PORTUGAL SNAP SHOT

Portugal Diary:  DAY ONE

“Don’t listen to what they say.  Go see.” 

“A day of overseas travel is a lot like waking up from a mid-afternoon nap to find yourself slightly dazed, a little disoriented and wondering what just happened to you. Our arrival day in Portugal started with a gathering of women at the Lisbon airport who drifted in at various times like lost sheep eventually finding their flock. Sleepy eyes and confused expressions gradually transformed (with the assistance of coffee) into laughter and recognition, as everyone began to make common connections as to what drew them to this trip, from wherever they were arriving across the globe. The predominant shared themes were something like these: ‘I’ve always wanted to do something like this, but never had the guts to do it. I felt like it was time to just take the plunge!’ ‘I’ve never visited Portugal or tried surfing/dancing before, so this is exciting and new!’ ‘I was feeling super burnt out and just needed to treat myself and get away.’ ‘I liked the idea of joining a group of women and having everything taken care of so I don’t have to think, just show up and enjoy!’

By the time we all packed into shuttles to depart for our villa in the countryside of Leira, multiple conversations danced throughout the group. Some guests knew each other from their home dance studio in Toronto, some arrived solo from other countries knowing no one on the trip prior to arrival. Others had been friends for years but had never given themselves the gift of a proper getaway together. Despite fatigue and jet lag, the energy was bubbling.

Rounding one final bend in the sleepy, narrow streets of Columbeira, the turreted top of Buddha Retreats beckoned in the glow of late afternoon. We had arrived. Time to settle in and unpack. Met at the gate by three generations of doggies and a handful of jet black cats, we were ushered into a villa that could very well have played host to the Portuguese adaptation of a scene from ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’. Latticed bedroom windows opened onto sprawling fields and forested hills where donkeys grazed and tractors lazily went about their business.


The most striking of our first impressions was the silence that blanketed the house. Save for the cooing of doves and a constant, dreamy buzz of bees which were invisibly nestled into the vine covered archways heralding our arrival, it was completely still. As suitcases were released to the floor, a collective exhale palpably filled the rooms and spilled out into the evening air.

Day one was designed to gently draw everyone into their new surroundings and ease out travel stiffness. Rolling out our mats onto the stone terrace, we bathed in the late day sun like the cats that meandered in and out of the house, and moved through a soft stretch class that combined classic ballet strategies for releasing the hips with yoga inspired postures.
As the sun’s rays turned from gold to rose, a dove landed beside my head and remained there while I taught the class. I don’t know if it was lured by the monotone of my voice, or the collective release of the group, but it seemed content to simply perch close by and observe the shadows lengthen on our mats.  As the class concluded, I made my way through the group, softly offering some pressure to open each individual’s chest and massage tension from temples. The dove kept watch.

We floated from class into our first meal, served on the terrace as the sun set, and from our first bite, knew that we would be in culinary heaven for the week. Ruby red root vegetables and plump wedges of pumpkin from the surrounding fields danced amongst leafy greens and hearty grains, topped by a jewelled crescendo of edible flowers. This is a place that is intimately connected with its local harvest and celebrates it. I’ve often heard how a rich colour palate on a plate enhances the taste and enjoyment of a meal, but never truly experienced it til now.

Vino verde and conversation flowing, we gradually succumbed to the siren call of sleep, anticipating our first full day of adventure. We had arrived.

Portugal Diary: DAY TWO

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

Our first full day in Columbeira dawned with promise and expectation, and despite the early hour, we wandered with sleepy smiles into the studio for a yoga and meditation class, designed to help us align our breath and set intentions for the week ahead.

Our instructor, Carlijn, spoke so softly it was as if she wanted to ensure that all life outside the studio door stepped out of sleep in their own timing, without her assistance.

Feeling more now like humans than the collection of sore muscles we dragged off the airplane, the group floated happily into various chosen activities for the morning, some descending to the pool with book and towel, others off on a countryside hike into the surrounding hills. And of course there were the lucky few who had their massage scheduled for that day.

Women are fabulous creatures. We have the innate ability to progress from total strangers to fast friends within a few short conversations. We are empathic, intuitive, and curious: natural nurturers. It’s one of the reasons why a curated female trip goes so much further than pleasantries or small talk, and ultimately encourages personal breakthroughs and lasting connections. I’m not sure if we realized the extent of this when we began Pointe Break, but it’s one of the things we are consistently amazed by and grateful for.

One of the most ideal activities to spark conversation, is of course, walking. Our morning hike into the foothills around the villa, guided by our intrepid leader (and world’s most wonderful dog, Oscar), was accompanied by a running commentary on the extraordinary fields of curiously shaped pumpkins, identification and inspection of eucalyptus trees and their delicious aroma, as well as wagers on whether or not we could snag that last plump pear hanging just out of reach (the region is known for its pear orchards, which were mid-harvest at the time of our arrival). A few attempts at a contemporary dance inspired boost lift ended ultimately in one clever brain giving the branch a gentle shake, and boom: pear’s your snack! There’s always one brain in a group that’s slightly more attuned to efficiency than the rest. 😉

Warmed up and hungry for lunch, we mentally began to prepare for our first afternoon of surfing. Discussions the evening prior included each individual’s excitement and apprehension going into the week, and surprisingly enough, the most common fear was not sore muscles after dance class or battling waves, it was getting into a wet suit for the first time! One of the most hilarious one-liners of the whole trip (and there were many!) was one woman’s fear that she ‘may have low-balled her weight’ on her pre-trip info sheet. That one took about five minutes for the laughter to finish.

Wetsuit terrors in hand, we arrived at Peniche to discover that yes, it’s certainly a more arduous process to prep for surf in a wet suit than throwing on a rashie, but not nearly as bad as we feared.  Plus, one foot in the water we were more than grateful to have a full body barrier between us and the ocean. Some places in the world boast water barely cooler than a bath. Portugal is not one of them. However, I will say that wetsuits are actually a miracle barrier from the cold! As someone whose fingers turn blue the moment Starbucks puts pumpkin spice lattés back on the menu, I can tell you I didn’t feel the chill at all under that neoprene layer. It’s worth the time spent ridiculously hopping on one foot to struggle in.

Now for a word about surf instructors. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world: Costa Rica, Mexico, Portugal, Scarborough Bluffs; these people are HAPPY! Maybe it’s the fact that they clearly live a very Pura Vida lifestyle, maybe it’s the constant rush of catching a wave, or maybe you have to live in a state of optimism to battle the ‘paddle out’ day after day. I’ve never seen more positive group. It’s infectious. By the time we were finished with our beach warm up and pop-up dry-land lesson, we walked into the surf with a collective grin from ear to ear. Impossible not to.

First day in the surf is humbling and eye-opening. There is no better way to truly grasp the immense power of the ocean.  And its beauty. Wading into it with a floatable vessel attached to you is a lesson in absolute awareness and being alert to every tiny detail of where your body is at any given moment. It’s a strange dichotomy of being simultaneously hyper cautious and completely fearless. Oddly, you have to be a master of both to become successful at this sport. It’s like the ultimate lesson in zen mastery.

Day one was a gift of many lessons and an introduction to the rugged beauty of the Portuguese coastline. That’s the thing about beaches. They’re all massaged by the tides, yet they’re all unique.

Portugal Diary: DAY THREE

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn.  Climb that goddamn mountain.” 


“Do one thing a day that scares you.” We all know this saying. We see it splashed across shopping bags in bold print and posted as daily social media mantras. How often do we practise it? Pointe Break may well be the ultimate test of this challenge, and as a result, a facilitator of some remarkable personal achievements and breakthroughs.

