Apolla Echino is a bit of a superhero!
We heard of this woman planning a Winter surf trip in our neighborhood, the South Island of New Zealand - alone. WHAT? We are talking snow in the mountains and 9 degree water!
So, we got in touch with Apolla and she wrote a piece in our current CURL #50.
I came to New Zealand for love, and left with a broken heart. But in between those two events, I made an empowering film about surfing the South Island of New Zealand in the Winter. The relationship ended up being temporary, but my series about adventure travel as a solo women, “A Woman’s Guide to the World”, benefited from this relocation.
I film these trips to inspire other women to get out and engage with the world in different ways. Just in case, like me, they want something more out of life. They know that happiness must come from within, from the relationship they have with themselves. It is in this spirit that I created the show to inspire women to be the subject of their own adventure stories. The previous episode had me sailing on a 100 year old boat to Antarctica, and then traveling through the Amazon.
New Zealand wasn’t on my initial list for the series. But a year ago, I met a Kiwi in Canada and fell in love. So when he said he wanted to move back home, I went with him. See? Up for any adventure… But the relocation proved to be hard on my relationship. He stopped being interested and interesting, and I knew I needed to fulfill myself outside of the relationship.
I met with a NZ production company and we hit it off. Wrestler was doing cool, branded videos, and was up for an adventure. They saw the potential of this project, so worked hard to get a brand on board to support the journey. That’s when Education New Zealand came on as a sponsor, as they are a new brand that really understands what their customers want to see from the content they share.
Along with Bluebridge Ferry, Ama Balm and Pacific Horizon motorhomes, we had our complete sponsorship, and I was ready to go. We were about to go into winter, but I didn’t care. I thought the cold would only add to the story.
The show is about traveling solo, but I needed to bring someone along with me to operate the several different cameras needed to shoot this kind of trip. Conor Lui, from Wrestler, traveled behind me in his own van, and we never hung out on the trip, except while shooting. When I would get out of the surf after an exhilarating or frustrating surf, Conor, being a good guy, would always ask me how I was and how it felt. I would instantly reply, “is the camera rolling?”.
I love the idea that being better women helps make better men. The reverse is probably also true. I was looking forward to some time away from my questionable relationship. It was hard to think of ending the relationship when I had invested so much into it. It’s like looking for a place to live. When you walk into the rooms, you picture your life in there. You imagine your future inside that home. And when the place falls through, you feel deflated, like your dreams have collapsed. So, along with the wealth of experience being added to my life by going on this road trip, I was also going to use the time to get clear about what is important to me, as well as the values I have about a relationship, if I am to be in one.
To be clear, I would have gone on an adventure regardless, relationship or not. It would have been self reflective, even without the need to make a significant life decision. But if you did have to make a big life decision, doing it in the water, surfing, is the way to do it. You feel calm, connected to something bigger than yourself, and you are quiet.
My first stop was Kaikoura. The most beautiful surf spot that I have ever seen. Stunning coastline, with snow capped mountains in the background. Mangamaunu was an awe-inspiring bay. But there was no one there because there was no swell. I suited up anyway and paddled out. It was small, but rideable. It felt amazing to be all alone in the water. Away from everything. On the journey.
That whole coast was pretty quiet, surf-wise. I knew Dunedin was a mecca for surf in the South Island, so I made the decision to keep moving. I stopped at All Day Bay for a frigid surf. My toes were burning even before I got in the water. Since I was surfing every day, and sleeping without electricity at night, my wetsuit, booties and gloves never had the chance to dry. I purchased a winter suit in Wellington. A 5.5mm Patagonia suit, with an attached hood. It’s hard to make a thick wetsuit look cute. I could only find this thickness in a men’s suit. So, no shapely lines for me. Just a chunky, thick rubber suit, with extra space in the crotch and a wide mid section.
I started surfing in my 30s, when I relocated to Los Angeles from New York. I bought a 9’4 board and found my sweet spot as a longboarder. I loved the laid back vibe of it. That same green board with a heart on it was now with me on my way to Dunedin. The waves were becoming more powerful the farther south I went. The thrashing one normally takes in the whitewash became slightly more ass kicking. And the cold water made you tired quicker. But the freshness in the air was helping me stay present. I wanted to reconnect with who I was, deep down inside. Sometimes, a wave in life grabs you and you move so quickly that you just have to go with the flow. Now, I was entering a period of assimilation and reflection. I needed to let go of the expectations I had of myself, my relationship, my career, all of it. And just ‘be’ again. But the one thing I know to be true, is that life is a series of choices. Even when you think you are being passive and not making any choices, you are choosing something. Even by default.
In Dunedin, friends had connected me with a young surfer girl, Hannah, who took me to a secret spot, and I had one of my most memorable days there. I absolutely love surfing with women. They are encouraging and supportive out in the water. It’s such a different vibe than surfing with guys. I sometimes struggle with being aggressive enough out in a busy line-up. The ratio of men to women is always pretty heavy. I try to tell guys that it’s like when they go to a yoga class. They feel intimidated because there are 20 women to one man, and the women are naturally more gifted with flexibility. So how would they like the ladies to treat them in that environment?
