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Sea Sisters: Meet Yogi + Surfer Cecily Smith

Introducing yogi, surfer, and professional nomad: Cici Smith. The surf community is so small and so many of us travel in similar loops around the world seeking the best waves and vibes. Over the last years we became insta friends with cici, oftentimes traveling to the same countries but just missing each other by days/weeks/months..and although we are both in Nicaragua at the moment we of course are in different parts of the country! We joke that it is inevitable at this point we will share a wave somewhere in the world :) Cici shares with PS her journey to learning how to surf and eventually getting her yoga teacher training and how both have influenced the course of her life. From the shores of North Carolina, all the way to Bali and back again, Cici has traveled the world sharing her teaching gifts and surfing as much as possible along the way. We are so inspired by her interview and life path and know you will be too: 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, education/ path etc… where are you from, and how did you get started on this traveling yoga journey?

Well to start, I’m Cici- which is short for Cecily but that’s always felt a bit too formal for me. I’m from North Carolina originally, about 2 hours from the coast where I first started surfing. My background is….all over the place haha. Long story short, I was an athlete for most of my childhood. Gymnastics and competitive cheerleading mainly, plus a shopping cart full of other school sports that I took up until I graduated high school. Fortunately, this really opened up the world for me and allowed me to travel quite a bit. I got super familiar and confident with putting myself on long bus and car rides alone and then eventually onto planes. I’ve always loved air travel. And heights, weirdly…even airports I don’t mind usually. Solo travel, especially, just has always had a special place in my heart. I’m sure lots of your readers can relate…

So yeah, that’s pretty much how it started - it turned into traveling for yoga and surfing when I was about 25 and living in Brooklyn. I had really started loathing everything about the city and craving a BIG change, so I saved up, bought a one way to Bali for my 200 hour yoga teacher training and then never really stopped. 

When did you learn to surf and how has that impacted the course of your life? Are there any lessons that surfing has taught you about yourself/ your approach to life?
I grew up frequenting the beaches of North Carolina, Emerald Isle and Wrightsville mostly, and spent a lot of time with the ocean. My dad took us on a family trip to Nosara when I was maybe 10 and I remember watching surfers at sunset and I think that’s when I decided one day I would, but I didn’t properly learn to surf until that first trip to Bali. I did however buy a board around the same time I got my drivers license at 16 (a 7’2 nsp surf Betty) and would take it down to wrightsville in my little red vw beetle. I didn’t know what I was doing back then though, I just knew I loved being in the water. Once I surfed my first point break though in Uluwatu, I was hooked. Not because I was any good at it, but because I finally caught a glimpse of what it felt like to really be in tune with the energy of the water, with something bigger than me, and to have the chance to dance with it. And also because of how consistently humbling it is.

When it comes to sports and physical activities I’ve always picked things up pretty quickly and been proficient at them - surfing was not one of those things, which I think added to the ‘hooked’ aspect. I needed to crack the code… but it’s just not that simple. It’s been years and I’m still learning (and still very humbled) every time I get in the water and that just keeps me wanting more and more.

I think the biggest thing surfing has taught / and is still teaching me is actual patience and grace. Especially when at really crowded line ups. I can do all the yoga and meditation in the world and someone snaking a wave or dropping in or when I miss one fully on my own will still make me sour - even when I know it’s rarely ever intentional or personal. It requires a constant remembering to come back into the moment, to not take things personally, and to remember what it’s about - that we’re all out there for the same thing - to have FUN! There’s always another set coming. Nothing is ever happening TO you, it’s all FOR you. Missing one wave might mean that a better one is coming right behind it. 

Photo: @mattmariophotography

You’re working a retreat as a yoga teacher in Nicaragua right now which is so cool! What is your daily routine like and what inspires you in creating your yoga classes?
It’s pretty much my dream job! Everything is structured around the tides and when is best to surf. On the retreats, everything comes second to surfing because that’s what they’re here for, which works out great for me as well because it’s also what I’m here for.. That also means the my “daily routine” isn’t exactly routine in that I don’t wake up everyday and do the same thing in the same order but I don’t mind. Down here I get to live in rhythm with my favorite element in nature, the ocean, which is all about -f l o w- anyway. 

