Swellwomen Surfing & Yoga Retreat

Lynn Burshtein

sunset-photo-lynn-burshteinThe word “swell” can refer to an ocean wave generated from a distant source, or, in more common parlance, a description of something fantastic. For Me-Shell Mijangos, founder of the Maui-based surfing & yoga retreat, Swellwomen (along with its co-ed counterparts, Swell Co-ed), the dual meanings of the word complement one another. A former New York marketing executive whose love of yoga and surfing led first to her accreditation as a yoga instructor in Costa Rica and then later to her appointment as director of the Maui Surfer Girls surf school, Me-Shell has been running week-long surf & yoga retreats for attendees of all levels and ages for the past five years. The motto she lives by – and what she strives to pass along to her guests – is summarized in the phrase by the writer Joseph Campbell: “Follow your bliss…”

Located in a cottage on the expansive Royal Lahaina hotel resort property on Ka’anapali Beach, Swellwomen headquarters provides a cozy environment for retreat goers, where all meals, classes and meetings are held (guests sleep in well-appointed rooms in the Royal Lahaina hotel tower on the property). Retreat groups are comprised of solo travelers, mother/daughter and sister teams or girlfriends traveling together. Days begin at 6:30 a.m. with an outdoor, hour-long “flow” yoga class led by the instructor, Tiffany. It is here that we learn the relationship yoga has to surfing: poses such as the Cobra and Chataranga mimic the movements needed for surfing. Muscle strength and of course balance gained from yoga classes will also be of great assistance on the surfboards.

Following yoga, a healthy breakfast of home-made granola, yogurt, tropical fruit and toast is served (all meals are prepared by the retreat’s private chef, Phil Demott). Then in preparation for our daily surf instructions, guests change hurriedly into the appropriate gear: swimsuits, board shorts and “rash guards” – athletic shirts made of spandex and nylon used to protect against sunburn and chafing. We then head to the “Guard Rails” beach located a 15-minute drive from the resort, a quiet beach area known to feature beginner waves.

Daily surfing lessons are taught by Me-Shell’s husband, Mike, along with instructors from Maui Surfer Girls School – asusie-surfing-photo-by-nicole-sanchez capable bunch who manage to teach the key moves to beginner surfers in a nurturing and non-competitive environment. Students are given a land lesson first, where we learn the all-important “pop-up”, a precise movement where, ostensibly, we will jump up on the surf board from the Cobra-like position into a bent-knee stance, arms outstretched, all while catching a wave. We are also taught the crucial steps to take after our inevitable wipe-outs (“Fall in a starfish position – never dive – cover your head with one hand, and with your free hand, reach up for the board…”). After the land lesson is completed, we have a group discussion. We are encouraged to recognize our limitations in the water and maintain a high level of self-awareness – not unlike what is taught in yoga class.

We make our way into the water, lie on our boards and proceed to paddle to the “outside”, the calm area located before the surf’s break. As each set of waves comes up, we take turns testing out what we learned on land. Ok, so the results are not pretty on my first dozen or so tries, but Mia from Maui Surfer Girls is by my side (metaphorically speaking) all the way: she is fun and engaging and tells me not to over-think the process too much. As classmates, the surfer girls are all supportive of one another, regardless of our level of skill.

With each successive surf lesson, we are taught new skills and additional safety measures. For example, Maui Surfer Girls instructor Sharkey warns me not to stand too long on the ocean floor after falling, lest I get bitten by ocean wildlife (“Trust me, you don’t want Nemo to find you here”). As a reward for our efforts, Maui-based photographer Nicole Sanchez is on hand one day to take professional photographs of the rising surfer stars (photo packages are sold at reasonable prices).

While surfing is the main component of the retreat (there are also daily late afternoon sessions, which are instruction-free but supervised, as well as a few stand-up paddle board lessons), we are given ample opportunity to discover other things that Maui has to offer. One morning we are snorkeling in nearby tranquil waters among local species of fish, including the Hawaiian state fish called the Humuhumunukunukuapua, as well as resident sea turtles. Another day, we take part in a picturesque island mountain hike in a nearby state park. On our free afternoon off, we head to Lahaina town, approximately three miles (five kilometers) away from the resort, which features an enormous Banyan tree in the town square and local surf and gift shops. The massage appointments included in the retreat are scheduled during the second day. Massage therapists Alison and Jessica are very good at assessing the amount of pressure to apply to our sore spots during our individual sessions (additional spa services are available later in the week, if requested).

Days are capped off around the cottage dinner table, and Phil’s cuisine rivals the best of any fine dining establishment. Dinners usually feature chicken, tofu or local fish dishes (macadamia nut-encrusted Mahi-Mahi is a stand-out) along with rice and beans or some variation of oriental noodles, plus salad and dessert (although comprised of healthy, fresh ingredients, portions are not calorie-controlled, so attendees looking to lose weight may need to practice some restraint.) For those with any remaining energy, evenings can be spent watching movies or attending a Luau at the resort. Me-Shell, the self-proclaimed “Mother Hen” frequently checks up on everyone to ensure we are enjoying the retreat.

By the end of the week, many of the surfer girls have advanced quickly, one going so far as to perform a yoga-like headstand on her surf board. More importantly, we have learned the significance of “following our bliss”, whether it be on the yoga mat, in the water, or in our daily lives.

Image credits:  First image © Lynn Burshtein, second image © Nicole Sanchez


  1. Really enjoyed your article. I couldn’t figure out what yoga and surfing had in common but you made me understand the crossover. Sounds like a very interesting getaway. Thanks for the information, I will definitely look into this resort!

  2. It’s a great program. I know … I am from Maui. Surf and Yoga – the best!

    You should check them out 🙂

  3. Thanks Lynn for a well written article and THANKS for joining us at our Women’s Surf Camps.
    Aloha, Me-Shell

  4. The co-ed retreats are pretty amazing too! Hope to see you in Maui.