on. You also have access to their gym, pool and beach, so yeah, you’re staying until sunset.

Acqualina Spa by ESPA

Steam room at Acqualina. Photo credit: Corey Weiner, Red Square, Inc.

Steam room at Acqualina. Photo Credit: Corey Weiner, Red Square, Inc.

 

When you have a chance to indulge at a Forbes Five-Star spa at a discounted price, you take it. Acqualina Spa by ESPA’s¬†50-minute Skin Radiance Facial is a truly luxurious experience and it’s on the menu during Miami Spa. It includes ESPA’s Skin Radiance Mask and Moisturizer, which is¬†rich in natural hydroxy acids from Hawaiian algae and meadowsweet (whatever that is, it must be good for your skin). I also like their 80-minute Fitness Massage ($250). Ask for Elica. She’s got the magic touch.

The Standard Spa Miami Beach

The pool at The Standard. Photo credit: The Standard.

The pool at The Standard. Photo Credit: The Standard

 

Spending the day with the cool kids at The Standard Spa Miami Beach comes with a price, and they’re not participating in Miami Spa Month this year. If you choose to indulge here, be sure to make a day of it at their picturesque pool floating on Biscayne Bay. I’ve enjoyed their 75-minute Hot + Cold Stone massage ($190) and their 75-minute Hurts So Good massage ($190). You can also sweat it out in their hammam and water lounge.

The Spa at Viceroy Miami

The Spa at The Viceroy

The Spa at The Viceroy

 

If skincare is your top priority, then head to The Spa at Viceroy Miami for their HydraFacial MD Therapy. This advanced, medical grade facial is conducted with a special machine similar to microdermabrasion–but not. The wand works in a sucking and cleansing fashion for lymphatic drainage and detoxification, while also exfoliating and extracting. The 80-minute Deluxe treatment ($350) also includes a multi-peptide dermabuilder and LED light therapy. It’s customizable and designed to work its magic on every skincare concern under the sun. Ask for Meru. She works wonders with the wand and gives great skincare advice. The 28,000 square-foot spa, designed by Philippe Starck, is a pretty sexy place to lounge in too, and there’s plenty of fitness options. For a more affordable spa experience, peruse their¬†Spa Month menu.

The Spa at The Setai by TH√ČMA√Č

Spa suite at The Setai. Photo Credit: The Setai

Spa suite at The Setai. Photo Credit: The Setai

 

The Spa at The Setai recently integrated a new line of TH√ČMA√Č Paris products into its Asian-inspired concept and treatments. The product line is created with the extracts of four different types of tea: red, black, white and green. For a classic, deep-cleansing facial, try the 60-minute Purity Ritual ($180), which utilizes a detoxifying mask enriched in the four tea elixir and lupin flower extract (again, whatever that is, but you know your skin will love it). The Spa offers a truly individualized experience perfect for couples, as each of their four suites includes two beds, a steam room, shower and views of the zen poolscape and ocean.

Enliven Spa & Salon at JW Marriott Marquis

Photo Credit: JW Marriott Marquis

Photo Credit: JW Marriott Marquis

 

For floor-to-ceiling views from the 20th floor of a gorgeous downtown high-rise, head to Enliven Spa at JW Marriott Marquis and go for the 50-minute deep tissue massage ($130) or better yet, upgrade to the 80-minute ($170), and ask for Rosie to melt your tensions and rub your knots away. A day at the spa grants you access to their pool and fitness center, so unwind and enjoy.

Jurlique Spa at Mayfair Hotel & Spa

Jurlique Spa. Photo Credit: Mayfair Hotel & Spa

Jurlique Spa. Photo Credit: Mayfair Hotel & Spa

 

For a taste of Old Florida while you spa, you’ve got to go to Miami’s oldest city, Coconut Grove, and the iconic Mayfair Hotel & Spa. Their Jurlique Spa utilizes the Australian brand’s organic products for a holistic spa experience. Try the 60-minute Mayfair Signature Tangerine Mimosa Massage ($150), which is completely customizable and includes an invigorating tangerine mimosa back scrub.

