One of my favorite parts about surfing is the amazing people you meet in the water. Every session allows strangers to share in the alluring insanity of a sport rooted in riding a slab of wood in the middle of the ocean. It’s like we’re part of a secret society – a special understanding only explained when it’s experienced. The people you meet in the water are your inadvertent comrades, primitively paddling alongside you, as you both uncover the mystics of the sea. Poetic, right?
Technically, I first met Dustin in the virtual world… But we’ll just breeze past that minor detail because it sounds way cooler to say we met out in the waves. The real story began after I launched my first Gnarly Girls post.
I got an email from my aunt saying “You need to meet Dustin! She started a surf camp called Maui Surfer Girls. It’s not just for surfing, it gives girls a start in their own empowerment.” As if I wasn’t already sold by the subject line, my aunt followed up with: “I think she has some videos of her surfing Jaws, too.”
Jaws?? As in Maui’s biggest surfing break? As in the same Jaws where the waves can reach up to 80 feet?
Yep, that’s the one. That’s when MY jaw dropped.
My mom grew up in Lahaina, Maui. Although I’ve visited Hawaii since I was a little keiki, my only surfing experience was muddling through overpriced tourist-trap lessons. It was the same scenario each time: high prices for an impersonal short session where I was herded into waves like cattle, and I tried my best to avoid giant foam boards to the face.
With those past experiences in mind, I reached out to Dustin and Maui Surfer Girls hoping to find a new go-to surfing spot, and get a few pointers. She agreed to meet with Gnarly Girls, and took “pointers” to a new level, providing me with an abundance of surfing advice and knowledge. Oh, and did I mention the whole Jaws thing? Because that makes her one of the gnarliest of gnarly girls.
Dustin boasts over 35 years of surfing experience. Even though she’s held her own in big waves, her bright and friendly demeanor made her very approachable. Naturally, one of the first questions I asked her was about surfing at Jaws, to which she laughed and replied, “that was during my glory days!” Noted: she’s super humble, too!
Maui Surfer Girls stands apart from other surf lessons because they teach at a mellow beach without big crowds. Dustin works with a trusted team of surf instructors who all share her same easygoing energy. While I met with Dustin, the assistant director, Lucy, and instructor “Sharky” were also on the shore leading other lessons. Even her dog surfs.
Dustin and I started on the beach, where she drew the channel in the sand, and explained the wave breaks. I told her my current focus was timing my pop-up, and she gave me a few tips to practice. After the lessons on land, we paddled out.
I had to laugh when she apologized for the “bad conditions” after the one time I had to do a turtle roll. In comparison to the frigid temperatures and riptides of the Oregon Coast where "surfing" is synonymous with "constantly pummeled by waves," one quick turtle roll in warm water hardly translates to "bad conditions" in my book.
That moment, along with many others, highlighted Dustin’s caring disposition. Throughout our day of surfing, I felt at ease with her, which is pretty important when you’re plunging into the ocean’s unknowns. She constantly encouraged me, but also added the perfect balance of constructive tweaks to improve for the next wave.
If you’re a desk monkey like me, being a surf instructor can seem like a dream career, flaunting a job description of constant waves, extensive sun time, and 24/7 beach relaxation. I asked Dustin about the most challenging part of her job, expecting her to say injuries or the occasional sunburn. Her answer took me by surprise. She explained how her job isn’t just teaching people how to surf, but often times she has to guide them through difficult emotional periods. In a way, she’s like a life coach – always helping her students overcome fear and other cognitive obstacles. Luckily, she fits the job perfectly.
My biggest takeaway from surfing with Dustin was her ability to frame everything with a lens of positivity.
I tend to be very hard on myself when it comes to sports. In the beginning of our session, I struggled to catch waves, and got frustrated. Each time I paddled back to Dustin, I would tell her what I did wrong. “I was too late on the pop up” or “I should have had better balance.” Dustin would always counteract my statement with a compliment, responding with “that’s true, but I really liked how you started your pop-up earlier that time” or “you did a great job positioning yourself into that wave.” She always picked out one good aspect from each of my efforts.
Surfing is a mental sport as much as it is a physical sport. Sometimes it’s not about perfecting pop-ups – it's about perfecting the psyche. Part of the beginner process is learning how to redirect negative thoughts into positive self-talk.
While I got down on myself, Dustin gave me a psychological lift, and her constant reassurance boosted my confidence in the water. Her ability to reframe my mindset taught me a priceless lesson about overcoming mental blocks. Although we didn't meet in the water, Dustin and I still became those inadvertent comrades brought together by the love of surfing. Not only did she paddle alongside me as we divulged in the mysteries of the sea, but she helped me conquer those mysteries within myself.
Surfing photos courtesy of Maui Surfer Girls. For more information on Maui Surfer Girls, visit their website: http://www.mauisurfergirls.com/