Afraid of flying? CHECK
Afraid of water? CHECK
Afraid of not knowing anyone? CHECK
Afraid of not being ‘good enough/flexible enough/co-ordinated enough…just enough in general? CHECK
Afraid of taking time away from your job? CHECK
Afraid of taking time away from your family? CHECK
Afraid of putting yourself first? CHECK
Afraid of discovering how you feel after you step away from the life you know so well for a bit? CHECK

Hmm. It’s a pretty comprehensive list. But when you get to the end of it, it’s not nearly as daunting as when you started. And quite frankly, it’s liberating. Makes you want to keep adding to it and obliterating all of those boxes.

We danced our way into our third day in Portugal. Morning mist lifted from the emerald fields surrounding the villa and we downed one last sip of coffee before making our way to the outdoor pagoda where we would do our first barre class. Between our first plié and our final forward bend, the difference in temperature was a good 8 degrees. The weather variation of the region is remarkable. From dawn to dusk, it’s a journey through micro-climates, which gives a beautiful variation to each day (and also requires an adaptable wardrobe!)
Sweaters shed as fondues progressed to grands battements, and heat loving insects drew closer. Our dance platform was a pastoral stage, our performance for a myriad tiny creatures busying themselves with gathering nectar and spreading seeds.

Feeling longer and lifted after class (ballet dancers will testify that there is nothing more valuable and invigorating than daily barre), we were ready for our first “mini-excursion”. Today we were Sintra bound.

One of the most remarkable things about this retreat location was that within just a short drive, no more than an hour in each case, we could experience vastly diverse environment, culture and history. Windswept beaches and verdant farmland coincided with medieval villages and urban centres to offer us a wonderfully rich week.

Something to know about Portugal, in particular Lisbon and the historic villages built inland from the port towns: it is HILLY! And I don’t mean gentle slopes. I mean walking at an incline that will transform your glutes into titanium! Bouncing a quarter off them? More like bouncing a euro.


Sintra was our first introduction to the infamous hills, and what an introduction it was! Coupled with the incline are cobblestones, so don’t even think about packing that cute pair of heels into your suitcase. Wasted weight. Our quads may have been screaming, but there was not one member of the group who regretted it as we emerged from the shade of the Sintra forest to the most breathtaking view imaginable.
This medieval village, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sits atop a mountain known as ‘Moon Hill’ and is nestled within forests that are the legendary home of the huntress Diana, and purportedly haunted. Our destination was Peña Palace, a staggering, brightly coloured royal landmark in the Post Romanesque architectural style. Originally a chapel constructed after a reported ‘vision of the Virgin Mary’, then a monastery, and finally a royal residence, stepping onto its ramparts is like stepping onto the page of a Hans Christian Anderson storybook.

As un-romantic as it may have been in the shadow of this landmark of Romanticism, we all rewarded ourselves for the several hundred yard steep climb with the most delicious cold beer we’ve ever tasted. I think you all can imagine just how good that cold brew was!

Part of the Pointe Break experience is re-imagining and broadening our perspective of our place in the world. There is nothing like contemplating centuries of civilization, standing beneath trees that dwarf the oldest of these by centuries more.  Descending back down from the palace to the village, we rounded out our day by uncovering treasures in artisans’ shops, and had the ultimate satisfaction of enjoying a glass of Portuguese wine as we gazed up at the enormous elevation we had summited.


Ah, yes. Speaking of wine…we made a delightful discovery at our very first meal. It’s called ‘vino verde’. Dictionary translation: green or ‘young’ wine. Alternate translation: heaven. This light, slightly carbonated white wine (there is a red version, but I highly recommend the white) is perfect easy drinking. It’s refreshing, has a slightly lower alcohol content (which means those pesky headaches don’t seem to creep up on you), and I’m convinced it has some other compositional quality that guarantees HAPPY drinking! I’ve never seen a wine transform and energize a group of women so quickly. And it’s pretty much hangover resistant. Oh! Did I mention it’s ridiculously cheap? Sold.

Portugal Diary:  DAY FOUR

Day four dawned with a hazy, golden glow, mist shrouding the rolling hills around the villa. As morning kissed us all, it lifted and left everything dazzling in sparkling dew. We sleepily wandered out onto the terrace, clutching mugs of coffee. There are some places in the world where easing into the day is gentler.

Today we were ready to leap into our first truly sweaty dance class! The Double Bill is a perfect blend of cardio (Allegro Ballet Bootcamp) and sculpting (Développé Ballet Sculpt), designed to get bodies jumping, spinning and kicking for the first half, followed by a smooth transition into controlled muscular conditioning. Apprehensive as we were to dig into those quads and hamstrings after our previous day climbing the Sintra mountain, it soon became clear that this was the best possible remedy for stiffness. We pirouetted our way happily out of the class and into a morning of luxurious lounging by the pool.

Our sunny dispositions carried us into a likewise sunny afternoon of surfing, and today we were not only met with golden rays, but perfect conditions.  With the first day on the water under our belts and fear of the unknown vanquished, we were ready to tackle those waves. And tackle we did! Our photo album tells the tale: the group was popping up as confidently as we had leapt off the floor in the studio.

Soggy, proud and salty, we hoisted those boards back onto the vans and rewarded ourselves with beachside cocktails. There’s nothing like washing the saltwater out of the lungs with a big, fat glass of sangria.

Dinner that night continued a trend that had begun from our first meal together. After each day of discovery, determination and adventure, our dinner table conversations seemed to somehow get longer and longer… Gather a fabulous group of women around a delicious meal, throw in free flowing vino verde, and the tales spin further into the night. Fatigue from a full day of exercise was dismissed as we laughed and commiserated for hours. Time ceased to exist.

One guest summed it up perfectly when she said she believed the muscles we exercised the most that week were the cheeks, because we never stopped laughing.

Portugal Diary:  DAY FIVE

Hump day at Pointe Break is always marked by a decadent ‘day off’ (no dance or surf) excursion, with endless surprises.

Our day trip to Lisbon began with a culinary dream- a custard one.  Arriving first in Belem, we had our priorities straight as we marched immediately to the oldest, most famous pastry shop known world wide for its ‘pasteis de nata’ (egg tarts).  These billowy, golden mouthfuls, still warm from the oven, were our introduction to a Portuguese treat so beloved it can be found at almost every street corner, tempting passersby from window trays piled high and decorating the glass with sweet steam. After checking out the century old baking process carefully nurtured at  Pasteis de Belem, we carried our precious cargo to the park across the street to discover why the fuss.  It was a good start to the day.

Fully awake now and peaking with cream and sugar, we made our way towards Lisbon central, stopping first to admire the Belem Tower, then following the cobble stone streets lining the Tagus River. Any day of luxury for women involves at some point a little shopping, and our next stop was LX Factory, a charming hipster paradise in the heart of the city. We dispersed into artisan shops and fashion boutiques bursting with cork design, and emerged in time to step through the doors of what is universally known as the world’s best piece of chocolate cake. Landeau Chocolate did not disappoint. Anyone who professes to be a true chocolate connoisseur cannot maintain this badge if they don’t pay a visit here in their lifetime.

If there’s anything a little sugar can do well, it’s awaken an appetite, which meant we had planned our next stop perfectly: Time Out Market. Torontonians will liken this massive wharf side industrial food haven to St. Lawrence Market. They would be correct, except double it in size and throw in seafood from a country that can confidently boast its catch as some of the best and varied in the world. The best part of this taste adventure was the ability to load up on tapas size plates in order to sample a little of everything, from inky black squid pasta to softly steamed cod fish to crispy crab cakes. All to wash down with a liberal pour of our fave, vino verde.

Moving slowly back out onto the street, we knew it was time to walk. No better than the steep, tram lined streets of Alfama and Bairro Alto to climb off our morning of culinary indulgence! There’s something about hiking through neighbourhoods with great friends that makes you forget how many kilometres you’ve covered or how steep the hill may be. We browsed, photo documented, sampled, and explored our way around every bend, stopping to try shots of gingha (cherry liquor) or purchase soft leather gloves from a tiny glove store circa 1925, that only served one customer at a time at its closet sized counter. Lisbon is a city that defies description. It is colourful, vibrant, elegant, and steeped in culture and history. And it somehow pulls it all off without any air of superiority.

