Yoga Surf Skate with GirlSWRL NYC
Interview with Nico Klimek and Kristen Miller by Kristen Scalise
The newly launched GrlSwirl NYC Chapter leaders, Nico Klimek and Kristen Miller sat down with us to talk about their collaborations on Yoga Surf Skate retreats for women. These picturesque retreats exist for more than just creating FOMO on Instagram, but truly create opportunities for women to lift each other up, overcome fears and generally have a really rad time. Below we reflect on the Yoga Surf Skate Getaways in September 2018 and May 2019. Follow along via GirlSwirlNYC for more!
How did you come up with the idea for the retreat?
Nico: Right after I graduated from my yoga teacher training I knew that I wanted to do something a bit larger than just teaching at a studio. I wanted to be able to connect yoga to other sports that I love. Surf and skate can be really intimidating for women if they didn’t grow up in that world or have friends that support them on their board sport journey.
What was the goal?
N: The Yoga Surf Skate Getaway began as a way to bring women into the world of board sports in a supportive environment. I wanted to flip the mental switch that holds so many women back from learning to surf or skate.
Kristen: My goals going in to teaching any girl to skate is to teach them my mantra: “Take up space.” We really focused on energizing each girl to feel support from their local community, fellow grls, and assured them that they were just as deserving as anyone else being in a public space as the next person - regardless of their skill level. Everyone has to learn somewhere/somehow. Most of all: HAVE FUN!
When was the first one?
N: The first getaway was in the fall of 2018 and the second one just finished up this past May.
K: I got to attend Nico’s retreat last September as a guest - before I started instructing - and it was so fun we knew we had to do another. In-between the YSS retreats, I was asked by my friend Emily Shapiro - who has been living in Costa Rica teaching yoga for 10 years - if I’d be interested in teaching girls how to skate at one of her Costa Rica Yoga & Surf retreats in January of this year and I of course said yes. Then getting to be a larger part of YSS Round 2 as a photographer and teacher was such a dream.
Take us through each day of the retreat… (or a sample day)
K: The first year we had a small group, so we would start our day either surfing or skating in the street before the cars started occupying the road which was such a magical feeling. Then, we would head to the beach to surf or hang out more, then back to the house for yoga, followed by group family dinners where everyone pitched in and helped cook together. The first year we didn’t take everyone to the skateparks, which was totally fine and people still loved swirling around in the street.
What were some obstacles in getting it to happen?
N: I wouldn’t say there are obstacles. There are of course more challenging aspects in the planning and prep, but the Yoga Surf Skate Getaway is a passion project of mine so I enter each journey with a positive mindset. At the end of the day, all we really need is good weather and an awesome group of girls (which we had!).
K: I think this has everything to do with Nico’s incredible can-do positive attitude, but, we didn’t have any obstacles. I think we learned a lot from the first one and the only issue was we had to turn girls away because our slots filled SO quickly! Not a bad problem to have.
What was the easy part?
N: It’s easy to play ‘hype-girl’. I get so excited when I see the getaway come together and the girls getting on boards for the first time or trying something out of their comfort zone. I enjoy playing hostess and making sure everyone is feeling comfortable and having a great time.
K: Creating the space for everyone to feel safe, comfortable, welcomed, and at home.
How many people attended?
N: This year there were 15 total women.
K: 15 Girls!! We had one girl who flew all the way from Hawaii (!!!) who found us through surf-skate company/sponsor Hamboards, a couple of local girls from New Jersey, New York, and some girls found us through the GrlSwirl community <3
What were the main interests/skill level/backgrounds of the folks who attended?
N: The majority of the girls that attended came for the skate aspect of Yoga Surf Skate. The majority of the girls had pushed around on a board before but had never been to a skate park - they had been intimidated. The OCNJ Skatepark is so incredibly welcoming and all of the girls had an empowering first experience at a skatepark.