For a complete listing of participating Miami Spa Month spas and their treatment offerings, click here.

ShayneWaveMeD

Splashing in the surf near Panga Drops, Nicaragua

 

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim officially kicks off tonight at The Raleigh hotel and I, for one, get excited whenever this time of year comes around. Bikinis might very well be my favorite fashion staple of all time. ¬†They exude confidence, freedom and a celebration of the female form. Even more to the point, it’s what I’m doing while I’m in my bikini that I really love–surfing, snorkeling, sailing or swimming, this water baby is happiest slathered in SPF 50 splashing in the sea.

From sporty and functional to lux for lounging, I love (and own) all types of bikinis. Fashion Week Swim is a treat to spot the latest trends from top designers as they sashay down the runway on gorgeous models. I’ll be at The Raleigh all weekend with my eyes peeled and I’ll be sure to share the hottest looks with you via social media. Of course, the swimsuit is a timeless piece, so this weekend (whether you’re going to the shows or not)¬†grab one you love and hit the water.

Bikini: ViX, Sunglasses: Ray-Ban, Sunscreen: Coppertone SPF 50 & Kiehl’s Super Fluid UV Defense SPF 50

Photo by: Thank You Miami

ShayneWheelWEB

Opening up my heart in Nicaragua in full wheel pose

 

I first stumbled upon Exhale Spas ten years ago in New York City. It was summer break after my first year teaching middle school in the Bronx and the city was mine to explore. I was on my way to an art gallery on 57th Street¬†when I came across the “exhale mind body spa” marquee on Central Park South. Something about it was so inviting that I had to go inside. They were offering a Summer of Zen promotion that included a Fusion Massage and a pack of yoga and Core Fusion classes at a price that seemed affordable on my teacher’s salary.

I was hooked. The massage was heavenly. The spa was peaceful and luxurious with full locker room, fluffy robes, herbal tea and a grounded color palette of greens and natural wood. The yoga studio was beautiful with hardwood floors, high ceilings and Buddha statuettes, while the Core Fusion studio was a high-performance arena for fitness in clean, custom environs.

I lived on the Upper East Side, so the Madison Avenue spa became my go-to location. Exhale is where I learned to love yoga, a practice that has served me well through the years. Its spa is one of the first luxurious indulgences I treated myself to as a young woman (it’s been a slippery slope since) and I’ve remained a loyal client.

exhaleWEB

The Deco facade of Exhale at Loews Miami Beach Hotel

 

When I was asked to be Brand Ambassador to Exhale Spas here in Miami, I was thrilled. The role is a natural fit as I’ve been recommending Exhale to friends, family and strangers all these years. Anyone who knows me knows I love Exhale. In fact, before I made the move to Miami, I made a point to visit Exhale at the Epic Hotel in Brickell for a yoga class and Power Facial on one of my apartment-hunting trips. With a second location newly open at Loews Miami Beach Hotel, it’s easier than ever for Miami girls (and boys) to get a taste of Exhale.

What exactly is it that keeps me coming back through the years?

  • I love that it’s a results-oriented spa with a mind-body philosophy. This is apparent from their customizable spa therapies to the precision of the movements in Core Fusion.
  • The environs and amenities are luxurious with a down-to-earth, organic and unpretentious vibe. Whether it’s a massage or a yoga class, I always feel like I’m being pampered when I’m at Exhale.
  • And finally, quality, quality, quality. I always know I’m in good hands. My complexion has been saved thanks to my aesthetician and the Power Facial, and I use the products that she recommends. During a deep tissue massage, my therapist worked out an old hamstring injury, and I swear, he healed me.
YogaWEB

Striving for balance in tree pose

 

When it comes to whipping yourself into shape, the combination of yoga and Core Fusion with the guidance of their well-trained teachers is perfection. I’ve been a yoga and Pilates devotee for years and there’s nothing quite like the endorphin rush after a great class to sooth my mind and my body.