The sun was starting to drop towards the horizon as we made one last stop before our dinner reservation in Chiado. Climbing all the way to the top of the classic Hotel Mundial, we emerged onto one of Lisbon’s famed rooftop patios, with the most spectacular view I had ever seen. With a full 360 degree bird’s eye view of the city, we sat below only one point, none other than the Castle Sao Jorge. The setting sun reflected off it’s turreted ramparts as we raised our glasses in silent admiration, then grooved to an impossibly cool soundtrack which floated out into the evening and blanketed the streets below.

With our bellies full after yet another journey into Portugal’s divine cuisine at Xapuri Bistro, we dozed our way home to our idyllic country home. In true Pointe Break fashion, the night was capped off with a scene of spontaneous hilarity, as our driver decided to curate a playlist of only tunes by ABBA, to which he sang along and insisted we join in. We pulled into the driveway of Buddha Retreats, a van load of tired women clapping in unison and belting Fernando into the moonlight.

___ Jennifer Nichols

Stay tuned for the final instalment of our Portugal diary…

THE FINE PRINT:  Under the Surface.  Above the Noise.

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Nosara, Costa Rica: What Makes It Our Favourite Place on Earth…

 

POINTE BREAK RETREATS, a company that offers idyllic fitness and wellness escapes for women across the globe, built its home base in one of the world’s best kept secret surf destinations:  Nosara, Costa Rica.  Well…it may not be so secret any longer, considering the NY Times recently penned a feature highlighting it as the place to be for wealthy New Yorkers and Californians. Regardless of its ‘it-place’ status, Nosara will never be pushed into an over-populated, beach crammed tourist mecca.  It’s just too cool for that.  And too eco-conscious. Tourists seeking water front views from their hotel room are out of luck (development is prohibited below 200 yards from the high-tide line). The instant gratification types who insist on a half hour jaunt from airport to doorstep just aren’t coming here.  And those who aren’t up for decorating their skin in jungle dust as they bounce from beach to restaurant won’t be taking up all the reservations at the best eateries in town.  Oh wait- these places don’t take reservations. After all, surfers don’t plan their day based on seating schedules.  They plan them around the tides. 

2015 marked the inaugural year of Pointe Break Retreats, with an intimate group of adventurous souls for its trial run of surf and dance.  3 years later, our love affair with Nosara has only deepened.  I think it’s safe to say this pairing is now a marriage.  Stretching our wings to Sayulita, Mexico and Columbeira, Portugal, has introduced us to other vibrant cultures, cuisine, beach breaks and picturesque settings for dance classes.  But, as the saying goes, it’s always nice to come home. 

What makes Nosara so special?

THE PERFECT BEACH BREAK

One of the things that makes Nosara such a draw for surfers of all levels, is the incredibly consistent break.  With zero pesky (and razor sharp) rocks or coral to contend with and swell every day, Nosara’s beaches are heaven for dancing on water.  Playa Guiones, our Pointe Break beach of choice, is a four mile long white sand stretch that catches swells year round that never get too big.  Also, as a beginner surfer, provided you respect the general code of board conduct, the locals and surf pros here are not the type to bite your head off for daring to enter their territory.  No pit bulls here!  In fact, they are even known to watch out for beginners, give them a tip or two and encourage them to be bold if they are ready to take a bigger wave.  That’s the thing about Nosara:  it’s warm water and warm energy.  Just as everyone respects the land, they respect each other.  No one is out just for themselves. 

THE BEACH DOGGIES

If you happen to be a dog lover, this is your mecca!  Nosara is teeming with GENTLE, curious and playful beach dogs that spend the day on the sand, exploring, sniffing, and watching the surfers.  Some of them even hop on the board with their owner!  Not a fan of the canine?  No worries, the beach doggies are gentle and non-confrontational.  They’ve got so much sand to cover, they’ve got no need to be territorial!  If you ARE a dog-lover, however, you may have a hard time not sneaking a pup into your beach bag…  

**note:  looking for a perfect margherita or fish taco after a long day in the sun? The ‘Beach Dog Café’ is just a stone’s throw from Playa Guiones…just saying**

THE EMPHASIS ON WELLBEING: BODY, MIND, SOUL

Once you spend a few days in Nosara, you will start to be able to spot the locals:  bronzed skin, lean physiques, kind eyes and HUGE smiles.  It’s difficult not to be the picture of wellness when every cafe and restaurant serves healthy, organic and delicious fresh food, the number of yoga centres equals the number of homes, and the temperature rarely drops below 25 degrees celsius.  This is a place that nurtures community and respect for the planet.  At the start of our last retreat in February, we were fortunate to begin the retreat by experiencing a ‘full moon dance party’ on the beach.  Dozens of people- couples, families, toddlers and naked babies gathered on the beach to dance in the moonlight to the eclectic, world music of some kick-*ss DJ’s.  A conga line around the bonfire that grew in size to include everyone by the end was wildly fun and perfects sums up the essence of Nosara.  

THE SUNSETS

In many places around the world, there is a daily tradition of worship.  In Nosara, it is definitely the sunset.  Whether or not you are already on the beachas the sun’s rays begin to dip below the horizon, you will find yourself drawn there each afternoon to witness this exquisite display.  The beach gradually fills as in silent acknowledgement the locals, the yogis, the surfers, and the tourists all gather for the same purpose.  There is no better way to remind ourselves of how glorious our planet is.  And this little corner of the earth certainly puts on one of the best shows there is.  Costa Rican sunsets defy description. 

THE WILDLIFE

Besides the aforementioned beach dogs, there is a vast array of magical wildlife to enchant you from the treetops overhead to the sand at your feet.  There is nothing quite like performing pliés to the sound of howler monkeys in the jungle surrounding the open studio, or rounding the corner of a dirt road to find a herd of cattle blocking your way.  From the iguanas and geckos scuttling across your path en route to the beach, to the roosters joining the monkeys in heralding the dawn, Nosara is a constant reminder that all life shares our planet.  Here, in close proximity, it is lovely to witness.  Just a short ATV ride down the coast to Ostional may offer you a glimpse, depending on the month and how willing you are to stay awake til the wee hours of the night, of the olive ridley turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs.  Standup paddle boarding once even granted us a glimpse of a crocodile sunning on the river banks (at a safe distance!) of the mangroves. Nosara is rich in the wildlife it cherishes, a splendour that is not just experienced visually, but in the symphony of cicada song and conversation floating through the treetops from dusk til dawn. 

UPCOMING RETREATS IN NOSARA:

This year, we’ll be ‘home’ in Nosara for two weeks, both planned to fall during that time when your bones are aching, your toes frozen, and you cannot stand any more WINTER!  

First, we’ll be waxing our surf boards and dusting off our barres from November 2-9, 2018.  Then, during what is universally known as the most depressing month of the year, February 9-16, 2019. 

Spots are already filling fast, don’t miss your chance to join us! 

**THESE DATES DON’T WORK FOR YOU?  ASK US ABOUT OUR ‘DESIGN YOUR OWN’ RETREATS, WHERE YOU MAY SELECT A WEEK THAT FITS YOUR SCHEDULE AND BRING A GROUP OF YOUR CLOSEST FRIENDS FOR A TAILOR-MADE, PRIVATE WEEK!  (ideal for bachelorettes, milestone birthdays, graduations, mother-daughter trips)**

Jennifer Nichols

The Fine Print:    Under the Surface.  Above the Noise. 

Extending to Surf and Sand…Jennifer’s Musings from the first Pointe Break Retreats

 

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THE FINE PRINT

Under the Surface.  Above the Noise.

j.nichols

Full disclosure. I’ve been a fish since I could stumble. Found my sea legs long before my land legs. As a dancer who grounds herself, welcoming the daily reminder of an open split in the ball of the foot or impact surging through the hamstrings when landing a jump, I was initially drawn to the opposite: weightlessness. To water.

