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Send Your Brain to the Spa Month
Send Your Brain to the Spa Month

I am fascinated by genuinely chill people — those whose default isn’t a level 13 on the stress scale, whose knee-jerk reaction to anything deemed a “situation” isn’t panic, who don’t need to be reminded to breathe. What is that like? And are you born that way, or do you learn it? Because, stereotypically, surfers are the ultimate chill people (their sport requires its athletes to go with the flow rather literally) I thought they might be able to teach me something. I asked seven surfers about their wave-catching form of meditation. Is the chill thing a myth? And if it’s real, how can non-surfers learn it?


Brandon Holley, 50

Brandon runs Everywear, a fashion e-commerce business.
New York, NY, @brandoneverywear

How do you find time to surf?

My start up, Everywear, takes up a lot of time, as does being a single mom of a 9-year-old. Surfing is not a necessity but an obsession so I have to be smart about how I do it. First, I surf with my kid, Smith. It’s what we do every weekend and for vacation. In the winter we go to Puerto Rico for long weekends. (Cheap flights to Aguadilla! It’s actually cheaper to go away and AirBnB my house than it is to stay in NYC!) This summer we are both entering surf contests on Long Island.

Second, since I can only go on the weekends or very early in the morning Monday through Friday, I rarely just sit on my board. I paddle around looking for the peak; if I sit on the shoulder, I’m not going to catch anything. I think I should mention here that I am not an astounding surfer! But I try like hell.

What has surfing done for you since you first started?

The other day I had to present Everywear to 150 potential investors in four minutes. I was super nervous, but that weekend I had caught some big waves and I channeled the feeling of OH SHIT that you get when a wave kicks up and you go for it knowing you are most likely NOT going to die — you might get worked and swallow a lot of water, but it’s all going to be fine. There’s very little in life to actually be afraid of, but fear can be fun.

What does surfing do for you now, as you currently are?

Being in the water with the sets rolling in at dawn and the birds diving for bunker 20 yards from you is just so peaceful. It sets the tone for the rest of the day. I’ve also been much more dedicated for the last two years and it’s paying off which makes me proud of the effort.

There’s a stereotype that surfers are “chill.” Are you? And if so, how has it changed your perceptions of stress?

I used to be way less chill and I sucked at surfing. I think surfing has made me chill out about things because sometimes you feel reeeeeally small out there, which means it’s actually not about you after all, which then makes me less uptight about everything being perfect in all aspects of my life. That mindset makes me a better surfer because I’m not so obsessed with catching the best wave anymore — now may not be the best time.

What advice have you learned from surfing/the surf community that a non-surfer can apply when it comes to handling stress?

The ocean is always changing. This means you never can have it figured out and that’s a good thing.

What does surfing mean to you?

It’s a solo endeavor. I talk a lot at work so it’s nice to be quiet and on my own, bobbing around. I always notice the wind direction, even when I’m in midtown, out for lunch.

Best advice as it relates to life that you’ve ever heard from a fellow surfer?

My friend Tim, an excellent surfer, tells me to be aggressive. At work, being aggressive can have a negative connotation, but in surfing it’s different. It means paddle like hell to get the wave and don’t pull out once you have it. Be near the peak, be the first up and go for it. I’m only there part of the time, but it’s kind of fun getting tossed around.


Jee Mee Kim, 44

Jee is a principal for an economic development and real estate consulting firm based in New York City.
Rockaway Beach, NY

How do you find time to surf?

I used to have lots of time for surfing when I first got started 15 years ago. Back then, I didn’t have a kid, my job was pretty mellow, and my husband and I were absolutely surf-obsessed. We prioritized surfing above all else. In fact, we moved out to Rockaway from Brooklyn around 2002 to be near to the ocean.

We still literally live across from the ocean, so when it’s convenient I love to grab a board and hit a quick session. But I don’t plan my days around surfing anymore and I won’t struggle into a thick winter suit unless the conditions are absolutely perfect and I have nothing better to do. It’s funny because people I’ve known for a while in my professional circles will still ask: You still surfing? How’s the surf?

What has surfing done for you since you first started?

I’ve traveled to oceans all over the world and experienced some unbelievable moments. I’ve met a ton of people from all sorts of backgrounds and places. I still have lots of friends who surf and a lot of them live in Rockaway. It’s funny because lots of us ended up having kids who are better surfers than us now.

What does surfing do for you now, as you currently are?