I’m excited for my new journey as Brand Ambassador for Exhale Spas in Miami. To kick things off, I’d like to share some of their goodness with you, my readers. I’m giving away a 10-pack of yoga + Core Fusion classes in Miami ($230 value) to one lucky reader. All you have to do is tell me in the comments section below¬†why you think that person should be you. Post your comment by 11:59 p.m. Friday July 18 and I’ll announce the winner the next day. Namaste!

Yoga Pose Images by: ThankYouMiami

There’s nothing quite like travel to get you outside of your comfort zone, turn your typical routine inside out and¬†shake you from complacency. That feeling of being out of your element, without grounding, can be uncomfortable at first, but it often opens the door to unexpected discoveries and even bliss. I was in an adorable yoga studio in Tamarindo, Costa Rica last week called Mermaids and Sailors owned by a woman from New York who married a Tica man (see, travel can even lead to lasting love) when I came across this quote:

DreamWEB

Now, I’m not usually one for inspirational quotes (they can come across too heavy-handed or needy), but occasionally these little messages strike the right chord with me. And I’m especially susceptible to them when I’m on my mat in a foreign land by myself feeling rather blissful. This one got to me because typically I identify with being a big dreamer. I’ve made many of my travel dreams a reality, I think my career is pretty dreamy and I have a habit of formulating a plan and going after my dreams. I love this quote because it gently coaxes you to “dream a little bigger.”

It made me think of what lies along the perimeter of my dreams. I visualized a luminescent bubble (yoga will do this to you) with a soft grey abyss the color of twilight surrounding it, representing the unknown or simply the unimagined territory beyond my wildest dreams, perhaps that’s where they get wild. It’s the area that’s a little too scary or uncomfortable to delve into, and so we often avoid examining it, content to let it linger just outside the safe bubble of dreams we’re pretty sure we can accomplish. It’s easy to find that twilight zone intimidating, but there’s also an intriguing beauty to it.

I thought about the unexamined edges of my dreams during my practice (a far more vigorous class than I expected, yoga sculpt, which combines vinyasa with Pilates and weight training), and my thoughts went first to my physical body. I was in Tamarindo to learn to surf. I was pushing the limits of my body every day in the waves, surprising myself with what I was able to do (stand up, ride a wave), and facing the fear of crashing waves and an entity that was far vaster than little ol’ me (the ocean). Every paddle in and pop up was facing fear head on, and the pay off was enormous. Surfing brings such an all encompassing physical rush. You learn that the more you let go of fear and the less you hesitate, the more successful you are in the water. A playfulness, joy and confidence takes over that’s absolutely intoxicating. Talk about a life lesson.

The same applies to my yoga practice. Throughout the week, I was constantly amazed at the strong link between surfing and yoga. I’ve been practicing for over a decade, and every class pushes you to be a little more aware and test your boundaries. However, it’s still easy to hide inside your own shortcuts, laziness and fear. It looks and feels like you’re practicing to the best of your abilities, but you’re still holding back. For me, this comes with not really trying to learn new inversions, like handstands and forearm balance, and being afraid to do headstand in the middle of the room. It’s purely fear. When I’m at the beach with friends playing around with headstands, that fear disappears. When you get more playful and realize that falling down really isn’t that bad, it frees up your mental space to try and succeed.

Practicing headstands on South Beach with Betsy (left)

Practicing headstands on South Beach with Betsy (left)

 

These revelations led me to think about other areas where my desires and ambitions were hiding in the shadows. I was traveling through a Spanish-speaking country and I’ve traveled through many Spanish-speaking countries in the last year and a half, not to mention, I live in Miami. My Spanish is okay, it’s not bad, it’s not great. I enjoy practicing it and I’d like to get better. Yet oftentimes, I go silent for fear of sounding stupid and not being able to keep up. Before my week in Tamarindo, I was in Nicaragua for a week, and the day I crossed the border, Spanish was the only option. I may not have sounded brilliant, but I got by. I spoke, I listened and I carried on conversations all in Spanish. It was scary and it was also exciting. I’m confident that with a little effort (lessons and practice), I can become a better Spanish speaker and I think it would bring me lots of joy.