I started out with synchronized swimming, painting aqueous shapes subsurface, then moved on to racing, blindly driving myself through water, this time with an objective of beating time. It was my life for my formative years. Perpetually submersed. And yet. I’d never dreamt of surfing. Perhaps it was the skier in me, resistant to board sports. My sister was the snowboarder. I was a skier. These were different things. Those who rode boards, be they skate or snow, dealt in a different realm. They were far cooler, the chill types, much more likely to ride through life in a zen manner. Don’t get me wrong. I do love the glide. This can take many forms.

When Natalie Sageloly first walked into my studio on Eastern Ave, all spitfire and smile, I knew instantly she needed to move as much as I did. It fed her in a similar way. Getting to know her I began to recognize Natalie’s draw to the surf and was curious. When she decided to move to Costa Rica, I became more curious.

Pointe Break was born of a natural union. From its quirky and clever word-play to its earnest belief in the complementary pairing of two disciplines, Pointe Break brings two disciplines together: dancing on land and dancing on the sea. The moment I embraced the concept of creating a new business with this union, marrying my art form to another, I also embraced a love/fear relationship with something I had never attempted. Surfing was not canoeing. It was not swimming. It was performed in bodies of water where tides and swells and white water will humble you unlike any lake. So here lay a substantial mental challenge. Set aside the natural reservations and concerns of starting any new business…would I be able to even attempt the sport? Would my fear stunt any hope I had of enjoying the very thing I was throwing my time and energy into?

Again, full disclosure. As a dancer and former swim racer, I had absolute confidence in my physical awareness: my strength, swimming capability, and BALANCE. Allow me to insert an observation here. Balancing on land, on a static surface (even while rotating in a pirouette and directed over one foot en pointe), is not the same thing as balancing on a surface which is rapidly moving beneath you. ‘Humbling’ does no justice to this realization! Yet I digress. I’ll step back slightly to the start of my first trip to Costa Rica and to the beginning of our inaugural Pointe Break retreat…

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(Travel day:  Nicole, Liana & Joanne at Pearson Airport)

The beginning of travel day was quite literally a rude awakening. Rude in that, typically, I had left packing until the eleventh hour (this happens to be what I dislike more than anything; I simply cannot pack light or make ruthless decisions on unnecessary garments), and as a result had fallen asleep with a mere four hours until my alarm assaulted me. Or rather, it didn’t. This was the first time in my life that an alarm went off and I actually slept through it. Thankfully, my friend and colleague, Nicole, telephoned to let me know she was nearby for pick-up and I leapt out of bed like a terrified bullfrog (gazelle is not justified in this case), splashed water on my face, and was on my way.  A foggy beginning.  Sun, sand and sea clearly in order.

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(meeting friends everywhere)

Our travel to Costa was smooth and uneventful. Some of our retreat guests had arrived earlier, traveling independently from Canada and the US, while a small group of us made the journey together from Toronto.  After an easy, direct flight, my first and strongest impression upon arriving was the HEAT. As we made our way through the sliding doors of customs into arrivals, I opened my mouth and suddenly was ‘chewing’ the air. It was as if we had stepped into another stratosphere. I looked up. A giant ceiling fan, probably 20 feet in wing span, rotated over us like a heat dispelling space ship. I looked at my travel companions and smiled as we all removed a layer of clothing. Liberia’s airport is a tiny stamp on a piece of land far removed from the mental image most of us have of Costa Rica (lush, wet, deep green jungle). As Natalie would correct me, later, this is the ‘dry jungle’. Which is not to mean that we are dealing with desert-like conditions. Rather, there is a perfect balance between that verdant oasis and the rest of the country, where dust rises in clouds one minute, and mud blankets you the next as you barrel through winding dirt roads. Our shuttle driver escorted us to our ride and we were off. The initial sparse landscape typical to airport proximity in any country rapidly changed to farmland speckled with tiny outposts, pockets of habitation marked repeatedly by a single bus stop and gas station boasting a 1970’s Coca Cola sign (one of our retreat guests commented on how the locals must really enjoy their cola; perhaps equal parts cola enjoyment/remnants of a golden era love affair with America). We barreled through the countryside, which became increasingly lush, as if water had been added to tempra.  It bled into our surroundings, changing not just the palette but the air’s weight.  Occasionally we slowed as horses or cattle with shockingly protruding ribs and ears drooped heavy as Basset hounds casually strolled across the road, unconcerned with our rapid approach.  Curious, my eyes glanced to the similar livestock which were watching us from behind fences flanking the road. Was this a choice?  To be in or out?  Somehow everything was fluid.

The route to Nosara was incredibly textured in visual stimulation.  It also became increasingly textured in terrain, and my stomach re-calibrated with each hairpin turn as we climbed further into the jungle.  After two hours of the most ‘lively’ drive I’ve experienced, we arrived at the glorious Bodhi Tree Resort in Nosara.

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(arrival: The Bodhi Tree Resort)

Beckoning from the top of an almost 180 degree ascent was a series of bamboo roofs, nestled under a cloak of green palms.   After ensuring our retreat guests were settled in, Nicole and I continued on to meet our gracious host Natalie, (Co. Owner and Surf Director of Pointe Break) at her home nearby,  where we would be staying.

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(our first sea welcome)

Within one minute of arrival, clothes were replaced by bathing suits and we were barefoot, steaming cup of coffee in hand, strolling to the beach for our first glimpse of the surf.  It is absolutely impossible to do justice with words alone to this view, and so I have attached a few images.  As we gazed up and down the beach, dumbstruck, we realized that we were the only people in sight.  The sunset  was ours exclusively to enjoy.   I felt every vestige of tension drain from my body,  as quickly as the coffee drained from my cup.  So here it was…

Pura Vida.

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(Natalie & Nicole- bye bye city clothes, hello bare foot in bathing suits)

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Morning comes swiftly and early in Costa Rica.  Especially when one has barely slept. Unaccustomed to the sensory magnitude of monsoon-like rain, I had lain awake for hours, wondering if the roof would succumb to the barrage of water assaulting it all night.  This was thunderous rain, relentless and heavy.  Aside from my skepticism as to the building’s staying power, I began to worry about the morning’s surf lesson.  Would we be rained out on day one?  I had no cause to worry; a pattern established itself that night which would remain consistent throughout our entire stay.  Just as I was finally nodding off from sheer exhaustion, the rain suddenly ceased and morning sun crept into the jungle, so that upon waking, the deluge of the night seemed like a vague dream. In fact, we were so bathed in sun each morning, there was no question of sleeping in. Our early wakeup call to hit the surf at the ideal time was easy to greet with the lovely wash of sun that accompanied it, and the calls of howler monkeys, who served as natural alarm clocks.  Let me point out here, that the bodily size of said howler monkeys is in direct and bizarre contrast to the size of their voices.  My first hearing sent me spinning like a top, fearfully scanning for the ferocious, gorilla sized beast that was clearly responsible.  Not only was the reality a quarter of the size I imagined, but it was so far away it was impossible to discern.  If I had a voice of that magnitude which carried from treetops there would be no need for the Madonna mic I bark into when I teach.

First adventure of the day, after downing unspeakably delicious coffee (Costa Rica is known amongst other things for its coffee, by the way) and velvety mango, was our inaugural trip to the Bodhi Tree on a 4×4 (ATV). With some experience driving this type of vehicle, I adapted fairly easily to its basic operational shtick.  What took some adjusting to (and by necessity rapidly so), were the dirt roads with hairpin turns and absolutely fearless motorcyclists and truck drivers who have been navigating these roads since infancy.  No joke; we repeatedly passed entire families: multiple children, babies, and a dog, all piled onto one motorcycle.  On occasion, I would also round a bend to find a horse casually strolling towards us, just doing it’s equine thing.  As they do in Costa Rica.  In fact, every living creature in this blessed place is just ‘doing their thing’.  And it’s good.