Surfing isn’t my number one priority anymore. I have a pretty intense job, I have a nine-year-old son and I want to spend quality time with my family. The conditions aren’t consistent enough here that surfing can be my primary form of exercise.

There’s a stereotype that surfers are “chill.” Are you?

I don’t think anyone would describe me as chill. I like being busy and active all the time: for example, I could never get into yoga.

I’m probably most chill when I’m running, which has kept me physically and emotionally healthy for the last 25 years. I’m also chill when I’m riding and hanging with my horse, Phoenix. (I bought Phoenix a couple years ago — total childhood fantasy dream purchase.) And honestly, surfers aren’t universally “chill.” Everybody seems to surf these days so you find all sorts of people in the lineup. Surfing tends to amplify your personality, especially when lineups are crowded and waves are fickle; you get mellow people with great aloha and then plenty of assholes you wouldn’t want to hang out with outside of the water.

How has surfing changed or altered your perceptions of stress?

Surfing became more stressful as lineups became more crowded. After a while, I didn’t even want to surf with friends. I used to be anxious, waiting and planning for waves all the time. I’d plan my days and weekends around it. After dealing with Superstorm Sandy, I got angry with the ocean and my priorities shifted a bit. I feel like I’m in a better spot now — I surf when it’s convenient and I don’t feel FOMO all the time. I think buying my horse helped, too.

What advice have you learned from surfing/the surf community that a non-surfer can apply when it comes to handling stress?

Walk away. Detach. If it’s not fun anymore and it’s creating unnecessary stress, find something else you love. Don’t become so obsessed with any one thing.

What does surfing mean to you?

It will always be there for me. It’s defines me, but it’s not everything for me. I also recognize that it’s a commodity: the branding of the lifestyle, surfing as an actual industry, surfing as an economic driver. Everyone complains it’s gotten too popular, but there’s no economic incentive to “un-promote” it.

Best advice as it relates to life that you’ve ever heard from another surfer?

Don’t drop in, don’t snake people, respect your elders, be humble. And never turn your back to the ocean.


Kit Keenan, 18

Kit is a recent high school graduate preparing to attend college in the fall.  She’s the daughter of Cynthia Rowley, a designer known for her wetsuits.
New York City/Montauk, NY, @kitkeenan

How do you find time to surf?

We mostly surf in the summer here because the water in Montauk in the winter is gnarly, to say the least. In the winter, we like to find time to travel to warmer places for waves like Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Costa Rica.

What has surfing done for you since you first started?

Not only has surfing become a meditative outlet for me growing up but it has also become a family bond. When my little sister started surfing we suddenly had this shared passion and understanding.

What does surfing do for you now, as you currently are?

Though surfing still serves as a calming escape, it has become a way for me to connect with new people. For example, as I’ve told more people about my move to L.A. in the fall, people have offered to show me the best breaks and secret points. It’s like having a little surf family on the other side of the country.

There’s a stereotype that surfers are “chill.” Are you?

My mom never takes the time to relax and is always trying to get us in the water. Rather than “chill” in the conventional sense by, say, laying on the beach or sleeping in until 11 a.m., I will go for a surf, do stair sprints, go on a bike ride, try an exercise class or play a game. These activities serve as a necessary mental break from school work and life in the city without forcing myself to go to a spa or take a nap (blah).

How has surfing changed or altered your perceptions of stress?

Surfing puts you completely at the mercy of the ocean. The only things you can control are your style and your board. This mindset has helped me cope with stressful situations where I would normally find myself micromanaging or overanalyzing tiny details. It allows me to take a step back and realize the bigger picture.

What advice have you learned from surfing/the surf community that a non-surfer can apply when it comes to handling stress?

Either learn to punch through the white water or get stuck on the beach.

What does surfing mean to you?

Surfing gives me a place to use a hyper-focused part of my brain that connects only between myself and the ocean. I can’t be on my phone or distracted by other things.

Best advice as it relates to life that you’ve ever heard from another surfer?

When in doubt, paddle out!


Mylene Alcayaga, 23

Mylene does part-time online management for an e-commerce brand. She recently opened Rockaway Sunrise — a weekend-run coffee stand on the beach.
Rockaway, NY. Born in Chile

How do you find time to surf?

I guess you can say I’ve completely adjusted my life to make it easier to make time to surf. I moved to Rockaway from the city and now live five houses away from the beach. I have no excuse to not go for a paddle every morning (even if it’s flat) at first light of the day before heading to Manhattan for work, and sometimes for a sunset session on the same day. It truly is incredible and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be so close to the water.

