Leah, you are originally from Canada. Would you describe what your life was like living in Canada?
I loved growing up in Canada, and didn’t realize how lucky I was to grow up in Vancouver BC until I began exploring the outside world. I was a hockey player and snowboard instructor as a teenager, and although the rainy months in Vancouver can be a little heavy, the mountains, lakes, and ocean being so near are a blessing to anyone’s wellbeing. I definitely thrived as an active youngster up there.
I left Canada when I was 21 years old to go to college in Boulder, Colorado, lived in Brooklyn, NY after, and then moved to Sayulita four years ago. So, my Vancouver time now is limited to a month each summer. Although I miss it, Sayulita is a great trade-off!
You are now a certified yoga, SUP, and surf instructor (owner of Yoga & Surf with Leah). Did that passion spring forth in the cold Canadian waters, and did you always dream of surfing warm tropical waters?
I started teaching yoga when I was 17 years old, which was 17 years ago, and yoga hadn’t boomed yet. So, I was definitely considered an odd duck in my snowboard community. Although, now all of my snow and skate buds are big yogis because they learned pretty fast that if they wanted to extend their professional careers, they better take good care of their bodies!
Because of my snowboarding background, and because I prefer warm water to cold, I definitely dreamed of being a surfer! I had Roxy/Quiksilver ads of surfer girls taped up in my bedroom as a teen. My first time surfing was in Tofino, off the west coast of Vancouver Island, at 16 years old, and it was not the same as our waters here in Sayulita, that’s for sure! When I graduated high school, I visited family in Australia and surfed the east coast from Sydney to Byron Bay for a few months. After that trip, I knew I wanted to build a life around waves.
It’s been a blessing also to work as a surf coach for Las Olas Surf Safaris, the oldest women’s surf school in Sayulita (20 years!). I first heard of the company when I was 18 years old, had their company pamphlet tacked up on my vision board as a teen, and dreamed of being able to attend a retreat. Now I work with them as a surf coach and yoga instructor. That’s very cool, and is a great reminder of how dreams blossoming have their own timeline.
Leah, you successfully turned your passion into a business. Could you tell us what 'Yoga & Surf with Leah' is all about?
Yoga & Surf with Leah is your chance to hang out with me! I love working one on one with people, especially over the course of a week, a month, or even a couple days, as it's my chance to give clients their very own toolbox. When they leave working with me, they'll be equipped to continue practicing yoga and/or surfing on their own. I think it's important for people to feel confident in their own ability to do something new, but it's hard if you don't feel safe, knowledgeable or have the right skill set. I share a skill set that works, and then folks can tweak it for their personal style and preferences. And when they move on to working with other instructors, they will have a strong foundation to build from.
What’s your experience of surfing as a woman in a male dominated sport? Do you feel there are more women surfing today around you?
I am surrounded, and inspired by, so many incredible female surfers that I don’t notice an imbalance in surfing so much. Anything new I’ve learned, it’s been from another girl surfer teaching me, and for this I am super grateful. I want to pay it forward by teaching as many women as I can how to surf, and how to feel safe and comfortable in the water, so we can continue dominating with our good vibes!
Being a surf instructor in a town where there is not many of us women teaching has been challenging, but people always seem to find me, which is comforting. Sharing the stoke of surfing is one of the highlights of living in Mexico for me.
Would you say it was fairly easy transforming your old life into the dream life you had always envisioned?
Mentally, it was super easy! Paperwork and immigration wise, not so much. I got my residency soon after Mexico changed the laws in 2012, so it was harder for foreigners to just move down here and start working, which I think was a smart move as a country. It took 15 months for my residency to pass, where as friends today only wait a few weeks. So, it made me want to stay longer down here, and create a beautiful long-term life, rather than just stay a few seasons.
How long have you now called Sayulita your home?
I have called Sayulita my home for 4.5 years.
What are some unique aspects of Sayulita that you don't think you could find in other places?
The left and right surf break is pretty special. I think that’s why it appeals so much to surfers, especially beginners. Nearby Puerto Vallarta is also so beautiful, and the fact that Sayulita is only an hour away from an airport and a city, while still feeling “tucked away” in the jungle is amazing. I’m not surprised it’s become such a massive travel destination internationally.
Have you lived in other parts of Mexico? If so, how does Sayulita compare?
I haven’t, not yet! When I receive my permanent residency next year, my partner and I plan to van life around the country, and check out all the other places in Mexico we dream of living, and then choose our next home. I love Sayulita, but am excited to see more of Mexico’s vast terrain. So far, I’ve visited 9 states out of the 31. I definitely have a lot more to see.
Would you say you have found a balance between work, living a sustainable life, and enjoying everything Sayulita has to offer in your free time?
My life down here is more balanced than it has been anywhere else. I’ve always been an active person, but the difference between living in a small town and a city is transportation time between work and fun is cut down a ton. I can surf before and after work, and it doesn’t take up a huge amount of time. That’s my favorite part! More time to fit everything in, which is helpful as I always had to choose between teaching and writing (a hobby of mine), and down here, I can do both.
Thank you, Leah, for your inspirational words. We hope to continue seeing your beautiful vibes around our Pueblo Magico Sayulita!