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As I mentioned, the sun had risen with the dawn and drawn the moisture from the jungle.  For the most part.  Roads were deceptively dry, until we reached an inevitable pothole or a stretch which hadn’t yet been kissed by warm rays.  And so began what I like to call the ‘mud bath dance’.  As is the case with most dances, those rides were filled with speed, joy, abandon, twists and turns…and with each enormous spray of mud, our laughter magnified.  Once you get over the fact that you’ve turned into a bog creature from the waist down, it’s actually quite enjoyable. The mud was still warm from the sun and it was like a free spa treatment (localized to a place where one doesn’t typically seek a mud masque; but hey, semantics).  By the time we arrived at the Bodhi Tree I was doubled over with laughter and also regretting my choice of footwear.  Do not, I repeat DO NOT travel anywhere you expect to end up covered in mud, wearing flip flops. You will understand why in a moment.

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(Jenn and Chico at the surf shack-what is on her feet?!?)

Our group of novice surfers shared a similar look of anticipation and trepidation as we gamely strolled to the surf shack to collect our boards. Wearing matching rash guards (designed by Akela Surf specially for Pointe Break), we presented a uniformed front of neophyte meets warrior.  And we did feel like warriors, myself included.  Until an unexpected and very swift twist landed me squarely-actually sideways-on my hip with a violent lift and a thwack. Witnesses will attest, I was indeed air born before the fall. Which brings me back to my afore mentioned lesson: do not wear anything bearing the name ‘flipflop’ when traversing muddy terrain.  It wasn’t so much the ground beneath my feet that was the problem.  Rather it was my muddy foot sliding sideways INSIDE the shoe, which started a chain reaction that ultimately concluded with me sprawled very ‘un-warrior-like’ in the dirt.

As the shock wore off, the burning pain caught up, and I struggled to climb bravely to my feet.  Apparently the speed and angle of my descent made it impossible for my companions to stifle their laughter.  Through gritted teeth I attempted to match the mood and not let this auspicious start dampen my mood.  I had no need to worry. By the time we reached the surf, the sting had subsided and I was rather enjoying the badge of my battle wound.

A person’s first experience with surfing, if it is anything like my own, is a perfect balance of desperately itching to hit the water instantly, and avoid it at all costs.  Mixed into the ego driven worries about not getting up on the board, is a cornucopia of fears bearing different names.  Some of these fears are reasonable and healthy to observe, such as jelly fish (provided you slide your feet through the sand you’re fine), the rip tide (your instructor will monitor this and guide you), the capability of the board to cause serious bodily damage if you do not handle it appropriately (see aforementioned instructor guidance), and the sheer magnitude of the ocean’s power, which necessitates an enormous amount of respect.  Others not so much, such as sharks. Indeed, there have been stories of surfers’ battles with the teethy beasts, but in the warm waters of Costa Rica, certainly the depth of water beginners hang out in, there is no cause for concern (requisite JAWS viewing as a child born in a certain decade not withstanding).

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(Joanne and Nicole in their element)

Reasonable or not, fears accompany any new endeavour which lies outside the realm of mundane daily life, and I was determined to meet them head on and subsequently quash all. I can confirm that by the end of the week, I had.  I still carry that healthy respect for the surf and the instructor, and halt myself when I become too eager and begin to skip steps, but trepidation is no longer part of the equation.

Our first day on the water began with a dry-land tutorial on the actual mechanics and step-by-step process of paddling out and getting up on the board.  Practising ‘pop-ups’ on the sand is essential and very useful in terms of the physical chain of events.  What it doesn’t really prepare you for is the hesitation, once on the water, in initiating said chain; and once you wait a few seconds too long to begin the process, you’ve missed the wave. This quickly became my biggest challenge. That and the fact that as a professional dancer who has trained my body for years to master fine movements, I tend to overthink the process and obsess over perfecting each small step, rather than simply going with the flow.  As trite as it sounds, this is actually what you must do when working with the rhythm or literal ‘flow’ of a wave. Of course, learn the steps individually, but once you begin to feel that swell lift the back of your board, there’s can be no hesitation involved. It’s what we should all learn to do with our lives in general. Catch the momentum and from that point on, don’t fight it. Ride it, baby. You made it up for a reason.

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(catching a wave on the beautiful break at Playa Guiones)

After a few humbling fails, I caught my first wave properly and rode it out.  There is no feeling like it (well, perhaps landing your first perfect triple pirouette can compare). When I say ‘ride it out’, I mean for a modest length of time.  We’re not talking epic long rides on a wave that gives you time for switch backs and various other techniques. That requires what is called ‘going out back’, kind of like the transition from the kiddie pool to the deep end of an in-ground. You can see the difference from the beach. The white water close to shore are the waves we learn on, which for a novice are intimidating enough.  Look further, scan the horizon and you will begin to discern the beginning of a swell that gradually becomes a glorious convex wall of aquamarine before it shudders and finally breaks into foamy white.

This, the ‘outback’ of the surf is the dangling carrot for me at our next retreat in February 2016 (interested? there are a few spots still available!)  As I mentioned earlier, there is a swim racer still in me somewhere and I feel confident that I can condition myself for the serious paddling required to make it out back. The next step is not second guessing myself when the swell nudges and I register its size. I feel ready for it.  Stay tuned, updates to follow…

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(Jenn and Nat- post-class stretch time)

Back to that glorious week last June. After our first morning on the water, I am proud to share that all retreat participants had made it up on the board, and we headed back to Cachos surf shack fatigued and salty, yet satisfied.  It boded well for a good week ahead.  Next was our inaugural ballet fitness class at the Bodhi Tree,  conducted in an open air platform in the trees.  After a fragrant five minute climb through the jungle, we began our first Allegro Ballet Bootcamp class with a stunning 360 view of verdant green and howler monkey accompaniment.  I thought back to the previous winter of classes in Toronto performed with joints achy from cold and air so dry it made swallowing difficult. I could get used to this. That first day of surf and ballet in paradise is unforgettable. We chased the workout with fresh mango and coconut smoothies by the pool, and capped the evening off with a gentle stretch class at dusk and a hearty yet healthy organic dinner under the stars. Here I risk beginning to read like the propaganda of a vacation brochure for a travel company, but I assure you, embellishment has been strictly avoided.

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(sweaty and happy after Coda; winding down at sunset)

There were challenges, of course.  Our third day of ballet fitness in the jungle scheduled the infamous ‘Coda Ballet Cardio’, which I like to refer to as ‘ballet on speed’. Think Allegro Ballet Bootcamp jacked up in intensity to ensure the feet rarely touch the ground and you should have a fair idea. This just happened to fall on the hottest day of our week in Nosara, which meant that before the warmup had even concluded, I was sweating so profusely the floor had become a sort of ‘ice-less’ skating rink.  Who knew that the bottoms of the feet could sweat?  Scanning the faces of my students, an assortment of various shades of plum, blush, even scarlet, I had a moment of doubt. Was this wise? Or should I pull the cord and cancel class? Never.  Provided we all stayed hydrated and safety was monitored, I had faith that my intrepid team would prevail. We did. We lost copious amounts of water and I’m sure each participant, if being completely honest would admit to a steady and alternating stream of internal cursing and cheerleading over the course of that hour.  But we survived.

