This past 2020 year was a memorable one for us at Real Adventures as founder Clare, and partner Dave, welcomed their beautiful son Stan into the world. This was Clare’s first child and birthing experience, which during a pandemic added extra layers to what can be as complex and challenging as it can be wonderful and magical. Clare wanted to share her personal story about returning to surfing, and navigating her postpartum recovery.

Each birth and pregnancy experience are unique to every woman. This is an attempt to create more discussion, provide some information and support for women in sports, and specifically women who surf – and the recovery after giving birth. This is information Clare would have benefited from knowing at the start of her pregnancy journey.

Clare is an avid surfer, rock climber, mountaineer, kayaker and runs her own business as an outdoor adventure guide in Connemara, on the west coast of Ireland, as Real Adventures – teaching others and sharing her passion for the outdoors.

women surfing a wave

Clare riding those west coast waves!

How long have you been surfing?

I have been surfing on and off for 17 years, but I have focused on growing my surf skills more over the past 7 years.

Did you surf during your pregnancy?

I surfed up until my third month of pregnancy. I know people who have surfed right up until their due date, and I know others who stopped as soon as they found out that they were pregnant. I think it is important to listen to your body, and I stopped when it felt like the right time for me. I was also careful not to surf in any crazy conditions.

I had received advice from a family doctor and a local GP, who both advised that surfing is not ideal during pregnancy – however, there isn’t much information on it.

female surfer on a wave

 

 

How was the experience of giving birth in 2020, and having a C-section?

I didn’t elect to have a C-section, but it was suggested after a couple of attempts to induce me. Had I known about the postpartum recovery time after having a C-section, I would have opted to be induced a third time – but I believe that Stan was not ready to come out. Looking back, I wished I had been given more information or sought advice about the process and post C-section recovery before going into labor.

Obviously Covid meant the time spent in hospital directly after having the C-section was quite difficult. You are in a lot of pain, and physically sensitive after having abdominal surgery. Performing daily tasks like getting dressed, showering, and even getting out of bed were extremely challenging – especially as I was not allowed to have any visitors and the midwives didn’t have the time to help.

Ultimately being left to our own devices to do everything needed to get through those first few days in a maternity ward with a new baby, who needs constant comforting and nursing, was a struggle.

It was painful to sit up or even twist to pick-up my new son, and that was a lot to deal with as a new mother while recovering from major surgery.

I acknowledge that this was an unprecedented time for everyone in hospitals and is not to fault the staff who were doing their best during an extremely difficult period.

 

pregnant women standing in front of a yellow surfboard

What advice were you given for your post-surgery recovery?

I found it quite strange that I was sent away from the hospital, after having undergone invasive abdominal surgery, with no information about postpartum recovery. I understand that everyone recovers differently, but there are so many women who have C-sections and are then recovering from this, on top of life with a new baby. Some general information about recommended exercises, a time frame guideline for recovery, and a physio referral could be provided.

My own mother was having abdominal surgery at the same time for other health reasons, and was naturally referred to a physio – why would it not be the same when recovering from a C-section?

What was your recovery experience like once you left the hospital and how did you go about seeking advice?

You hear that it usually takes a few weeks to get into some sort of routine after your first child, and I found I started to emerge from my happy newborn bubble around the 6-week mark.  That was when I started to think about getting back to sport, specifically surfing.

I asked my doctor during my postpartum check-up and was shocked to be told that I would need to wait at least 6 months before getting back into the water. It felt like a very general time-frame and I noticed that he was getting this information from the internet, so it didn’t feel like there was any consideration for my specific circumstances.

Naturally, I did my own research when I got home about surfing postpartum and postpartum recovery, only to discover that there was nothing to be found online – I was surprised! I want to share my experience, so that there may be some support or advice out there for other new mothers.

 

How did you go about your recovery – is there anything you would have done differently?

I decided to take my recovery seriously and treat it like any other operation or injury- slowly, slowly. I listened to my body, spoke with my mum about her treatment and researched physio for abdominal surgery recovery.

I slowly built up my strength with online yoga and fitness classes, starting with beginner classes and then progressed as I felt my body was ready to do so.

What I wish I had done was seek advice from a physio on exercises to build-up my core strength – preferably one who has experience with post-partum recovery and surfing.

 

Did you speak to other surfing-mothers about their experience?

No I didn’t, and maybe that is what I would also have done differently.  Although everyone’s recovery, pregnancy and birth stories seem to be so different – and what works for one might not work for another. However, just talking about it and hearing different experiences and perspectives would have been helpful.

It is hard with Covid but having the ability to connect with others and share stories is important, and I hope that going forward there is more space for this conversation.

When did you start surfing again after having Stan?

It took me about 3 months before I felt ready to go back surfing again. It was a fantastic feeling to have my partner watch and support me from the shore with our new addition, as I took to the waves. It was wonderful – both mentally and physically – to have listened to my body and navigated my own postpartum recovery.

woman holding a baby and a surfboard in both arms

Any advice for other mothers easing their way back to surfing after giving birth?

I didn’t push myself too hard initially and I went out on soft waves, with a very big board. I made a pact not to beat myself up about my skill or fitness level, which I would regularly do under normal circumstances. I just enjoyed the feeling of being back in the water and in the outdoors. For someone who spends most of their time outside, it took a while to get used to the amount of time I spent indoors during the first few weeks of motherhood, although I loved every second of that special time – it feels great to be back outside again.

How is your surfing revival going now?

It was going really great and I was enjoying being back in the water and starting to progress again but happy to report we are expecting another baby in October so that has put a stop to surfing for now.  The second time round I will continue to listen to my body, take it slowly and talk to as many other sporty mums as possible.

As a new mum the opportunity to surf doesn’t come around as often as before, so I will try and squeeze in a daily yoga practice, go for a walk and swim in the sea to supplement my surfing time and to continue to strengthen my body.

What would be your main suggestions for other mothers/surfers going through a similar experience?

  • Do research in advance, even if you don’t plan on having a C-section – you may not be left with another option, information is key.
  • Seek advice from a physio before and after giving birth – find out what exercises are recommended for postpartum recovery and do them.
  • Go slow, listen to your body and be gentle on yourself. No two recoveries are the same – so get as much information as possible, but ultimately listen to what you need and treat postpartum recovery like you would treat an injury.
  • Talk to other mothers to share ideas and advice. You may find out some valuable information that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
  • Get outside as much as you can, when you feel ready. I spend time outdoors a lot now, albeit not without the dreaded emotional rollercoaster of mom guilt – wondering if he is too cold, too hot, or if it is too much for him! Go easy on ourselves and remember that prioritizing our well-being and doing the things we love is an important part of motherhood!

I feel extremely lucky that Stan has the perfect setting of growing up in Connemara, a place that is so close to my heart and that I have called home for almost two decades now.  I hope he grows up to love the outdoors as much as I do, and he certainly has a great place to start.


I love this video by ultra-runner Sophie Power talking about her experience from pregnancy to returning to running.


If you would like to start working on your surf dreams, we offer surf lessons in Connemara – and we are Galway’s only surf school. With a team of skilled and experienced surf instructors who have ridden waves all over the world- we offer lessons for all levels, whether you are just starting out or want to improve your skills.

Take a look at our Beginner’s guide to surfing blog post, for some tips when starting out.

Check out our surf lessons here, and if you have any questions – please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming surf event ladies – we think you will love it.