And my thoughts continued to linger to even greater dreams, like the kind of writing I want to do, the travel experiences I want to have, the love I’d like to find¬†and the friendships I’d like to foster. Basically, the kind of beautiful life I want to live. It’s amazing how these dreams can manifest your destiny. Traveling to an unknown place (especially by yourself) has an amazing way of shaking the cobwebs from your eyes to see yourself and the people around you more clearly. It’s an opportunity to get out of your head and let go of all the little insecurities that weigh you down, keeping you from meeting your full potential. Meeting people on the road and hearing their stories is an incredible way to make the world feel like a small and inviting place. There’s nothing like it to breed compassion and open you up to vulnerability. And really, aren’t those the two places where the magic happens?

I plan to continue to study the edge of my dreams and push their boundaries. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be able to do a headstand on a surfboard. And speak Spanish. So why not dream a little bigger, my dear? There’s really nothing to be afraid of.

ShayneSurfZOOM

Stoked! Surviving the drop on day one. Photo: Witch’s Rock Surf Camp

 

My trip to Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo, Costa Rica was literally seven years in the making. I had my first surf lesson way back in 2007 (boy does time fly!) in Mission Beach, San Diego with my best friend Krista during our two week road trip up the coast. We both caught on pretty quickly and managed to stand up and ride a few waves. Yes, we were hooked. As we made our way up the winding coast in a red Mustang convertible, we’d peer down at the Pacific and pretend we were much more experienced surfers than we actually were, scoping out waves, and saying “those look totally rideable.” We had another lesson in Santa Cruz before making our way to our final destination of San Francisco.

Front View

Witch’s Rock Surf Camp facade. My room was right above the sign.

 

Shortly after that trip, I came across Witch’s Rock Surf Camp. I can’t remember if I read about it in an article or if I Googled it, but it stayed in my mind. Years went by, and I kept saying, I want to go to surf camp in Costa Rica. I figured if I could stand up and catch a wave after one lesson, how much better can I get if I had a full week of instruction?

Through the years, I managed to surf a few storm swells in Key West and I took a lesson in Boca Raton. Last year, I finally made my way to Costa Rica’s central Pacific Coast in Esterillos. I fell hard for the country’s natural beauty, the sunsets and the Pura Vida spirit. I also managed to take another surf lesson. That was it. I resolved then and there to return to Costa Rica for the surf camp I’d been dreaming about all these years. The time was now.

The view of the surf from my balcony

The view of the surf from my balcony

 

As fate would have it, shortly after I booked my Witch’s Rock trip, a group of friends invited me to join their surf trip in¬†Nicaragua¬†the week before, about an hour north of the Costa Rica border. I’ve spent the last two weeks splashing in the surf in Central America. Near Nicaragua’s Colorados and Panga Drops, I discovered ¬†a new break, the Peque√Īa Drops, more suited to my ability level, and took a lesson at Amarillo. I bid adieu to my Nicaragua crew and made my way across the border to Tamarindo on my own for a full week of instruction at the beginner level (intermediate and advanced tours are also offered). Here’s my account of the incredible week that was at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp.

Day 1

Instructor: J. Luis, 23
Time: 11:00 a.m.
Board: 9’2″ NSP epoxy
Wave Height: 3′
Partner: Brian, 50, Episcopal Priest from Mississippi
Swimsuit: (because that’s a really important detail to note) Roxy black & white striped boy short bottoms with sports bra-style top & Roxy rashguard

Today our lesson started on the sand practicing popping up. My instructor J. Luis is a tiny little thing and moves like a snake, fluidly, slowly and with great precision. We started by stretching and then we showed him our pop ups. He helped explain to go slow and take your time getting into position. You get your body into a full upward facing dog and then drag your front foot to the middle of the board and plant your back foot parallel. He showed us the proper height to stand–to come up a little higher at first (still with knees bent) before bending into position with your arms out in front and your chest up over your legs. This was good to note because I was starting to get into the habit of staying bent down way too low during my last lesson in Nicaragua at Amarillo. He also explained that to speed up, you shift your weight forward and to slow down, backward.