I always try to wake up in time to have a cup of hot water with lime, then a few sips of coffee and at least a banana before going out for a surf. Once we get back, sometimes 3-4 hours later we’ll have a bigger meal then a rest and then I teach a yoga class at some point in the day and sometimes offer Thai massage to guests. One thing that’s routine is that we always catch the sunset. Since the company I’m working for at the moment is predominantly a surf camp and not necessarily a ‘yoga retreat’, I get to structure all the classes around supporting what they’re doing in the water, which I love because that’s what I need as well. I’ve worked about 10 retreats since November (it’s now end of January) so I’ve nailed down a weekly plan that I’m pretty happy with. There is always breathwork and a good stretch for the overworked muscles like neck, shoulders, back and hips but I love to mix in mobility and strength work as well. I really nerd out on anatomy and how things work on the physical realm and I think that’s really relatable and practical for the people that come to these retreats. They’re not here for a spiritual awakening (not in the yoga sense at least). They’re here to surf better and I’m really happy to be able to support that and leave mama ocean to do the awakening bit ;)  ( Photo: @chance_jackson )

I think it’s interesting that so many people who do yoga are also drawn to surfing! Why do you think this is? Does your practice impact your surfing and vice versa? 
It’s true, there’s definitely a link there. I think at first, it’s generally because of the obvious reason, for maintenance - in order to surf everyday you need to stretch. Otherwise your body just won’t allow it and most surfers realize this early on i think and commit to it for that reason. From there I think the practice hooks surfers with the same ‘in the moment / in the flow, connected and at peace’ feeling that you find when you’re in the water. A difference with surfing though is that you’re almost forced to be in the moment, which is why I think it’s more unconsciously addicting. With yoga, you can still tune out of the practice and be in your head consumed by thought because the elements of nature aren’t at play. It requires a bit more discipline. Yoga isn’t necessarily something I dream of every day like I do surfing.. it takes a bit more to get me on my mat but I know I need it. And I know I always feel better afterwards. Jerry Lopez talks about the Yin and Yang of the two. Yoga being the yin and surfing being the Yang, and the balance of the two being a perfect marriage. 

My personal yoga practice has ebbed and changed over the years but it is always a compliment to how I’m spending my days. Right now, I’m surfing a lot so I do movement that supports that - a lot of yin and slow flows mixed in with the mobility and strength work that I don’t love but know that I need. When I’m not able to surf, yoga becomes more like my daily exercise.I love going to hot yoga classes and getting a good sweat on when I’m back in Montana but right now you wouldn’t catch me close to anything like that. 

You have both run retreats of your own as well as taught for different retreats. What was the inspiration behind creating Meraki Yoga Trips and how did you bring the vision into a reality?
Meraki Yoga Trips is something that me and my best friend from my very first yoga teacher training brought to life in 2016. We had become fast friends over that month together in training and once separated back to our home countries we really missed teaching and traveling together so we did what a lot of people were doing at that time and would check all of our ‘dream job’ boxes - plan yoga retreats. I won’t say it’s easy, especially as a 20-something year old trying to coordinate things with venues in other countries in different languages but I learned a ton and got really good at planning international travel for others and myself. In doing retreats, you basically become an onboard travel agent - you plan every detail, help with every detail, sell the plan to strangers, but then also get to go along for the ride. I loved it but I learned, as you do with experience, that I prefer to not be as much of a part of the ‘logistic’ side and operate more on the ‘experience’ side. I teach yoga and i’m a great host and I love people and traveling and the like, but I’m not a travel agent or marketing wiz, and that is totally ok with me!