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(trickster mango stealth bomber)

Our gleaming (and beaming) faces beelined straight to the pool, and as we filed down the path from the studio, I felt a heavy thud at my feet and slap of something wet on my leg. It took a few moments to register what had happened.  I scanned my immediate environment.  At my feet lay a split mango, it’s ripe, juicy flesh splattered on the pathway and halfway up my calf. As I processed the fruit, the true culprit revealed itself.  A distinctly non-human sound, suspiciously similar to a titter of laughter, filtered down to us from above.  Above me perched a monkey, leaning forward as if he could barely contain his delight in his prank. This was no accident. That monkey had hurled the orange fruit deliberately at my head. We exchanged a look. What passed in that moment was part stand-off, part inside joke. The real joke was on him.  As I ducked away to avoid another imminent attack, I enjoyed the delicious fruit that had found its way up to my arm. What had prompted this jokester? Maybe he didn’t like the look of me.  In all honesty, I was a frightening sight after that class.  Or perhaps he didn’t appreciate my choice in music.  That would be a first.

Several other magical moments highlighted the week. There were personal breakthroughs on the board and in the studio, milestones met and surpassed. There were Cervezas on the beach and sunset horseback rides, conversations deep into the night competing with the cicadas. There was constant laughter.

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(Yohan and pipa helper)

A very special experience for me involved an aspiring young ballerina, a local resident whose parents dropped her off daily for Extension Method class. She was quiet yet keen, and progressed immensely throughout the week, both in her technique and her confidence.  On the final day, her mother pulled me aside to thank me.  She told me that her daughter suffered from extreme anxiety.  Because of this she was home schooled, and her mother had been unsure if she would feel comfortable dancing in a room full of adult women she had never met. Yet she was astounded by the fact that as the week progressed, her anxious daughter had turned into a little girl who was only anxious about how soon she could attend another class.  On day three, this precious girl bounded across the floor to me after reverence (traditional bows at the end of class) and hugged me.  Flashes of uncertainty had been replaced by smiles.  It is one of the most rewarding memories of my teaching career.

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(en route to Costa Rica Yoga Spa and Playa Ostional)

Nearing the end of the week, Natalie and I decided to go on an adventure.  On our designated ‘free afternoon’, our guests stayed at the resort and lounged by the pool, resting their warrior bodies, and the two of us hopped on the ATV.  We set off into the Costa Rican countryside, leaving the chill laisse faire of the surf for the local reality of surrounding farmland.  Stopping at a gas station, it dawned on us that we couldn’t be more conspicuous.  Two blonde women wearing only bikinis and trucker hats on an ATV…it was a strong choice.  I wonder about that now. We certainly attracted attention in an almost solely male populated environment.  In fact, the further we drove into the mountains, the more we came across farmers who had rarely seen a woman in the flesh besides their wife and mother, let alone of the fair haired persuasion.  As we bombed along the the increasingly difficult to navigate roads (I have never white knuckled like I did that afternoon), various creatures dashed across our path.  Crawfish scuttled like aged polka dancers, barely avoiding our wheels. Lizards of all shapes and sizes perched and checked out the strange riders before disappearing into the undergrowth.  Everywhere drooped cows meandered in and out of ditches and fields, pausing to process our presence before deciding there really was nothing to see here.

Our tour was an exploration of sorts for the next year’s retreat. Nosara and area being so richly diverse, we had decided to change things up and continuously discover new gems to share with our guests. Our travels led us to the highest possible altitude and the Costa Rica Yoga Spa, with a devastatingly beautiful view of the Pacific and the jungle below.  Each discovery was better than the last.  As we left the resort and made our way back down to sea level, Natalie informed me that she was taking me to a very special beach. Playa Ostional is home to one of the famous Pacific nesting grounds for marine turtles.  Though we did not time our visit to catch the phenomenon, I could easily envision its extraordinary splendour.  We lounged and drank cold Cervezas as Natalie painted a vivid picture of what she has observed in the early morning hours before sunrise in that very spot.  I closed my eyes to see it:  thousands of sea turtles slowly making their way like subtly shifting shadows in the moonlight, from the surf to the perfect sandy spot where they will lay their eggs.

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That day marked the beginning of our plans for this year’s retreat in February. I’ve been dreaming of the view from the mountain top and those turtles since.

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As I finalize flight bookings, examine patterns for our new 2016 Pointe Break rash guards, and remind myself that a rosy glow will soon return to my translucent white skin, I recall one more magical moment from our final evening in Nosara last June.  We had all just made our way back in the evening shadows from our last class, and were settling in for dinner.  A motorcycle announced its approach, a faint hum building to a roar that muted the cicadas and even the howler beasts. Yohan, our other phenomenal PB surf instructor (and Co. Owner of Nosara Family Surf) had arrived to join us.  He came bearing a gift.  It was time to celebrate and champagne was in order.  One of our Pointe Break guests, Craig, had made it up on the surf board for the first time.  He had been attempting to for years, and was determined that after recovering from a hip replacement, this time the triumph would be his. The table as a whole protested that they were not proficient in opening a bottle of champagne.  After 12 years of experience in the service industry (I am an artist, after all), I volunteered.  I removed the foil and cage and paused as Yohan finished his toast to Craig’s accomplishment and we all applauded.  Suddenly, the cork exploded into the night sky, disappearing into the jungle and champagne followed, erupting like a geizer onto the table, my head and lap. Screaming with laughter and hustling to salvage what we could of the golden nectar, we realized what had happened. Yohan had just spent the past half hour on a motorcycle on a Costa Rican country road, with the bottle in the back basket. By the time he arrived it had become a tiny liquid pressure bomb.

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As I licked the sticky vintage from my fingers and mopped my face, I decided there couldn’t have been a more perfect way to end the retreat. Clichés aside, we all realize at some point in our lives that we have been building our own little pressure bombs inside us.  We yearn to break from the steady path we are on, put ourselves squarely in front of our fears, and release the pressure of expectations or restrictions, internally or externally dictated.  If we don’t ever allow ourselves the freedom, we might just explode.  And unlike the champagne, it doesn’t necessarily mean a party after.  Make the decision to pop that cork intentionally.

There is always something to celebrate, a jeté to lift you off your feet, and another wave to catch.

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(Jenn and Nat- friends and Pointe Break retreat directors)

Akela Surf and Pointe Break Retreats Team Up-Captivating an Audience

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For me there was no question that I was going to integrate FASHION into this retreat! It is what I have done professionally for most of my life and is well apart of who I am. Pointe Break Retreats is more than just a vacation or a get away, its a level of quality and innovation. No plain or generic attire would do for our clients, I wanted a fresh and cheeky look that captivated an audience. That is what Pointe Break truly is, a combination of all things that Jennifer Nichols and I LOVE! Pointe Break is a product of passion, talent and love. It was also an easy decision to put our company Logo on a branded rash guard made and designed by the talented team at Akela Surf. Being a Canadian Company ourselves we wanted to support another Canadian company in the creation of our exclusive rash guards.  The story of Akela surf is rooted by love, passion and vision. Its a love story that I fell in love with myself as well as their philosophy. We couldn’t be more excited to reveal our rashie this June at Pointe Break Retreats.

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Akela is the Hawaiian word for “happy”. Thirty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw on your rash guard. Take a chance. Catch a wave. Explore the world. Pursue your dreams.

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Meet Annie and Servio!

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Akela began before the husband-wife team ever met.

Annie has been creating art in the form of clothing since she was in her early teens. From a small town in Quebec, she quickly fell in love snowboarding and the skate culture. Eager to play with designs and colors, she created her first skater tees while she was still in high school.

Her passion landed her 2280 miles west where she got accepted to study Fashion Design at Helen Lefeaux in Vancouver. And that’s where her creativity and unique style was able to blossom. Her love for her craft and all of her hard work quickly paid off.

She began her career working for Three Stones, a street inspired fashion women’s line. She moved back to Montreal, Quebec to help Orage, an outerwear clothing brand, to help develop their ski brand and identity. Later she traveled all over Europe and Asia for Osiris Shoes to help with trend spotting, trade shows and to work directly with their overseas manufactures.

One fateful day in Del Mar, California, Annie was introduced to surfing. She remembers the first time riding a surfboard and the indescribable rush she felt after catching her first wave – pure happiness.