In the water, it took a couple of waves to get the hang of it. We made our way out past the breakers and he told us when to start paddling, usually telling us to shift a little to our left as we paddled. Then, he told us when to stand up. The first time I got it was an amazing sensation and I literally howled as I rode the wave. J. Luis gave great corrections, reminding me not to put my back knee down in the process of popping up. “You don’t need to,” he told me, and that seemed to be exactly what I needed to hear to get it. I managed to do that on the last couple of waves that I caught, and I could definitely feel the difference in the speed, the lightness and the efficiency of just getting on your feet. We paddled into the waves, and J. Luis helped us on the timing and pushing us in a little bit to catch them.

Shayne Zone

Photo: Witch’s Rock Surf Camp

 

The epoxy board is far lighter than any of the other boards I’ve tried before (all soft tops) and it’s definitely easier to maneuver in the water and paddle on. I practiced my turtle roll plenty of times (rolling onto my back and putting the board over my body as the waves crash over me) and it works better than I thought it would. The waves look big, but when they crash they feel manageable and not too intimidating. I look forward to continuing to perfect my pop up, spotting my waves, learning to maneuver and just get more comfortable out there.

Brian and I stayed in the water for almost another hour after our lesson on our own. It took a little trial and error to figure out which wave to go for and to time it out, but I eventually felt pretty comfortable out there. I caught one really solid one (and howled again) and a few others. It felt awesome to catch a wave on my own from start to finish. I’m definitely understanding the expression of being totally stoked! There’s nothing like catching a great wave that makes you want to paddle right back out to get another. Eventually, I got tired and the wave got kind of crowded, so I came in.

I felt a little sore in my right hip in the water (probably from my leash pulling on my leg). I should probably do a little yoga every day to keep my muscles loose and limber. Otherwise, feel pretty strong.

Day 2

Instructor: J. Luis
Time: 10:00 a.m.
Board:¬†9’2″ NSP epoxy
Wave Height:¬†3′
Partner: Brian
Swimsuit: Seafoam green Roxy with halter top and braid detail, Roxy rash guard (again, super important info)

Went out this morning and felt good. My pop up feels more natural, fluid and second nature. It’s amazing the difference a little practice, trusting your instincts and just kind of flowing makes. I have to remember to move my back foot forward a little on the board, but going straight to my feet feels right. The sets were rolling in a little slower today, so it required more patience and waiting for the right one. Sometimes, we’d paddle forward to catch the shore break and then have to hurry and paddle back out as the set was rolling in. Definitely practiced more turtle rolling with the long board (works wonders) and also got a few smacks to the face by the crest of the wave, trying to go over them just before they break. I feel comfortable in these waves.

My last few rides felt good, and towards the end I felt comfortable standing up a little straighter and playing with pumping and steering the board. J. Luis was still helping with timing and pushing me into the wave a little, but I think I caught a few on my own.

I went back out after my lesson and tried to catch a few. It went okay. I’d catch them and then lose my balance and fall off pretty quickly. On the last one I caught, it felt good. I let out my first holler of the day, and then must have psyched myself out or something because I fell off the wave and the rail of the board smacked me right in the shin. Ouch! It swelled up with a nice purple welt and didn’t quite break the skin. I’m icing it now to keep from swelling and hope it doesn’t end up hurting too bad.

Icing my first surf injury

Icing my first surf injury

Day 3

Instructor: J. Luis
Time:  2:15 p.m.
Board:¬†9’2″ NSP epoxy
Wave Height:¬†1′ – 2′ (“Maybe half,” said J. Luis.)
Partner: Brian
Swimsuit: Seafoam green with braid detail top, black string bikini bottom, rash guard (all Roxy)

Today we focused on spotting our own waves, paddling into them and timing them out independently without the help of J. Luis pushing us in. He still gave us verbal cues, but reminded us to look at the wave as we were paddling and to use our own instincts. We also worked on the beginning of turning.

