Surfing while pregnant is a controversial topic, as any expectant mother who continues to surf is likely to attract disapproval, both in and out of the water. Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer and well-known shark attack survivor (lost her left arm), recently attracted controversy by surfing while six months pregnant. Media attention varied, with some declaring her continuing zest for the sport “inspiring,” while others were less supportive, renouncing her choice as a “bad idea, if not dangerous.” With the jury still out on surfing while pregnant, another surfer, Carly McRae, offers her personal experience on this matter.
A Regular and Competent Surfing History
Carly McRae is a professional surf instructor at Ocean Soul Retreat in Bali, who decided to continue surfing into the final stages of her pregnancy: “I grew up by the beach in Australia and was a member of the local Surf Life Saving Club from a young age. I started surfing at 16 and became a surf instructor a few years later. It didn’t matter if I was surfing by myself or teaching others, I just couldn’t get enough time in the water.” Before she became pregnant, Carly surfed at least twice a day, usually for an hour or two each time.
Pregnancy Concerns and Risk of Injury
At the start of her pregnancy, she refused to let the physical and emotional changes keep her out of the water. But as her baby bump grew, she worried about hitting it with her surfboard: “So I did some research online and talked to midwives and doctors about surfing.” Just like the responses Hamilton received in a similar situation, all of the medical professionals had varying opinions: “Some seemed to think it was fine while others thought it was risky—the risk being the board hitting the baby.”
Surfing with Precautions and Modifications
Carly decided to continue surfing, but to avoid the risk of injury to herself or her baby, she modified her surfing routine and behavior. She gave up her regular fiberglass board and switched to a large, soft-foam board. This accommodated her extra weight gain and growing bump. She also surfed only when the conditions were right—the waves had to be small, not too intense, and with only a few people in the ocean to avoid collisions. Carly said, “When it became too uncomfortable to lay flat on my board, I paddled on my knees and only lay down to paddle onto a wave. I also didn’t want to start any new sports in this time, so I stuck to just walking and surfing.”
A Healthy and Happy Pregnancy
For Carly, surfing while pregnant kept her healthy and happy: “Surfing and instructing during this time helped me have a great pregnancy. It gave me purpose and kept away any pregnancy blues. My nine months flew by, and I look back at this experience as having been pleasant.” Her co-workers were also inspired by her decision to continue surfing while pregnant. “Watching Carly surf and the radiance she beamed was incredible,” said Ocean Soul Retreat, founder of the Ocean Soul Retreat. “Surely it is of great benefit to the bubba to receive the healing properties of the ocean and mumma being completely happy and at peace.”
Be Aware of Potential Complications, Seek Medical Advice First
Being competent doesn’t immediately give a pregnant woman a free pass to keep surfing. Every woman’s pregnancy is different, and every woman wants to avoid complications. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has stated that, “recreational and competitive athletes with uncomplicated pregnancies can remain active during pregnancy and should modify their usual exercise routines as medically indicated.” However, previously inactive women, or those with medical or obstetric complications, are advised to undergo a thorough medical assessment before determining the type or level of physical activity they intend to pursue.
The basic bottom line for all women is to always seek their doctor’s approval and pay attention to their body. After all, a pregnant woman is no longer alone out on the ocean anymore. Carly agrees, “If it’s something you did before you became pregnant, then I think it’s great to continue doing. It keeps you fit, happy, and healthy. However, if you have never surfed before, or not regularly, I think it’s best to wait until after your little one is born.” Carly, now a new mother, is back on her board, just five days after giving birth to a girl, Lakey, named after the surf spot in Bali where she was conceived. Carly expects that Lakey will probably be swimming before she learns to walk—just like her mother.