Growing up in Hawaii, you’d think I would have learned how to surf. My uncle is a legendary surfer and even has a surf spot named after him.
I was always the fat girl, though, so no one ever thought to teach me.
As an adult, I became interested in taking it up and set out to find a surf suit, but I couldn’t find one over size 12 or 14. You don’t see people who look like me surfing, so, I thought, oh well.
A few years went by and I looked again because, hey, if I'm going to go out there and be the chunky girl following my dream, I want to at least look cute. Still, nothing. It wasn’t until two years after that a designer who was launching a size-inclusive surf line approached me, and I ended up in Costa Rica, learning how to surf while modeling.
I’m not leaving this country until I learn how to surf, I thought. It took seven days, but I did it.
My instructor had his way of teaching how a pop-up should be done. But I kept saying, “My body does not do it that way, so we have to figure out another way. There cannot be only one way that you stand up on the board. This just cannot be a thing.”
So, I just did what felt right for me.
On the first wave, it happened. And then, it was like, “Okay, that was a fluke.” But then I did it again, and again and again.
Let me tell you something: If you can balance yourself on a piece of fiberglass on moving water, you can pretty much do anything. It’s like doing a burpee on moving water, then getting into a yoga stance.
A feeling of sheer belief came over me — literally, after that moment, there is nothing you could say to me, that would ever have me doubt myself that this was the thing for me. If anyone came at me at that moment saying, “You can't do that,” I would have said, “Watch me.”
That moment really did instill forever a belief in myself.
I'm no longer afraid or hesitant to do anything. Whereas there was a point where, if someone asked me to go on a hike, I would have said no and made up an excuse because I didn’t think my body could do it. I didn't want to be embarrassed.
Granted, I didn’t go straight from that to surfing. I started off hiking easy nature trails. And in Hawaii, you have so many levels of hikes, so then I’d try one that was longer and steeper. And then I used paddleboarding as a gateway, and that was a piece of cake.
All along, I was using movement to strengthen my body and there was this level of athleticism, strength, agility and stamina that I had already gained on my own journey.
I split my time between Florida, New York and Hawaii, so I still surf — and it’s changed my life.
Formerly, I was working in a corporate advertising career and moved to Los Angeles, and I loved it. But I also loved Hawaii. Fitness fell into my world, because it allowed me to create a career where I could live in both places and work remotely.
So I started teaching HIIT and HIIT-inspired class for Joyn, an on-demand movement app for people living in larger bodies, which I love because I used to look at my own body and have these negative assumptions that I cannot do certain things, which simply wasn’t true. And for too long, when I would go to a gym or work with a trainer, they looked at me and assumed I was a beginner: She’s fat, so she can't do hard things.
Once I allowed myself to be in these spaces and figure out movement for myself, I began to question, Why are there no boot camp fitness instructors who look like me?
I wish I had Joyn when I started on my journey — that there would have been someone out there who could move with me and show me how to do things, because a lot of times I was standing in the back of a room trying to figure it out by myself.
I'm lucky that I'm stubborn enough to be that person, but I understand that not everyone is, so people need an advocate in the room for them and to help them.
From a very early age, movement was always associated with weight lost. I come from a genetically thin and fit family, but I somehow missed that gene completely. Even in school, in P.E., as the biggest girl, you get the signal that for them, it's recreation, but for her, she needs to lose weight.
Today, my mantra is, “Fitness is about seeing what this body can do, not what it looks like.”
It all has to do with my athleticism. I’m doing things as an athlete at 270 pounds that I could never do when I was 180 pounds.
I'm building my body to be a surfer, to be a hiker, to be a sailor and a snowboarder.
I’m also planning the world’s first surf retreat for plus-size women, to be held next year in Hawaii.
I'm doing those things, but my weight isn't changing. My body isn't getting smaller. It’s getting stronger. It’s getting healthier. It’s getting fitter. But it's not getting what all these people said it had to look like or be.
No one taught me this idea that anything is possible in my body. I learned it on my own. And now I’m paying it forward.
I have the capability of bridging that gap for someone else who put her dreams on the back burner for years — to help shorten that curve for her. That is what keeps me going. That is absolute joy.
Even when my schedule is crazy, I'm exhausted, and my body is sore, I’ll keep going. I'm happy to try snowboarding, scuba diving, jumping off bridges if I have to — if it helps her believe that she can do anything.
Because I do this for Her. It is that important.