What has surfing done for you since you first started?

As cheesy as it may sound, it turned my world upside down. I only started surfing a year ago, which was when I decided to move to Rockaway to surf every day. I never thought I’d be doing this and it has opened so many doors in my life. I’ve learned to live my days through the days rather than the nights. I’ve met people (now very close friends) from ALL walks of life, and it has inspired me to start my own coffee business on the beach!

What does surfing do for you now, as you currently are?

It balances me out. It is my form of meditation every day.

There’s a stereotype that surfers are “chill.” Are you?

Depends on what you mean by that. Surfing can be pretty challenging sometimes, especially when you are pushing your limits. You must be completely present and focused on just that. I surfed my first blizzard this winter and that was definitely very chill and not chill all at the same time.

How has surfing changed or altered your perceptions of stress?

Surfing can put you in stressful situations, mentally and physically. For example, when you’re held underwater for too long after a wipe out, three seconds feels like three minutes. I’ve learned (and I’m still learning) to stay calm in those situations. Just like in life, if we train ourselves to have more control of our mental state and stay centered, we can learn to let go of that stress.

What advice have you learned from surfing/the surf community that a non-surfer can apply when it comes to handling stress?

Keep paddling…keep pushing forward!

What does surfing mean to you?

I’ve never thought of this before, but now that I think of it, surfing means a lot to me and my life right now. It has taught me to focus on things I love and it is helping me build my life around that.

Best advice as it relates to life that you’ve ever heard from another instructor?

Look toward the direction you want to go and you will go that way. Very simple but so true to EVERYTHING. Even catching waves! If there’s a will, there’s a way.


Claire Canfield, 32

Claire is the Operations Manager for @bloomnyc, a hair salon in Chelsea, Manhattan. 
Brooklyn, NY, @bigclarence

How do you find time to surf?

I get up very, very early in the morning to get wet before work. I’m fortunate enough to have some flexibility in my schedule, so when the waves are good, I’ll trade shifts to get extra time in the water.

I’ve definitely had to make space in my tiny apartment for surfboards. And space in my tiny closet for wetsuits. And space in my bank account to enable all of that.

What has surfing done for you since you first started?

I moved to New York from Denver years ago and had a hard time adjusting to the city. I was obsessed with ski mountaineering, missed being in nature and missed having a physically and mentally challenging activity to keep me fit. It wasn’t until I started surfing that I started getting that exposure to nature and exercise outside of the gym that made me feel balanced. I was missing a hobby.

What does surfing do for you now, as you currently are?

Surfing gives me time to be really present in the moment. It’s an endlessly creative sport, and it requires intense focus in an extremely meditative way. It’s just fun.

There’s a stereotype that surfers are “chill.” Are you?

Super chill. Got that PMA (Positive Mental Attitude). My advice to anyone who’s not chill: Practice yoga, try weightlifting or CrossFit, get outside. I always feel more relaxed when I do something that wears me out a little.

How has surfing changed or altered your perceptions of stress?

Surfing gives me a release from stress and creates a frame of mind where I feel calm and don’t sweat the small stuff.

What advice have you learned from surfing/the surf community that a non-surfer can apply when it comes to handling stress?

Having fun is one of the things that makes surfing so addictive. Finding a hobby that has potential to become a healthy addiction goes a long way in managing stress.

What does surfing mean to you?

It’s a time for me to be alone and meditative, yet it offers amazing social opportunities and connects me to other people with common interests and passions. It’s repetitive, but every wave is different. It’s a chance to stand up and fall down over and over again. It’s mentally very healing to be able to fail (and succeed, of course) at something over and over again, while keeping a smile on your face.

Best advice as it relates to life that you’ve ever heard from a fellow surfer?

There are so many little tidbits: You miss all the waves you don’t paddle for. If you don’t think you’re going to make it, you won’t.

All days spent surfing are good days. No bad days.


Rebecca Richard, 27

Rebecca is a sculptor.
New York, NY, @rebrebz

How do you find time to surf?

I really had to adjust my social life. I don’t go out after work nearly as much because I wasn’t ever able to wake up early enough. It’s very easy to get sucked into the party scene here in NY. I was for a long time. However, my passion for surfing completely pushed that aside and made me realize what I had been missing. Getting a surf in before work makes me a much happier and more productive person.

What has surfing done for you since you first started?

