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By: Wendy Altschuler
The word on the street is that Jeppi, a former longboard surfing champion, was missing a toe due to a grisly bike accident and that his toe was left split open to the bone until a hotel guest at Las Flores Resort, who happened to be a doctor, offered to fix it. This toeless man, with a corpulent Buddha belly, a smoking habit and kind eyes taught me how to surf in El Salvador.
“Get up!” he’d yell. “Get up, NOW!”
I first read about surfing in El Salvador and the owner of SwellWomen, Lulu Agan, in a women’s adventure magazine and I was completely enamored and inspired. Here’s a woman who has made a career out of travelling the globe to host women-only surfing retreats with the purpose of helping women cultivate confidence and strength through a new sport and also – perhaps more importantly – through bonding with other women. Imagine a utopia-like world where women from diverse backgrounds–of any age, weight, race, or creed–can come together to share their stories of adventure, happiness, pain and triumph and then walk away feeling like they’ve been heard, understood and accepted. This is the magic of SwellWomen.
When I arrived in El Salvador at the stunning Las Flores Resort, a surf camp and health retreat that has everything you’d expect a luxurious beachfront property to have–I was blown away. I didn’t know what to expect, but the delectable food, live entertainment, sustainable, well-appointed accommodations, an exquisite pool and yoga pavilion with views of the ocean, peaceful lounging areas (including several colorful hammocks!) surpassed anything I had hoped for. I was particularly unprepared for how welcoming and kind the resort staff and SwellWomen team would be.
I spent my mornings surfing (with Jeppi and a few other charming instructors) and my afternoons practicing yoga with the brilliant and lovable SwellWomen teacher, Lauren Llacera. My evenings were spent indulging in world-class dishes including fish tacos, fresh fruit salads, hummus tortillas and much more, all prepared by the Las Flores Resort’s culinary wizards. For this holistic retreat, Lulu also teamed up with a transformational life coach, Gina Larkin, who taught us how to honour our values and our purpose and to seek out the joy–chase the feeling–when we set goals. Gina and Lauren worked together to craft a synergetic wellness experience that led us through journaling exercises, meditation, yoga and introspective relaxation.
Rooms here are rather simple, but take environmental concerns into consideration: for example, all amenities are organic, from the shampoo and soap to the products used in the spa, and materials used to build the resort were all locally sourced. Staff are well paid and local, and are happy to give you some insight into El Salvadorian culture and history.
Being here, I couldn’t help but think of Henry David Thoreau’s writing, and my favorite passage from ‘Walden” while on the SwellWomen El Salvador retreat: “I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived…I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms”.
This was my inspiration for this trip, and my stay here truly did reduce life to its lowest – and most beautiful – terms. I was immersed in and inspired by the beauty of nature here, and warmed by the generosity and kindness of those around me. By the week’s end, the women on the retreat became my dear friends. We encouraged and celebrated each other, we were witness to each other’s strengths and setbacks and we left El Salvador with our hearts full and happy. What more can we ask from a vacation, from a week away from home?
I’m convinced that attending a wellness retreat, especially one as rewarding and fulfilling as SwellWomen, is a primo way to travel and explore a new country. I will always feel gratitude for having experienced the savage beauty of El Salvador’s natural environment, and for having met my surfing sisters from around the globe – especially Lulu, who is always openhearted, joyful and inexorably empathetic. And, to Jeppi, I’d like to say, “After falling, over and over again, I GOT UP!”
I’m still learning and trying to authentically connect with others, I’m still open to life’s adventures and thrills, and I’m still getting up–I always will be.
For more information about Las Flores Resort, please click here.
Wendy Altschuler is a seasoned writer, editor and adventurer with many publishing credits under her belt. To see more about her, please click here.
All images by Las Flores Resort unless otherwise marked.