J. Luis is a great instructor. His demos on land are so fluid and precise and his corrections in the water make perfect sense and are extremely helpful. Last night, we had a video analysis of our session from yesterday. My main takeaway was not to stay crouched down so low, but to raise my torso and still keep my knees bent. J. Luis also reinforced taking it easy out there, trust your instincts, take your time, don’t be too intense, scared or “in the zone.” Watching the video was an eye opener because the waves really aren’t that big. I watched myself hesitate on one wave and not pop up when there was no reason not to. It’s just fear and doubt that takes over. The waves out here are manageable, so I went in today thinking, just go with it, be free, have fun.

ShayneStokeZOOM

Photo: Witch’s Rock Surf Camp

 

In the water, the waves were smaller and there was a lot of time between sets. It took a couple of tries before I caught a nice ride. There’s a frantic energy that comes with learning to surf. A lot has to happen in the right order, and I’m working on breaking it down into a more zen, fluid motion. (There really is so much correlation between yoga and surfing, it’s kind of amazing.) First, arch your trunk up into an upward facing dog (if you curl the other way, your nose is going to dive into the wave or you’re going to lose your balance). Next, get your feet into position, knees bent, trunk up and get ready for the drop.

Today, we added playing around with turning. I love J. Luis’ explanation, it’s a full body movement that starts with your eyes. You look at where you want to turn, your head follows and then lean your trunk in that direction. You either go for the front side turn or the back side, and the goal is to stay midway up on the wave so you can ride it for a longer distance. Once you turn, you put more weight into your forward foot. A lot of this is just theoretical for me at this point, but I look forward to practicing it more.

Day 4

Instructor: J. Luis
Time:  12:00 p.m.
Board:¬†9’2″ NSP epoxy
Wave Height:¬†4′
Partner: Brian
Swimsuit: Black Roxy string bikini, Roxy crop top rashguard

Such a fun session today! We’re learning to turn and I feel like I was ripping a little out there! The waves were a nice size and smooth and consistent. J. Luis is teaching us to spot our waves and time out our paddling. I’m starting to understand how important paddling is. It’s all about momentum and timing. It’s super helpful to have J. Luis out there telling us when to start paddling and when to “get speed” before popping up. I was out there on my own before our lesson and it was tricky, but I managed to catch a couple.

It’s also really cool to study the waves and see what they’re doing. Are they gonna break left or right? Where do you need to be to catch it just right, how hard and long do you need to paddle? How are you going to get out past the impact zone? I’m getting confident and comfortable with these waves.¬†It’s a beautiful thing interacting with the ocean like that.

In the lineup with J. Luis (left)

In the lineup with J. Luis (left). Photo: Witch’s Rock Surf Camp

 

My body is definitely tired. I know what they mean when they say your arms feel like noodles. My hips are also sore, mostly from laying on the board and my bones digging in, but also straddling a big board.

Most of the times when I messed up today, J. Luis explained it was because I was paddling wrong, like too ¬†frantically and sloppy, as opposed to nice fluid strokes. He gave me a great pointer and nuance in my pop up. Right before I pop up, arch my head and torso up, like in cobra, and then go for the pop up. It seems to add momentum and gets me organized on the board just right. Turning also helps to get me up from my crouched position on the board, and I managed to catch a really good left, and a pretty good right. Brian said that I was really riding the face of the wave and I looked like I knew what I was doing out there. Yay! I’m definitely feeling more at ease on the board, and I’m playing around with shifting my weight from my back to my front foot for speed and turning and to pump the board to keep riding the face. It’s so cool and so much fun! I’m loving it. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

Day 5

Instructor: J. Luis
Time:  1:00 p.m.
Board:¬†8’6″ NSP epoxy
Wave Height:¬†3′
Partner: Brian
Swimsuit: Striped sports bra-style top, black string bottoms, crop top rash guard (all Roxy)

I went down to a smaller board today and it was a pretty good transition. You can definitely feel the difference. It has a lot more give and you can maneuver and adjust your weight on it better. It’s also easier to carry to the beach and sit on out on the waves. It took a minute to catch the wave properly. It takes even more power from your paddling, but I got the hang of it. Still working on turning. Once I got comfortable and confident with my paddling and catching the waves, I was able to take my time and get some nice lefts. The waves were smaller today, but it was nice. I felt comfortable and peaceful out there. There’s a lot of patience that comes with surfing. It’s nice when you get into a sort of zen moment out there watching the waves coming in, thinking about timing and where you should be and what the sets are doing.