It has influenced so many of my lifestyle decisions. I stopped smoking, cut back on the parties and late nights, tamed that New York lifestyle. In a way, it’s helped me to remain calm and handle certain situations with more grace. It became a way to find peace and become centered amidst the city life. It’s my meditation.

What does surfing do for you now, as you currently are?

It keeps me in the moment instead of up in my head, concerned about the past or future. If I am having a bad day and things aren’t going my way, the ocean is the best place to get through those worries. It’s just so beautiful and powerful. When I am out there, it puts everything into perspective. I become less focused on the problem and myself. It’s also just a great time! Even when there isn’t anything bad going on, surfing with friends is probably one of the best things in my life these days.

There’s a stereotype that surfers are “chill.” Are you?

Ha. Yes! The chill factor. Well, I have heard from many that I am a chill person to begin with. Surfing does help in the sense that salt water is calming. It’s a sport where you are in the moment and being in the moment helps calm you. You aren’t sitting there overwhelmed with all the other things that bother you.

Most surfers are chill but there are aggressive people in the water that yell at you, get annoyed and so on, so it’s just a matter of who you are and how your surroundings affect you. I was surfing in Hawaii for two months this past winter and there’s a huge difference between the Hawaiian surf scene and the New York surf scene. For me, beach people tend to be more laid-back in general because living by the beach is such a treat. Constantly being surrounded by beauty that’s beyond what man can make is very humbling.

How has surfing changed or altered your perceptions of stress?

It has helped me realize stress can be a state of mind. When I experience stress these days I tend to not let it build into something it doesn’t have to be. I’m okay with things not going 100% the way I had imagined and I’m more open to the fact there will always be unexpected obstacles. In surfing, the ocean is very unpredictable. It’s just a matter of being able to adapt to unpredictability.

What advice have you learned from surfing/the surf community that a non-surfer can apply when it comes to handling stress?

I learned the most from the surf community in Hawaii. People there are so kind and friendly. There is a significant ease in and out of the water. Living in the moment and being surrounded by nature has that effect on people. I feel that having a deep connection with the ocean or any aspect of nature puts things into perspective.

What does surfing mean to you?

It’s my happy place. It’s my time to connect to nature and myself. It’s my time to challenge myself physically and mentally. It’s about adapting to unexpected changes and learning to flow with something as vast and powerful as the ocean.

Best advice as it relates to life that you’ve ever heard from a fellow surfer?

Live in the moment.


Tiffany Frances, 33

Tiffany is a film director, writer and editor. 
Brooklyn, NY, tiffanyfrances.com, @tiffanyfrances

How do you find time to surf?

I am so lucky to have a schedule that’s ever-changing. Since I freelance, every film project or job is different. There will be weeks where I can’t focus on anything other than the project at hand. Then there are days where it’s up to me to stay self-motivated, and I make a point to use some of that time to surf and let my mental and physical state recharge. It’s important for me as a creative person to have a different outlet.

What has surfing done for you since you first started?

I was going through a breakup with my first love when I first learned how to surf. I honestly think it was a saving grace. It gave me a sense of empowerment and I felt very reassured that the world was taking care of me.

What does surfing do for you now, as you currently are?

My mind and perception of what you can taste in life has expanded on so many levels.

I’ve gotten to experience so many different and wonderful things, from gorgeous beaches and places to travel, to people I’ve met, friends I’ve made, to embracing nature and connecting with the ocean, to challenging myself while knowing my limits.

There’s a stereotype that surfers are “chill.” Are you?

I’m a Gemini — they say we have two personalities! I think the side of me that came from California is definitely very “chill,” while the other side of me is super ambitious and focused. I’ve always thought the secret to life is about balance, and I think surfing is a great representation of that; it can be really fun and relaxing, but in other conditions it’s also about determination and having a certain level of audacity.

How has surfing changed or altered your perceptions of stress?

I draw a lot of metaphors from surfing to life’s challenges (sometimes I take the joke too far). Conditions in the water are never the same, which makes me learn how to handle life’s lemons or waves. Really though, surfing has helped out my stress by teaching me to focus on what’s in front of me and to immerse myself in the moment.

What advice have you learned from surfing/the surf community that a non-surfer can apply when it comes to handling stress?

There’s always another day, another chance to get it right. Never stop doing what you’re passionate about, because even if one moment feels frustrating, there will always be another opportunity. Or, if you just have that one chance, then give it all you’ve got and it’s enough that you did that.

What does surfing mean to you?

It means the world to me. I’m so grateful for it and the community. It helped me grow and be a better version of myself. Surfing constantly renews my deep appreciation for living on this planet.

