Surfing Taught Me About Down Syndrome

Waves of water

rushing water on the beach

Out of focus water shot



It has the ability to excite, soothe, cleanse, and terrify us all at once. It’s safe to say that water is incredibly powerful.

I recently returned from my dream job in Costa Rica where I was asked to photograph a group of women on the Living in Light retreat hosted by the lovely Chloe from Chloe’s Countertop. It was a self care and self awareness retreat set in the tropical jungle on the Nicoya Peninsula at the incredible Sanctuary at Two Rivers facility.

The sun through the trees

I had just completed hosting my own retreat in Tanzania and had been feeling quite light and rejuvenated. I didn’t have many expectations in terms of my own healing journey as my first priority was to make sure I documented the trip beautifully for Chloe. I had experienced a layer of healing in Africa, and felt that maybe, for once, I was off the hook on my healing journey.

Of course, deep down I knew that there are always more layers to peel, but I didn't allow myself to focus on anything other than honoring my intention to capture the beauty of transformation in the participants for that week.

I’ll start off by saying that this trip was really and truly a gift to me in so many ways. Thank you again, Chloe, not only for helping one of my greatest dreams come true, but also for creating an opportunity for my own healing journey to go even deeper. The average age of the women attending this retreat was about 25. At 44, it would be natural for me to want to play mother hen and reach out to help others, but the energy of the jungle had another plan for me and it wasn’t going to allow me to slip into the role of matron.

When I agreed to take part, my mind played tricks on me and only later did I realize I would be missing my middle daughter Ruby’s 11th birthday. Ruby has Down Syndrome. Every year of her life inevitably brings with it another layer of realization or healing of some sort. “How could I have forgotten this major detail, and how could I have possibly agreed to go away on her birthday??” I lamented to myself, I mean, I have never missed any of my girl’s birthdays!

The Universe always has a greater plan for us and it is through active faith that I have learned to trust in this great truth.

One of the things I had been looking forward to the most on this trip was the chance to go surfing as it’s not something I’m naturally good at. I had my heart set to experience “success” this time around.

Close up of a surf board

As we lined up, chose our boards, and put on our rashies, the instructors went over the steps for “success”. A funny feeling stirred inside of me, both excited and full of anticipation of something brewing. It was the kind of feeling I get when I experience a “download” from my intuition or higher self. I listened intently and decided to ignore the all too familiar feeling.

As I picked up my board and approached the water, the feeling became audible.

“Just enjoy the ride. You’re not going to get up on that board today, so just enjoy your surroundings and the feeling of the waves, sun, and the freedom of being halfway around the world, away from any responsibility on this beautiful beach.”

My instructor came over and ushered me up on my board.

“Let’s go!!” he encouraged me enthusiastically.

And so this is where my ego took over. In fact, after this experience it became clear to me that the instructor literally became the voice of my ego.

My heart said “Go, just get on your belly and enjoy the waves”

My head said “You are 44! They are 25! You can’t act like you’re not going to even try to get up on that board! What will they think?”

My instructor was on cue. With every thought that I would just “let it go” and ride on my belly he seemed to sniff me out like a great white shark, rushing over, meticulously recounting the steps of “success” to me and assuring me that I would without a doubt ride a wave before the end of the session. He nearly had me convinced…

And so with every passing wave I waited, jumped on the board, aligned myself, checked my balance, and whoosh….

It was the same story over and over again. I had all the steps down but had a hard time letting go at the right time with my arms to stand up. Time and time again I fell. And I crashed. I even got hit in the forehead by the surfboard.

And then I cried.

I cried with frustration. I cried into that ocean full of pity for myself because I couldn’t even manage to get it right. I cried because I didn’t have the voice to tell my ego (and my instructor) that it was ok to just play and enjoy riding the board on my belly, not worrying about what others would think. I also cried because I’m not supposed to worry what others think! The surfboard knocking me on the head was my higher self playing with me. “Can’t you hear me?”, I heard the voice say.

The hours I spent in the ocean that day brought me closer to understanding my daughter and her journey more than any other time in my life and this is why I think it is so important for me to share this.

Cutie patootie

Here’s the thing.

Ruby spends a lot of her time “trying”.

Whether it’s learning to tie her shoes, or learning to read and write, it takes a lot of effort navigating the world with Down Syndrome.


The word repetition takes on a completely new meaning when learning a new skill.

First there is familiarization. The intake. The observation and processing.

Then we TRY.


And often we fail which ends in a standoff and a lot of sitting, doing what most of us would judge as “nothing”.


Sometimes, after bribery and much convincing, we are lucky if we can try again. 

Through the tears, frustration and failure I experienced that day in the ocean I saw that my yearning for Ruby to keep trying and to “succeed” at the task at hand is purely down to my own ego and societal norms. I have been conditioned to believe that there must be a destination for every journey. As the surf instructor was my ego, so too is my will for Ruby to succeed.

For the first time I asked myself honestly and truthfully “Does there really need to be a destination?”

I could feel with all of my heart as I thrashed around fighting with that surfboard the enormity and density of this question.


Floating in black and white

The words re-framed, “What if we keep trying, and trying and never manage to reach the destination?”

So there it was, crystal clear as I looked up to the heavens and the incredible blue sky laced with cotton ball clouds as the waves thrashed against me. My eyes were swollen, my nose was running, and my chest was heaving as I cried for nearly the entire hour of surfing. I was never going to get up on that board because I had to feel what it feels like to really want to do something and accept that it’s not always going to happen. Even when armed with all the tools in front of me aligning me for “success”, I was never going to do it on that day.

I needed to FEEL her.

Her strength. That tenacity. An endless sense of wanting to just “be” and not always be chasing a goal.

Sitting in the water

Running from the water

Visions ran through my mind of the many times I walked away in frustration thinking she would never “get there”. The times we sat tracing over white boards trying to form letters. Or how about the many times that I pushed her into the water when she resisted swimming, as I thought she was being lazy. Making it about me, and not her. It’s ok. I’m not beating myself up about it as I know it’s part of the learning journey. My tears in the ocean that day came from a very special place.

Those tears allowed me to feel what it’s like to be awake and alive. Sobbing tears allowed my heart to connect to my daughter and feel her message from so far away, cleansing me deeply and allowing the deepest joy to emerge. I knew that I had penetrated another layer in my awareness of what it must be like to have a condition like Down Syndrome.

To understand what it must be like to want to really want to achieve something, realizing you will not reach your destination as you try harder and harder.


We are a culture of “no excuses”, and are raising children in an age where achievement, goals, and success are paramount.

While I am a huge advocate of helping to develop my daughters to their fullest potential, this experience cracked me open and allowed a new truth to ooze from my soul.

It is ok to try and try again with the idea that you may never get there. It really is ok….

Unlimited possibilities lie in the realm of acceptance, and accepting and embracing our differences is the biggest step towards success that I can possibly dream of.

Cute and Funny

So on this day of differences, in celebration of World Down Syndrome Day, Ruby I salute you and I thank you once again for being my spiritual teacher. This has unquestionably always been a big part of your life path and you have served me well.

Namaste little guru, and Happy World Down Syndrome Day!!


Author- Stephanie Hamilton 

Photos-Stephanie Hamilton

Stephanie is an amazing Mother, photographer, yoga teacher, blogger and host a successful soul retreats called Nectar Soul Retreats.  She has the spirit of an energy healer which is why so many are drawn to her.  Look into her retreats if you are looking for some healing.  You won't be disappointed.Save

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