Annie’s kindred spirit led her to take a trip that started in Tofino, Canada and led her to set up her first surf shop in Sri Lanka. She designed a surf clothing line that used all of the local fabric and accessories that she could find – it was very popular with the tourists.

With her newly acquired experiences, she went back to Quebec where she happened to run into Servio in a metro station. Servio jumped at the chance to ask her out for coffee.

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He says “It was like two old souls finding each other.”

Servio was studying international commerce in Montreal. He started surfing at the age of 9 near Margarita Island, where he was born. After political turmoil erupted in his native country, he moved to Barbados where he was able to study English. Before long he was backpacking across Europe, learning French and Italian as he traveled. An adventurer, just like Annie, he wanted to keep exploring the world so he moved west, to Montreal. The harsh Canadian winters and lack of Ocean waterfront made him miss his surfboard and the freedom of the Atlantic waves. He began planning a way to combine life, surf and business

Akela Surf was born in January 2012. The couple started an online business that offered eco friendly products for the Canadian Market selling organic tees, surf wax, and accessories. It was very important for them to respect and cherish the beauty of the worlds oceans. They pledged to ensure that their products would not negatively affect the environment. Based off of their work, they won a competition at HEC in Montreal. After a few months, they opened their first store in Montreal, Quebec.

They experienced fantastic growth and after a year of operations, Annie gave birth to their son, Kaiko. They decided to take a trip to Barbados. During their trip they received some amazing feedback from one of Akela’s swimsuits and before long – demand for their unique offerings blew up! They decided to shift their business to focus solely on Akela Surf and closed their store shortly after.

Akela Surf now offers a full line of unique, handmade, clothing and accessories for their customers

Check out below some great media coverage from this brand!

http://www.thesurfoffice.com/blog/2015/4/24/akela-surf

http://akelasurf.com/pages/media-coverage

Pura Vida xo

Mom and dad I still miss you! xo

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JENN’S TOP RECOMMENDED DAILY EXERCISE TO PREP FOR SURF AND SAUTES… EXTENSION METHOD HIP BRIDGE SERIES (targets glutes, hamstrings, core)

Part 1 -Lie on back, bend knee and place feet flat on floor, hip width apart and toes pointing straight ahead in parallel -Pressing feet strongly into the floor, raise hips as high as you can, using your glute muscles and hamstrings (backs of legs). Try to achieve a straight line across the front of the hip in full bridge REPEAT X 8 FULL BRIDGE, FOLLOWED BY 16 PULSES Part 2 -Repeat Part 1 with one leg raised, bridging on one supporting leg. Ensure bottom kne stays in line with centre of bottom foot REPEAT X 8 FULL BRIDGE, FOLLOWED BY 16 PULSES, BOTH LEGS Part 3 -Repeat Part 1 and 2 with HEELS RAISED. Do not lower heels for entire exercise. Ensure foot does not roll outwards over outside of foot, towards baby toe. Place more pressure under big toe and inside of foot. Keep inside of heel bone in line with centre of hips REPEAT X 8 FULL BRIDGE, FOLLOWED BY 16 PULSES, BOTH LEGS THEN SINGLES Part 4 -Repeat Part 1 and 2 in TURN OUT position (knees open to frog/diamond shape). Use outer edge of foot to push off floor, activating outside of upper leg and hips to bridge REPEAT X 8 FULL BRIDGE, FOLLOWED BY 16 PULSES, BOTH LEGS THEN SINGLES

Why are these exercises important? The hip bridges fire up the upper hamstrings and glutes, targeting small groups of muscles that are vital for full extension and powering from the backs of legs to help raise the hips and not sink back in the pelvis. The bridges with heels raised strength a group of muscles just above the knee joint, called the VMO, which assist in stabilizing the knee and ensuring that the leg is fully stretched in extension (knee caps full lifted). Bridges in turnout build strength and stability in external rotation and any circular movements of the leg.  This series is crucial for building stability, balance and tracking of the knee joints when on the surf board, as well as building the power to pop up and ride that wave…

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Jenn’s 3 ‘Pre-Class’ Stretch Tips!

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Just as it is essential to ‘wakeup’ and prepare our body before we hit the surf, there are a few stretches and warmup exercises we can do to ready ourselves for an intense dance class. Before you move into any stretch, you first want to ensure that your muscles are warm. Stretching with cold muscles places you at risk of tearing and straining the tissue.

To heat up the lower body before moving into a stretch, try this hip opener to get the blood moving and start your internal furnace:

ATTITUDE CLOCHES

-place one hand on a barre or counter top for stability

-begin to swing outside leg, slightly turned out from the hip and bent at the knee, from the front to the back in a ‘pendulum’ action

-ensure that there is no tension in the hip joint; allow the weight of the leg with gravity to drop to the floor as you brush from front to back

-release tension in hip, although ensure ribs remain closed and navel draws in towards spine to project the lower back

-repeat x 32, both sides

-next, face the barre or counter top and repeat swings, this time opening leg to the side, then allow it to drop and swing across the body (sideways pendulum)

-imagine a string attached to the knee cap, drawing the thigh up and then releasing to fall back towards the floor

-ensure torso does not move or twist with the action of the leg; remain still and square in upper body

-repeat x 32 each leg Now you are warm and open in the hips, ready to move into some basic stretches before you begin class!

PASSIVE HAMSTRING & GLUTES STRETCH

HAMSTRINGS

-face barre or counter top and place one leg up, extended to the front, ensuring square hips

-raise opposite arm and bend forward, crossing hand over to outside of leg

-bend and stretch standing leg slowly 4 times

-hold stretch with straight standing leg for 2 minutes

-standing tall, extend same arm as raised leg to the side, then twist body towards it and place back of hand against back; use the pressure of the hand pushing to increase the torsion of the twist; breathe and hold for 30 seconds

-finish by folding forward again, this time straight forward, one hand on either side of leg, reaching for barre; hold for 2 minutes

Repeat other leg

GLUTEUS

-place leg on barre or counter top with 90 degree angle bend at knee, outside of foot resting on barre

-fold body forwards over leg and take hold of barre, one hand on either side of leg; hold for 1 minute

-bend and stretch standing leg slowly 4 times

-rock body in towards barre, decreasing angle at the knee, then back out, increasing angle x 4

-cross two hands to outside of raised foot and pulling body into diagonal stretch; hold for 1 minute

-next, cross hands to inside of raised foot and pull the body once ore into the opposite diagonal stretch; hold for 1 minute

Repeat other leg

Natalie’s Top 3 Pre-Surf Stretches

As athletes we all know the importance of stretching before and after our activities or workouts. In this case we are focussing on Surfing and Ballet Fitness. I hit the waters of Nosara twice a day and always do the following 3 pre surf stretches. These are my favourite go- to’s which excite my entire body and stimulate my nervous system. Dynamic stretching is best for pre surf stretching as it will mimic the same movements you will be doing out in the water. These dynamic stretches are meant to “turn on” all the vital parts of the body used in surfing. Surfing is an intense sport and utilizes the entire muscular system of the body so it is important to get the juices flowing before even strapping on your leash. You want to firstly increase your heart rate and then take your muscles through a full range of motion. Paying attention to any injuries you will take your body into movements that mirror those of surfing in slow controlled movements. The entire propose of dynamic stretching before surfing is to warm up the body and prepare it for “movement.” When we surf we are engaging our entire bodies and primarily are using our backs ( not our shoulders ) to propel us forward in order to catch waves. Therefore stretching the lower and upper back is vital to a pre surf session. Your warm up should take about 8-10 minutes long before you are ready to strap up and hit the salty waters. Here is a list of my top three pre surf stretches with descriptions.