I have never had the opportunity to surf this many days in a row. My strength and endurance were building, and I was learning how to read waves better. Since I was usually alone out there, I was having to find the right spot myself, instead of relying on where the lineup was. Talk about being thrown in the deep end. What the hell was I doing, taking such a gutsy trip? It should be reserved for surfers who are way more experienced and more competent. Come to think of it, I only started having these worries once my period came. Now I wasn’t just a solo woman out in the water, in a remote location, in a foreign country. I was now physically bleeding. But there had been very few shark attacks in New Zealand, so I was able to set those fears aside. I was more worried about drowning, or being swept off to Antarctica.
When I got to Riverton, I saw a flyer for the Southland Surf School, with a woman’s name on it. I called Jess that night and asked her if she could take me out for a surf the next day. We met in Colac Bay, and had a sweet session. We caught so many waves, talked about love and relationships. I opened up about what I was going through, and the clarity that came from the past week and a half of solitude made me realize that I was not in a good relationship. Out here, I felt so confident and strong. But my heart back home was feeling suppressed and uncared-for. My boyfriend and I were still talking, but I could feel the disparity of goals.
Next, I drove to Jackson Bay, in the southernmost area of the West Coast. This was not in any surf book, but I had heard about it from a surfer I met while passing through Queenstown. He told me about a long right hander, next to a river. When I got there, I found the place to be very isolated. A local fisherman told me that he had once seen a surfer in there. I was feeling very intimidated by the murky water and the large, pounding surf of the West Coast. I had to give myself a solid pep talk about how hard I’ve been training, and that I was ready for this experience. Putting a brave face on, I paddled out and struggled to find a good place to sit. The tide was shifting and the big waves were breaking on my head. The drone, which had a 15 minute battery life, was buzzing around me. I looked up at it, and yelled “I’m trying!!!”. It was a stressful 15 minutes, but I caught a beautiful wave. I rode it all the way in. Conor and I hugged each other, knowing that we had got the shot! He was patiently flying the drone, far away on shore, watching me through the screen of the remote control. He could see me getting pounded out there. His face and arms were being infested by sand flies, but he was able to fly the drone steadily along with me and my wave. Mission accomplished.
In Westport, the surf report was full of warning signs and 3 meter swells. I found a local surfer, and he pointed at a spot on his map, telling me that I should try there. “That can’t be right. That’s a river!”. He said that when the swell was right, it entered the river and was absorbed by a man made beach, built in order to keep the river port calm. And as luck would have it, it was breaking while I was there, which it apparently does only a dozen times a year. At first sight, it looked as though the surf was going to push you straight into the rocks, but I could see a right hand building. So again, after yet another pep talk, I suited up.
I surfed that Buller River break for 3 hours, until I couldn’t move my arms anymore. The fresh water was strenuous to paddle in, and it hurt when it went up my nose, but I felt blissed out by this amazing session.
Having only 3 days left on my trip, I drove back to Kaikoura, where the swell was looking promising. The first afternoon was incredible. The waves were perfect, and the crowd was small. But the next morning was a struggle. I think I was stressed about going home and dealing with my relationship. I let myself get intimidated by all the guys out in the water, and just didn’t have any fight in me. The sets were big, and the men were focused. It felt like I was never in the right spot, and when I was, someone else would jump on my wave. Defeated, I paddled in and had a cry on the beach. I was frustrated with myself and felt like a victim. I hate feeling like a victim. No matter what happens to me in life, I always try to reassert myself, and pull myself out of the hole I’ve dug. But this day was different. I could hear negative thoughts in my head, and I couldn’t get control over my mind. So I sat this session out, and just enjoyed the incredible surroundings. I spent that evening letting go of any expectations I had of myself. What would I do if this relationship ended? Where would I go? Am I failing? Can I work harder? Do I want the kind of relationship that has no communication? What am I going to do with my life?
I let these questions remain unanswered. I knew better than to make any decisions when I felt clouded. I would wait until I felt centered in myself again. The next morning, I woke up full of life, and felt so good out in the water. This would be my last surf on this trip. After this, I would have to make some bold decisions in my life, and maybe go through a period of change, and of potentially heartbreak. But I knew that I could withstand this. That I had to make a difference in my own life.
It only took two days after my arrival home for that decision to be made. It was a difficult time, but I got through it by focusing on work, on this beautiful project that I was so proud of. I moved hemispheres to be with someone and it didn’t work out. But in that time, I created a great working relationship with Wrestler, and together, we produced an incredible show. Saddest of all, though, I sold my surfboard. I couldn’t bear to ship it across the Pacific again, so I found a wonderful young mom to sell it to. She would be learning on it, as well as teaching her two young daughters how to surf on it. My surfboard would be a source for three other women to find their strength, courage and inner peace.
“A Woman’s Guide to the World - Surfing the South Island of New Zealand” is out September 1st, and can be seen on A Woman’s Guide to the World’s Facebook page.
Check out all her movie: https://vimeo.com/apolloniaproductions