 As surfers there are certain places that always draw us back over and over again. Whether its a lifestyle, a perfect wave, or an overall vibe. Do you have a place like this.. Is there a specific wave or a country you always look forward to going back to? And on the other end, where is on your wishlist to travel to?
Bali was where it all started and will always hold a place in my heart and feel special but the Bali I fell in love with almost doesn’t exist anymore, which is sad but it happens once the word gets out. I know I’ll go back many more times in my life but I’m not in a hurry at the moment. Other islands in indo have been calling to me though. I’d love to do Mentawais and try out Lance’s Left. Really anywhere with a famous left since I ride goofy (chicama in Peru, pavones in Costa Rica, they’re all on the list). Nicaragua is another one of those places that I’ll always love and still holds a good bit of its charm. Lots of left breaks, consistent swells, not super developed but you can find what you need as far as supplies, amazing and helpful people, not over run by tourists.. it almost feels like going back in time and I kinda love that. 

Other places on my wishlist are the Canary Islands in Spain, Ericeira in Portugal, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, and Tahiti. I’d love to one day be able to say I’ve surfed on every continent. I only have South America and Antártica left but that latter seems a bit far fetched. Guess we’ll see!! Photo: @mattmariophotography

Do you have any post surf rituals?
My post surf ritual is always a rinse and then a bevy of some sort because salt water makes me so thirsty. In indo, it’s 100% of the time an ice cold coconut with lime, but since those are harder to come by in other places it’s usually a coffee. And then food. I usually over do it and stay in the water way longer than I should so I come out sooooo hungry! 

Many in our post surf community are also in search of an alternative lifestyle, but may be afraid to take the leap. What advice would you give those wanting to pursue a life of surfing or teaching yoga? 
I think committing to it is the first but hardest step. Sometimes you have to leap without knowing if there is going to be a net there to catch you.. but that’s when you realize you can fly and it’s not as hard as you expected. To be honest, I started talking like I was going to do it (telling friends and family about my plans to teach and travel) before I was convinced I was actually going to be able to do it. I do that in a way with all of my big trips or moves - just start casually talking about it as if it’s real and then let it grow into reality from there. It’s my little manifestation hack, I guess.

As far as logistics - you only really need your 200 hour teacher training from a school that’s Yoga Alliance certified (I recommend Yoga Koh) and then you can work trade pretty much anywhere. From there, it’s just getting brave enough to make an offer to places and when someone finally accepts, you just have to go for it! Experience is always the best teacher. The more you do it the easier it gets. It’s never too late to start. Every surf camp and hostel in the world pretty much will have a yoga teacher on staff as a volunteer. And since it’s such a transient lifestyle every few weeks or months, they’ll need a new one. Start throwing out your resume and curate your IG grid a little and I promise you’ll get some bites.

What is in store for 2023?! Do you have any projects/workshops/retreats coming up that you want to shout on here?
I’m asking myself the same question actually haha I definitely have a plan through October but there’s always wiggle room. Ever since Covid it’s been this way a little bit for me but the way I see it now is that it leaves more room for big surprises (like spending half the year in Nicaragua). What I do know is that I’ll be here with Rise Up Retreats through March or April. 

In Late April I’ll go to Rincon, Puerto Rico to host a yoga and surf retreat with one of my best friends and favorite teachers from NC, Lauren Alivia (we still have a few spots left so here’s the link with all the info!
And then I’ll make my way back to Montana for the high season there. I work at Dancing Spirit Ranch which is an amazing venue for all kinds of retreats and curated events. I live about 30 minutes from Glacier National park and it is absolutely breathtaking. Summer in Montana is high on my do not miss list, even with there being no ocean for hundreds of miles! That should definitely say something..

Yogakoh, one of the other companies I work for, and who I originally trained with, has teacher trainings and retreats throughout the year that I may pop into and work on, and same with Meraki Yoga Trips. (Meraki Yoga Trips // Yoga Koh) There’s also other countries I want to explore and surf so I may seek out work in other avenues that could take me to those. I feel like I’m finally at that sweet spot in my career where I can say yes to the work and travel opportunities that really call to me and feel right, and no to the ones that don’t. And for that, I’m reeeeally grateful and excited! 

Beachside in Nica- Cici wears The Sundrop Set in Wave

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