With nonprofit Surfing Moms, Amelia Rachel Hokule‘a Borofsky ’99 looks to the ocean for inspiration in rethinking motherhood, mental health, and childcare
Every surfer has their best wave. Mine was in my late twenties during a full moon night on the North Shore of Oahu. The waves flickered as the moon played peek-a-boo with the clouds. I couldn’t see the overhead wave until it lifted me up. I paddled down the liquid moving slope feeling the breath of the Native Hawaiian queens on whose shoulders I rode down the line. The stoke reverberated from my chest out into the Pacific Ocean and night sky.
Over time, the magic memory of this wave faded. When I became a mother, I became consumed with the needs of another. At a certain point, I found myself alone with a one-year-old and a newborn. In-between pumping, I worked as a clinical psychologist. Isolated and overwhelmed, I wiped out. I joined moms’ groups to soothe my postpartum anxiety: Fit4mom! MOPS! Stroller Strides! None of this felt helpful. I needed a community of care, but didn’t know how to find it.
During a sleep-deprived night, a saying from surfer Steve Hawk came back to me: “the best wave of your life is still out there.” I Googled “surfing moms.” To my surprise, I found a group nearby that met at my home break. Once a week they swapped childcare for surf-time. Their motto: Stay Wild Mama! I carted my one-year-old, my three-month-old, and my sleep-deprived body into the car and to the beach. When I arrived, an energetic mom named Liz immediately scooped up my crying baby. Another animated mom, Anna, started playing with my one-year-old. Liz simply said, “Go surf for an hour and when you come back, you’ll watch my kids.” No questions asked, no conversation about baby food hacks; just an hour of guilt-free time to myself in the ocean doing what I loved. I quickly handed my children to the moms I met five minutes earlier, grabbed my board, and ran barefoot back into the sea.
Surfing again across the green waves, I knew that my daughters and I would make it. The ocean and the muscle memory of surfing carried me home into my own body. For the first time in a long time, I felt strong and infinite.
This is what the dearth of postpartum care and chatty moms’ groups did not give me: time to myself. Children need a village, but so do parents. William James wrote, “we are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” In Mother Ocean, I found my community and connection.
My experience was not far off from the origin story of Surfing Moms. When Liz lived in Australia, she encountered a national organization with over 40 chapters called Surfing Mums. The group gave her purpose and play after having three kids. However, when she moved to Hawaii she was surprised to find no such group existed. She decided to start a small Surfing Moms at our home break. Somedays nobody came, but she kept showing up every Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m. When a hurricane hit we went to the coffee shop, and later to each other’s homes. We became friends, but we focused on our shared obsession with surfing. We talked a little, but mostly we created a surf habit together. My surfing improved after becoming a mom. I learned about surf culture, surf retreats, and surf therapy. The other motto of Surfing Moms: The waves are just the beginning . . .
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our core group could no longer meet up and safely surf-swap with kids. Stuck at home, we pivoted. Four of us decided to form ourselves into a nonprofit in order to help other moms find surf-care. We fundraised. We hired a lawyer. We met with the Surfing Mums in Australia. We held our first Annual General Meeting. Liz became president. I became vice president. Anna became treasurer. We added board members, all as passionate as we were about changing the culture of surfing and caregiving. Officially, Surfing Moms as a nonprofit started in Hawaii in January 2021, two years after I first found Liz and Anna on that sleep-deprived sandy day and caught the best wave of my life as a mother. We volunteer our time while juggling motherhood and careers for that moment of stoke on an exhausted mom’s face. The pandemic reaffirmed the importance of riding life’s waves together.
Surfing Moms has caught an epic party wave. In less than two years, we grew from one to 15 chapters and from four to 200-plus members. We now have groups in Hawaii, California, and Oregon. And this summer we break the East Coast barrier with chapters starting along the coast of Monmouth, New Jersey. Last month, we had a national segment on The Today Show about creating healthy habits. This month, the Hawaiian Airlines in-flight magazine featured us on their cover. Kelly Clarkson showcased us on the Rad Moms segment of her show. Surfing Moms is growing and resonating because we all need community care now more than ever. Surfer or nonsurfer, mom, dad, uncle, nonbinary, anyone is welcome to join our party wave!