Jump rope or Tuck Jumping Jumping rope is an awesome movement to get the heart rate up and blood flowing to the entire body. A study has found that five minutes of continually jumping rope can have the same cardiovascular output as 30 minutes of light jogging. If you don’t have a jump rope with you, use your arms and mimic a rope and do the same moments for jumping rope. For a warm-up, three minutes should be sufficient. My favourite is tuck jumping…. stand in a balanced stance  and lift your arms at your ears. Keeping your arms at your ears bring your knees up to you chest and repeat for as many as you can. It is important that every time you land you bend your knees to absorb the jump and use your feet and calves to propel you back up for your next tuck jump. This is a warmup that is used in many sports that use quick movements and in the case of surfing we need this movement for popping up on our boards.

Lower Back Thoracic One Legged Twist Low back rotations – Surfing is extremely hard on lower backs with turns and movements that are taxing on this large muscle group. This exercise will get those sleeping muscles ready and turn on your proprioceptors (they help you balance). To perform this stretch, you want to stand with your big toes, knees, hips and shoulders in line then bring one knee up to hip level so that you’re standing on one leg. Grab the knee that’s lifted with the opposite hand and pull it across your body while twisting at the waist in the other direction. Hold for two or three seconds then return to the starting position and repeat on the other side for a total of 20 repetitions.

Front bended shoulder rolls The rotator cuff and shoulders take a beating while surfing especially if we lack the upper back strength while learning. This is also an area that is subject to injuries therefore we need to make sure that it is warmed up and ready for paddling. Stand in a balanced position with legs shoulder width apart. Bend forward until you feel a slight stretch in the hamstrings. Take both arms up at the ears and in a slow and controlled movements rotate them forwards. It is important that this movement is controlled and the shoulder gets a full rotation in the socket. Repeat this movement backwards. I usually like to warm up my shoulders the most and dedicate 2-3 minutes on this exercise.

For other pre surf stretches ck out http://www.surfstronger.com/tips/ViewTip/5

I have posted videos of each of these stretches on our Facebook and instagram pages. Follow us!

See you in the water Pura Vida xo Natalie

I Heart Nosara Costa Rica and Why I Call this Paradise HOME

So here is the inside scoop from a Canadian gal who gave it all up to move to Nosara ( a.k.a Playa Guiones ) and live my dreams of surf , sun and Pura Vida! This is my take on this gorgeous little surf town, how I live, experience and see it everyday! This is the HOT spot for surfers and fitness enthusiasts worldwide yet it has managed to maintain a yet peaceful and angelic quality to it. Just last week we had Brooke Shields and Julie Ann Moore both hit the waters of this beach break and yet I barely heard any buzz…. it wasn’t a riot of people following them around… life is more than that here, its really Pura Vida! I am using this as an example of the  mind set that locals and travellers to Nosara have to a simple and un-cluttered life focussing on nature and family.   The pipa (baby coconut water) I drink every morning now gives me more joy than a US weekly magazine ever did although I have no idea who has a baby bump nowadays!

I decided to make the move to Nosara just over a year ago after another visit here. It just seemed natural, felt like every time I went back to Toronto I left part of myself back in Costa Rica. Its a place that can restore you and make you feel whole. I currently wake up every morning and check out the surf, head out into the ever so consistent waves and start off my day on a wet foot! Playa Guiones is the best beach breach I have ever surfed and its as soft and gentle for beginners as it is challenging out back for those more advanced. The culture on the water is very friendly and welcoming in comparison to some breaks I have surfed in this world. It is a sandy bottom, over a mile long sandy heaven. I have been so lucky to share my love of the sport by teaching others to surf as well. I personally love teaching the kids.. they are fearless and well I can’t resist a little grom (surfer term for surfer kid) in a rashie charging waves.

Surfing also means for me… bleached hair, salted and dreaded after every session. My pale and freckled skin is now a somewhat golden tone (for an irish chica) and what I wouldn’t give for a good facial! Nail polish and pedicures are a thing of the past but its all worth it to me. Staying fashionable is also very important to me as that what my background has been in for over 10 years! I am usually rocking a rashie or swim suit for Canadian designers Akela Surf (www.akelasurf.com) or my favourite surf leggings from another wicked Canadian designer Michi (www.michiny.com)

Physically surfing has transformed my body. My upper body and back have developed trememdously and its a new strength that is welcomed. I maintain a very healthy life style down here and run weekly workouts each week with my girlfriends. This is when I get to dance! This is when my feet and toes hit the sand and my arms come into first position and I push my entire self to train in The Extension Method way. (www.extensionmethod.com) This methodology of training truly changed my life… it changed my posture, flexibility, strength and also my attitude. I miss the studio back in Toronto but always new I could combine both my love for surfing and ballet fitness. This is how Pointe Break Retreats was born. (www.pointebreakretreats.com) The two are complimentary to each other and both are FUN! Isn’t that what its all about anyways!

Lastly I will comment on my favourite part of Nosara… THE SUNSETS. Never ever have I been bewildered every dusk by these stunning sunsets. I think I actually fell in love with them before anything else here, even my tico boyfriend (stay tuned for love in Nosara!) They will stop everyone on the beach at sunset in their tracks. People gather at the beach every night to watch the spectacle, businesses close their doors so their staff can head down in time to watch the golden orange globe disappear behind the aqua horizon. Babies (usually naked) and families run and frolic and there is nothing but laughter that fills the air. The sun sets quite early here in Playa Guiones, usually around 5 30 depending on the season which allows for a coming down period before you sleep. Its a natural sleep-wake cycle… up with the sun and down with the bright moon.

I hope this is the beginning of a glimpse into the life of me here in Costa Rica and I can’t wait to share more stories about my daily adventures in my dream world. Mom and Dad I miss you everyday xo

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Love and Pura Vida

 

Natalie Sageloly

Co-owner Pointe Break Retreats

Ck us out on Facebook or Instagram @pointebreakretreats

 

 

 

A message from Extension Method Founder, Jennifer Nichols… The Genesis of Pointe Break!

As March draws to an end, I find myself falling prey to the cliché laments prompted by snow falling after the spring equinox. A self professed lover of winter, even I am indulging in mental fantasies, trips to sun washed locales with feet liberated from weighty layers and damp cold.

Which means when there is just such a trip in sight, my mind dances away from me often. Two years ago, I met an extraordinary woman named Natalie Sageloly. Living in the Corktown neighbourhood where my studio, The Extension Room, is located, she had begun to attend my classes regularly. I was instantly charmed by her incredible energy, her zest and joy when she moved. Upon learning that she was an avid surfer, two things came to mind: one, that explained her strength and balance, and two, I want to try my hand at that (or would try my leg be more à propos?) Natalie’s trips to Costa Rica while we got to know each other inspired my envy and curiosity. Having worked with competitive snowboarders in the past (see Extension Method featured in WOMEN’S SNOWBOARD ANNUAL: ), I began to wonder if there could also be a correlation and cross-training potential between ballet and ‘boarding on the sea’?
When Natalie announced her plans to move to Nosara, she proposed a tantalizing idea. Already saddened by the thought of missing her daily dance classes, she was concocting ways to bring them to Costa Rica…which was the genesis of POINTE BREAK.

Where surf and sand meet sautés and soutenus.

The two disciplines are in fact perfectly complementary. Both emphasize core strength, balance, postural alignment and aplomb. They develop superior leg stability and proper tracking of the knee and hip joints. And at the heart of both is a heightened awareness of rhythm.

This is an ideal marriage of the dance on land and sea. It was our motivation for first dreaming, then designing POINTE BREAK RETREATS.

In anticipation of nightfall by the beach, I’ve decided to invest in a noise cancelling machine with ocean sounds to lull me to sleep. Prepping the psyche for bliss.

_______
Jennifer
Founder, Director; Extension Method
Co-Owner; Pointe Break Retreats

*this week on the blog: ‘The Benefits of Dance Class in Tropical Climates’, ‘3 Ballet Exercises to Prep You for the Surfboard’, ‘Finding Your Balance: Secrets on Land and on Water’*

*don’t forget! You have until March 31 to take advantage of the Pointe Break Retreat EARLY BIRD SPECIAL*