Shayne Turn

Photo: Witch’s Rock Surf Camp

 

I stayed out after my lesson and caught a bunch of waves all on my own right off the bat. It felt really good. My transition from sitting on the board to getting on my tummy and paddling feels pretty seamless, and when I can catch the wave, my pop up feels like second nature. I had a nice drop on one of my waves during the lesson, and I had some nice rides today. It’s really just so much fun. I felt one with the water today.

Day 6

Instructor: J. Luis, Andres & Axel
Time:  2:30 p.m.
Board:¬†8’6″ NSP epoxy
Wave Height:¬†3′
Partner: Surf Camp Trip to Playa Grande
Swimsuit: Orange Vix triangle top with gold chain accent, black Roxy string bottoms, Roxy crop top rashguard

J. Luis packing up the boards for our trip to Playa Grande

J. Luis packing up the boards for our trip to Playa Grande

 

We went out to Playa Grande for our last day to see how our skills translated to different, more advanced waves. Conditions weren’t ideal as the waves were choppy and inconsistent. They also packed a little more power and height than the waves we’d been surfing at Tamarindo all week. It was a little scary at times and definitely required more hustle and awareness of the surf. It was more challenging to get out past the impact zone.

Andres ripping at Playa Grande

Andres ripping at Playa Grande. Photo: Witch’s Rock Surf Camp

 

I managed to catch a solid wave on my own before our instructors came out to help. When it’s right, it’s so right, and when it’s wrong, it’s just not going to happen. Andres helped me out on a few waves. It was fun and exciting, but I definitely didn’t feel as agile and in control out there. There were more wipeouts and a little more frantic energy. I was also feeling tired. Still, there were some moments where I felt like an animal charging out there into the surf, feeling strong. At the end of the session, I caught a decent wave. It wasn’t a very long ride, but I was tired and the whitewash coming in did not look inviting. I came in and laid on the sand like a starfish. It felt good to embrace the sand, listen to the waves and feel my heart beat. Surfing gives you such a rush. It was quite a finish to an amazing week.

J. Luis & me after our last session

J. Luis & me after our last session

 

I couldn’t help but think, what if I had one more week to keep practicing? I bet I could rip! At the same time, my body was exhausted, especially my shoulders. I can’t say enough good things about my week in Tamarindo at Witch’s Rock, and there will be more to come on the blog. It’s a cool little town with a lot of character.

For anyone who’s ever wanted to surf, I can’t encourage you enough to go for it. Witch’s Rock provides the perfect platform for all types of travelers (solo, like me, friends, families, couples) and all surf abilities (novices, beginners, intermediate and advanced) at a very reasonable price (roughly $1,000 for a full week depending on your choice of accommodations and the time of year). There are two restaurants on site (breakfast is included), a microbrewery, live music at sunset, a surf shop and surf legend¬†Robert August of the classic movie¬†Endless Summer is a constant presence as he shapes boards onsite. In addition to our daily lessons, we had daily seminars on safety, surf etiquette, surf science, board selection, the history of surfing and more.¬†If you decide to sign up for seven days or more at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, mention my name for a $50 discount.

I definitely see more surf trips in my future. I’d return to Witch’s Rock in a heart beat, and I look forward to discovering more of Costa Rica and the world atop a surf board. I also plan to hit the waves in Miami and South Florida as much as I can. I finished my trip on an 8’6″ board and J. Luis advised me to keep renting boards and playing around with the size until I get comfortable on an 8’0″ or 7’10″ before I buy my own to stick with for awhile.

On the water, I’ve learned how to sail, I’ve learned how to be a deckhand on catamarans and parasail boats. I think my journey as a surfer will be the most rewarding.