K: Going into it a lot of girls really wanted to learn how to be comfortable at a skatepark. I think most of the girls have parks in their neighborhoods, but never felt comfortable, or looked at it like, “what the hell can I even do here?” So we focused on showing everyone what they can do, and the results were immediate! Girls who had never been on a board before learned to kick-push and even went up and back down a ramp for the very first time!
What was their reaction?
N: The girls were stoked and surprised. I think for many of them they were stoked to see how naturally skateboarding came and how they could progress with having other women by their side to encourage, coach and support them. I think that our group was also pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie, ease and playful manner of the park as well as the skaters there.
K: Honestly we had such beautiful, honest, and unique reactions from every girl on this year’s trip.
Two girls shared similar but different stories on the first day:
One of the girls admitted to us that she was SO excited for the retreat that she woke up at 6am, and drove to Strathmere and waited in her car for 3 or 4 hours for the check in time on the invite to come to the house because she didn’t want to come off as un-cool or too eager for showing up too early. We of course laughed together afterwards because she could have easily come early, but I adore that nervous energy and excitement like before the first day of school. That feeling never gets old, and we all acted like kids at summer camp.
A second girl told us after getting more comfortable that she was absolutely TERRIFIED to come, that she almost turned around more than once while traveling to the retreat because of all the mental blockages we put up for ourselves: What if I don’t know anyone? Do I know anyone? What if I don’t make friends? Will everyone be nice? Will I get hurt?
She confidently shared this story with us after our first night of bonding and ended it with “this is exactly the trip and experience my soul needed, and I want you girls to know how thankful I am to be in a room surrounded by all of you.” This same girl went running wild into the ocean at night under the full moon, and was the first to jump up and sing karaoke.
What are some of the biggest highlights from the retreat?
N: For me, I was so incredibly stoked to see one of our women who was scared of the ocean in the water catching waves. She told us the day before how much the ocean frightened her, but there she was in the water with the surf lesson getting rides on her surfboard. I think that just goes to show how something that was formerly intimidating can actually be such a wonderful time when you are surrounded by a support system.
K: SO MANY.
The night everyone arrived, we had our amazing friend/sponsor Dunebird come and play a live set in the backyard. Everyone was eating and drinking, singing to Spice Girls covers, pure pure joy. I went upstairs to grab my camera from my room and from the deck I could see the full moon rising on the ocean as the sun was setting behind us on the Bay. I scrambled downstairs to rally everyone to run to the beach. We grabbed sparklers on our way out the door, left our shoes behind, and made a run for it. The feeling of a group of women swirling around under the rising full moon and the setting of the burning sun, with its colors reflecting back onto us gently, was so blissfully astounding. We just stood there for a while in silence after the sparklers had died down, and took it all in.
We had the wonderful Katie Podralski as our Yoga Instructor/Wellness Coach this year; and she brought with her a couple of amazing bonding experience for us all. The biggest highlight from this was the night we all sat down and free-wrote in our Evergreen Summer cards (sponsor) with a prompt from Janne Robinson, founder of This Is For The Women - a clothing line featuring her poetry.
Lines from the prompt:
“This is for the women who don’t give a fuck. The women who are first to get naked, howl at the moon and jump into the sea...This is for the women who seek relentless joy; the ones who know how to laugh with their whole souls...The women who know their worth, plant their feet and roar in their brilliance.”
This got women writing and sharing about what it meant to take up space, how we care for ourselves and others, and the girls all shared what they wrote, and cried and hugged in solidarity. The biggest takeaway was that WE ARE NOT ALONE.
3. Taking the girls to the Ocean City Skatepark was one of the best parts of the trip. The girls had no idea how to be at a skatepark and some had never been to one before! A lot of them were convinced that they didn’t belong there because of people who were “better” than them ripping behind us. I took all the different board types available from each girl - a standard popsicle shaped trick deck, a cruiser, a longboard, a Carver surf-skate, and a Hamboard surf-skate; and explained what makes them similar/different and completely changed their perspectives on what is the “right” board for riding in the park relative to what they were trying to do there. They learned that you can make a popsicle deck into a cruiser board if you change the wheels and loosen your trucks or change your bearings or bushings. This is something I wish someone taught me when I was first getting started. And a lot of the girls who showed up on longboards preferred the feeling of a trick deck while at the park and it was revolutionary to them!