One thing that I find positive about surfing is the focus on sustainability and being environmentally conscious. When an activity relies on nature, you develop an intimate relationship with it, people really start becoming aware of how they’re affecting it. Some day I really hope to bridge these three passions of mine — film, surfing and the environment — to tell the right story.

Best advice as it relates to life that you’ve ever heard from another surfer?

“Better to try and fail than not try at all.” — every good surfer friend of mine 🙂


Photos by Maggie Shannon; follow her on Instagram @maggiehshannon.

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  • Catalina

    O M G i wish i was apart of this shoot! <3

    • Amelia Diamond

      do you surf!!

      • Catalina

        Yes’m!

  • Harling Ross

    this whole story is STUNNINGGGGGGGG

    • Amelia Diamond

      Maggie Shannon!

  • ellen

    wait but what is the conclusion?

    so many unanswered questions: What is it like to be chill/not stressed in a “stressful situation”? Are you born that way, or do you learn it? How can non-surfers learn it?
    I still don’t know these things, and I need to know these things!
    (AM I CHILL??)

    • Amelia Diamond

      the answer is to ride the wave! and live in the moment! ?? I AM NOT CHILL EITHER

  • Kalen

    I really enjoyed reading this piece, and I hope to apply these chill tips soon! Thanks Amelia!

  • GFY

    WOW. really loved this post, their stories and their wisdom!

  • Alison

    Gorgeous women, amazing photos. I love this piece. Also, I want to wear Kit’s suit as a top to work.

    • Amelia Diamond

      it’s cynthia rowley!

  • Kate

    I agree with everyone that the shoot is beautiful, but I wish there were some shots of these brave, talented, capable, wise, strong women in action besides just posing with a board :/

    • Amelia Diamond

      round 2!

  • Hansika Vijayaraghavan

    Part of me wants to become a beach bum and live a minimalist lifestyle where I surf and shop organic and the other part of me is realistic

  • Aydan

    serious envy here! but goes to show you can pick up a new skill and challenge yourself at any time! I’m attempting to learn how to skateboard and while terrible at it its exciting to continue because you’re never too old to learn something new!

    • Amelia Diamond

      i’m trying to longboard but I can’t ~* commit. It just seems like such a fun way to get around.

      • Aydan

        totally agree!! Its hard to commit, but just keep thinking about it–I think it’ll catch eventually! 🙂

  • spicyearlgrey

    dis is fooooking sik

  • spicyearlgrey

    ALPHA WOMEN

  • Yana Georgieva

    exactly what I needed to reed today, found inspiration on soo many levels (strangely enough, most are not related to ‘being chill’, but to the importance of finding some kind of outlet, passion, not necessarily related to your work/ambitions, and the ‘chillness’ that might naturally follow). thanks, amelia 🙂

  • Savannah

    LOVE this story!
    Another one that I always remembered was ‘you can not stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf’

    • Amelia Diamond

      oh i like that

  • Suzan

    Beautiful story! Content wise, but also the photographs.
    Love that there’s a bit of diversity too and not just the insanely gorgeous, perfectly manicured, blonde, Californian girls, which I have seen in other articles on surfing on fashion blogs.
    Not saying these girls aren’t gorgeous, because they absolutely all are! But way more real and relate-able. Love it.

  • LRL

    In desperate need of a part 2 with LA surfers!

  • “This means you never can have it figured out and that’s a good thing.”

    Not a surfer, but I like this one. Took me a long time to accept this reality; it’s very freeing once it sinks in!

  • Chess

    this is so good! It’s also v interesting to hear from women who are further on in their lives and careers, and they all look so beautiful and strong and comfortable and confident. Love it thank you

  • Kirby

    My boyfriends dad was raised in Hawaii and now lives in California where he surfs regularly–definitely one of the most chill people I have ever met. I would love to think I’m a chill person (though I don’t surf), but I think if I’m being honest, I let fear keep me from being completely relaxed about a lot of things. Maybe surfing forces you to face huge fears so everything else seems easy in the end.

  • grace

    I went on a “teen adventure trip” (lol) to Costa Rica when I was 15 and in the midst of the cool surfer girl trying to teach me about the technique of surfing, she noticed my obvious anxiety about doing it all right and said to me in the middle of the ocean, “Just have some f**kin’ fun!!!” Definitely the advice that stuck out to me the most out of the whole experience.

  • Sharing this post on my blog on Monday for sure! 🙂

    http://www.shessobright.com