One might wonder what makes any retreat, more specifically a Sup Surf Retreat, a hit. While hard to quantify the how and why, there does appear to be a fundamental recipe that can be followed to ensure success.
“A chance to live the dream we’re all after, and do it in style” – Evelyn O’Doherty
Stand up Paddle Retreat Dreams – Location, Location, Location
It’s all about the ingredients, so it makes sense to start with a slice of perfectly toasted paradise, surrounded by crystal clear azure seas baked to a comfortable 81 degrees. Add in warm salty breezes of the same delicious temperature. Sprinkle in plenty of pelicans, sea turtles and rustling palm trees. Top it off with puffy white clouds, the most comfortable bed, and beach towels smelling of promise. Toss lightly and place it all just steps from consistently beckoning surf.
Sup Retreat bonus: It’s all about the tribe
The pièce de résistance is an adventurous group of like-minded souls stoked to surf and stand up paddle to their heart’s content, while strictly adhering to an itinerary caveated with:
“Entire schedule is subject to change at a moment’s notice.”
Ultimately, what this recipe allows is for those who come (doctors, teachers, psychologists, writers) to fully unplug from their regular lives and connect instead with each other and with the rhythm of the ocean.
Waterman’s Lifestyle Retreat in Rincon, PR.
In this case, it is called “Waterman’s Lifestyle Retreat,” held at Villa Playa Maria in Rincon, Puerto Rico. This exceptional experience is hosted a few times a year by sup race fitness trainer Evelyn O’Doherty and legendary surfer Chuck Patterson. This duo exudes an aloha vibe while making sure, through months of planning, hard work and attention to detail, that those who attend achieve a daily balance of chill & challenge, over five sumptuous days out on the water.
I was lucky enough to attend their Waterman’s Lifestyle Sup & Surf retreat in April 2018, for a second year in a row, and yes, my inner child was nurtured while a sense of calm began as I discovered new ways to enjoy the glide. The ocean provided gentle waves – or as Chuck laughingly put it,
“Glassy, 1 foot and firing!”
And we all took the opportunity to bust out of our comfort zones and attempt new wave riding techniques.
Waterman’s Lifestyle: Explore Your Boundaries
I discovered a new passion— sup surfing and could not get enough of it. Some surfed, some foil-surfed, some sup surfed, some paddle boarded, some kite-boarded, but we were all just happily buoyant beings.
“We all took the opportunity to bust out of our comfort zones and attempt new wave riding techniques.”
Yes, I found myself feeling laden with guilt over leaving my commitments and family behind to dive into several days of quality “me time,” but I still managed to get on the flight and go. The second I arrived in that little slice of tropical heaven, where I could literally watch the waves while lying in bed and then do rooftop sun salutations to the actual setting sun, regret was the very last thing on my mind.
Sup Retreat: Community on the Water
And even more so when joyously embraced by some familiar faces of last year’s retreat, along with some excited new welcoming ones. We had all come here, escaping the endless winter up north, with the same mission: to dial in our surf and paddle board skills while having fun, keeping expectations to a minimum and relaxation to a maximum.
As Evelyn put it so well, we were all “exploding with new awareness about water sports” while rejoicing in our common purpose and cheering each other on. It felt a bit like church, the ocean our pulpit.
During our collective decompression, the food was healthy, the hydrating was often, the laughs genuine, the surfside setting idyllic, and the camaraderie on the water so joyous that we stayed out long after sunset.
Sup Retreat: Private Coaching & Downloads
There were bonuses to this kind of intimate group dynamic, such as impromptu tips and lessons. For example, I learned how to make go pro movies and how to better access all my Go Pro photos. I also loved learning the in’s and out’s of surf and paddle board fin placement as well. And one afternoon, a few of us went to a local shop nearby to load up on new women-specific Sup Surf outfits.
Another noteworthy sidebar is that in addition to imparting extensive sup race training skills, Chuck, a waterman and talented Go Pro photographer, captured many perfect moments. He also made sure that we all left with those epic shots to post to social media and commemorate the trip.
Puerto Rico & the effect of Hurricane Maria
At the time of this retreat, Puerto Rico was just 7 months into its rebuilding efforts following the devastating damage of Hurricane Maria and Irma. We were fortunate to be able to talk with locals, such as the owners of Villa Cofresi, to learn firsthand about details of the efforts.
“If everyone could have this opportunity, ocean health and coastal conservation would be even more paramount on the global political agenda.”
As we paddled all along the shores of Rincon, we saw the extent of coastal devastation up-close. The Rincon Beach Boy sup race was not able to be held this year due to all the damage, but it will be held next year on its 10th anniversary, and it’s a sure bet that the race will be better than ever.
We also got to pitch in and help with a nearby beach cleanup, which left the beach a bit better off, and everyone feeling a bit more connected to this island paradise and its people. We supported local artists by attending the weekly art walk in town where we bought hand-made treasures to remind us of this place and time, like my new necklace bearing the simple statement: SALTWATER.
As we paddled across the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve on one of our long morning paddles, the quiet pristine beauty of the protected elkhorn coral left us feeling reverent. As we hovered on our boards gazing at the reef, I felt more connected to it, to the sea, and more protective of it all. If everyone could have this opportunity, ocean health and coastal conservation would be even more paramount on the global political agenda.
Fish Tacos, Sunsets and Reflections
Our final night was gathered around a square outdoor table eating fish tacos prepared by Villa Playa Maria’s extraordinary chef, Gaby. We reflected on what we’d learned and shared personal stories while feeling more relaxed and confident in our sup, surf and sup surf skills.
As Evelyn summed up so beautifully in her own reflection on the retreat:
“A group of people started the week off expressing a need for a reset and time for reflection before moving ahead into the next season. Upon departure, each one of them is happy, tan, smiling, and full of water-based memories for the year ahead. New connections have been made and relationships shared. No matter where we go, we are together on the water.”
Yes, Evelyn, that is exactly how we all feel.
Written by, Lisa duBusc Miller
For MORE information about Villa Playa Maria: http://www.rinconpuertoricobeachfrontluxuryvilla.com/
For MORE information regarding the 2019 Waterman’s Lifestyle Retreat: http://www.evelynodoherty.com/travel.php