Surfing Moms also gave me a new career as a surf therapist. I now run trauma-informed surf therapy workshops. Wallace J. Nichols wrote in Blue Mind, “All people should have safe access to salubrious, wild, biodiverse waters for well-being, healing, and therapy.” Surfing Moms and surf therapy have the ingredients of positive psychology: physical activity, community, play, and nature. My goal with Surfing Moms and Blue Mind surf therapy is that we reclaim ourselves, our bodies, and our ancestral connection to the ocean.
Wesleyan did not prepare me for motherhood, but it did prepare me for community organizing. It taught me to question the social structures around me and activate for change. During the darkest of my postpartum nights, I thought something was deeply wrong with me. After I got a good night’s sleep, I realized that something is deeply wrong with the dearth of postpartum support and childcare in this country. Surfing Moms is all about organizing moms into villages of surf-care. We need new social structures that provide care for the caregiver.
At Wesleyan when we chalked up the whole campus for PRIDE week or held naked parties, I knew another world was possible. Child-rearing was not meant to be this stressful. In my dream world, I am living back at Wesleyan campus with all my college friends. We all have kids and various life situations. We raise our children together on Home Street, dropping in on each other unannounced. The adults drink mai tais and skateboard in front of Olin Library while the kids play freely on Foss Hill. What would it look like to have a Wesleyan kind of community for parents and childraising?
The Wesleyan-sparked community activist in me wants to revision the way we view postpartum care. Federally mandated 30 weeks of paid parental leave. Normalizing birth. Universal Pre-K. Affordable childcare. Stipends for new mothers. Home visits from lactation consultants, nurses, and house cleaners. Statues to birthing women in D.C. In the meantime, I will take mothers organizing for themselves the world they need. The waves are only the beginning. I imagine changing maternal mental health and policy using my own journey as a blueprint.
Surfing Moms is not only about healing ourselves but healing our broken systems of care. It’s about helping all caregivers who find themselves overwhelmed physically and emotionally. I would love one day to see Dancing Dads, Basketball Moms, and Skateboarding Caregivers. The best waves of our life are, and always will be, out there.
—Amelia Rachel Hokule‘a Borofsky ’99, PhD
Start Your Own Surfing (Roller Skating/Basketball/Skateboarding) Groups:
- Think of what you love to do that you stopped doing after you had kids: Figure skating? Skateboarding? Cross-country skiing? Open water swimming? Rock climbing? Hot yoga? Watercolor painting? Bhangra dancing? Novel reading? Basketball? Horseback riding? Think of one friend or acquaintance who might share your pre-motherhood/caregiving passion.
- Choose a date and time for a meet-up. We found that two-hour blocks worked best, particularly 9 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. We like to host one weekday and one weekend meet-up a week to accommodate different caregivers’ schedules.
- Make a flier and advertise your event to hospitals, daycares, pediatricians, Instagram, meet-up sites, and stores. Open up your group to any caregiver (grandparent, aunt, uncle, mom, dad, non-binary, trans) that might need time for play.
- You only need ONE other person to show up to make this work. For the first hour one person goes and does the said activity (surf) for an hour. The other watches all the kids on the beach. When they return, the other goes and does the activity (surf). The point is for you to get a guilt-free hour to do what you most love with friends and then you help another do the same.
- The key is to do it every week consistently. Show up at the same time every week, week after week. Keep showing up even when no one else comes. Even if it’s raining or hailing, show up and create new community-care habits. Surfing Moms became a nonprofit in order to grow a movement. You can, however, just meet up and swap childcare to support each other in doing what you love. What a small, but revolutionary act.