What did you learn from it?
N: Women come to something like the Yoga Surf SKate Getaway to conquer their fears. When you create an environment that is open and raw, women want to open up and share their fears, knowing that we will be there to help them push past those fears.
K: Girl power is real. When you get women together to accomplish something, magical fucking things happen. I really feel like we change people’s lives in such a positive way during these experiences together, and I love feeling connected to other women and local communities and showing girls they’re not alone - that there’s a whole world of other women looking for and craving the same kind of connection.
Did you always intend on doing two?
N: After the first Getaway went so well I knew I wanted to host another one.
How did the 2nd differ from the first?
N: The second Getaway was made up completely of girls that I didn’t know (except for Kristen and one other). I was meeting all these women for the first time at the Getaway and could not have been more grateful for the women that the Getaway brought together.
K: The second retreat was so magical because we more than doubled our numbers of attendees AND got almost 20 different amazing brand sponsors from mostly women-owned independent companies who were so amazing to work with.
Take us through each day of the 2nd retreat… (or a sample day)
N: Throughout the 3 days the girls had two surf lessons with OCNJ Surf School, to trips to the OCNJ Skate Park, Hamboard skate sessions, a morning yoga class on the beach, a mindful eating session, evening yoga, two nights of live music, a bonfire, bracelet making with Jacto Jewelry and so much more in between.
K: The first day everyone arrived, we had a champagne toast which led to a meet and greet circle with little goodie bags waiting for everyone with a few of our brand sponsors’ gifts to kick it off. Then we continued the good vibes with live music by Dunebird and sunset hangs. Second day we woke up and made a family style breakfast and had an amazing surf lesson with Willie from Ocean City Surf School, then went to the skatepark that Willie himself managed in Ocean City! We had our skate lesson which turned into an epic free-for-all, where all of us just absolutely took over the park, regardless of skill level! After, we went back for some yin yoga taught by Katie Podralski, and more music by one of our attendees, Diane Jean of @clevergirlband from @womenthatrock. We had such an intimate two days after that which followed a similar structure; we had a writing prompt from Katie that really opened girls up to share their stories and laugh. We took Hamboards out into the street and Nico and I got towed by our friends’ Jeep and girls were carving for the first time; Willie came back and saved the day when we needed firewood for our bonfire; we had yoga and a silent meditation walk the last morning we were all together, and spent the rest of the afternoon at the skatepark where we taught how to carve the bowl, and had lunch on the Ocean City Boardwalk (in the form of giant Slices of Jersey boardwalk pizza and custard) and eventually everyone went home.
How have you approached life/skating/surfing/yoga/whatever differently since these experiences?
N: For me, I realized how powerful it is to have friends with me. A solo skate is fun, but a skate with a friend will push me harder and also bring me support and encouragement that makes me feel secure - everyone’s different and for me, I feed off other people’s energies.
K: I feel so confident now. Of course there are days when the legs don’t work and you forget how to move your shoulders, but I always say my power comes from empowering others and this for sure makes my cup full. I LOVE seeing womxn come together to accomplish similar yet different goals. You don’t have to be trying to same trick or move or kick-push as one-another, but we all go through the same things in skateboarding, from when you’re learning to when you’re pro, so why not support each other and help people you see that need it to create that space for them?
What do you see for the future? Will there be more retreats? In other places?
N: YES! I would love to host a retreat abroad - working on trying to figure out something special.
K: Yes!! Retreats are like the organic strawberry jelly on the best PBJ there is in life. They’re a bit extra, super fun, spontaneous and definitely necesary once you’ve had that first bite. Also, we’ll be doing lots of meet-ups once we open the NYC chapter of GrlSwirl which we’re SUPER stoked to announce!!
How can people find out about future retreats?