The Beginner’s Guide To Water Wellness: How To Turn Your Love of the Beach Into a Healthier Lifestyle

November 21, 2020

Sometimes we have to seek out inspiration. It doesn’t necessarily show up at our doorstep and slap us in the face. In fact, most times I have to step outside of my comfort zone and try things that feel weird, uncomfortable or foreign.

To my surprise and delight, sometimes that weird or uncomfortable thing actually changes my life for the better.

I didn’t meet the Pacific Ocean until I was almost 30. I was fortunate enough to grow up splashing around the lakes and rivers of Northern Wisconsin, but developing a relationship with the ocean came much later in life.

And man, was she ready to serve up some life lessons.

That Time the Ocean Waited for Me

When I got on a surfboard for the first time and paddled out at Venice Beach, it was all about me.

How many waves could I catch? (Zero.) How good a paddler was I? (Not good.) Did I get my surf selfie photo? (Okay, yeah. I nailed this one.)

I know the ocean was patiently smiling upon me, tossing me about, excited for the lessons to finally begin after all these years. I have yet to interview a single woman on my podcast who hasn’t experienced the life-changing power of the ocean. 

So what has changed exactly, and where did it begin?

My First Lesson From the Ocean

It all started the first time I noticed trash floating next to my surfboard.

By this time, I’d been surfing awhile. The ocean had become my second home—my place of reprieve, meditation, my sacred space. To see trash floating there, in this sacred and personal temple … well, I was nothing short of offended and pissed.

This flipped the switch for me. Eight years later, I haven’t been able to turn it off.

The Transformative Power of the Ocean

That simple experience started me on a trajectory. I took up volunteering, made time for ocean activism, started a podcast, quit the fashion industry, started buying second-hand clothes, changed my eating patterns to lower meat consumption, learned about climate change, began to seek out public speaking opportunities, ok my list is obnoxious, you get my drift.

Falling in love with the ocean has a snowball effect. Your habits start to change for the better. 

What’s more, you don’t have to be a surfer to fall in love with the ocean, or overhaul your habits for that matter. In fact, I’m confident any form of water can inspire healthier habits for all of us.

This is one of the main reasons I’m leading virtual Thursday morning ‘Wild Swim Community Sits.’ I want to lift up women around the world through story medicine, and inspire us to activate for our own local water resources. Healthy us. Healthy oceans and waterways.

The 5 Ways I Turned My Love for the Ocean Into a Healthier Lifestyle

Before I get to the 5 things I did as I was falling in love with the ocean, I want to be clear about why I’m sharing this. When I find I’m benefiting from something or improving my life, naturally I want to shout it from the rooftop and share it with my community!

I encourage you to think of this article as a cheat-sheet. For me, the ocean is a journey of exploration, and part of that journey included learning about what others had experienced too.

I share my experiences in an attempt to pay it forward. If you read something here that resonates with you, give it a whirl. We’re all just trying to grow and evolve as humans, right?

Okay, onto the list.

1. Falling in love with the ocean inspired me to implement healthier morning and evening routines.

What does this look like?

Well, I get up early to surf or swim. And because I’m getting up earlier, I go to bed earlier. Simple enough, right? There’s a lot to unpack in our morning and evening routines.

Truth be told, I could (and probably should) write an entire article on just that!

To summarize it quickly though, I made a list of the things I enjoy doing first thing in the morning and just before bed, then I prioritized what’s important. I encourage you to do the same.

When you write your own list out, you’ll see clearly what you can cut, add, as well as how many hours of sleep you truly need. From there, you can rebuild your morning and evening routines. Keep what works. Ditch what doesn’t.

If you need a little help building a healthier morning or evening routine, let’s talk.

2. Falling in love with the ocean inspired me to watch my caffeine and alcohol consumption.

If I’m hanging out with my bff, red wine, that usually means I’m staying up a little later, dabbling in a little too much Netflix, and feeling a little dull when I wake up. None of these are optimal for greeting the ocean early in the morning. My Whoop app also helps keep me in check when it comes to this. Fun fact (actually not so fun)…When I drink alcohol I can see the direct correlation in my recovery score. According to Whoop data and research, the effects of alcohol stay in our bodies for days after we consume it, crazy right? If you are interested in your own Whoop membership, I’ve got the first 30 days free for you here:

Anyway, thanks to a combination of Whoop and my love for the ocean, I’m more thoughtful about my volume, consumption and frequency of alcohol. That doesn’t mean I abstain completely; this is an ongoing experiment for me, but the point is I’m engaged in a thoughtful evaluation of my relationship with alcohol and how it affects me and the things I love.

Ok let’s talk caffeine. When I surf, especially in bigger waves during the winter, I admittedly get a little anxious. I’ve also seen a direct correlation between my personal caffeine consumption and heightened anxiety. So, I typically start my surf mornings with tea instead of coffee. Herbal tea like ginger or chamomile allows me to be calmer and more balanced when I’m navigating bigger waves in the water.

What about you?

I’m not here to tell you what to drink or not drink. I won’t shame you if you have wine daily and I won’t recoil if you abstain all the time. What I will do is encourage you to be intentional about what works for you, and carve out some time to actually think about it.

Both chemicals are powerful. Give some thought to how they affect your quality of life. 

3. Falling in love with the ocean inspired me to use my voice as an ocean activist.

After I started picking up plastic at the beach, I had the desire to tap into a greater community. I wanted to truly serve the ocean. I know that sounds all poetic, but if you’ve seen the beauty I’ve seen, you know the feeling.

I was lucky enough to find Surfrider Foundation. I volunteered for a few years, learning the ropes from other passionate volunteers, and then had the great privilege of serving as the Chapter Chair in Los Angeles.

The passionate crew at Surfrider helped me build the confidence to speak at City Council meetings—I would never have done that before—meet with local restaurant owners to encourage plastic-free options, introduce underprivileged communities to the ocean, speak at companies and universities, and so much more!

I never thought of myself as an activist. In fact, I thought activists looked and acted a certain way, and it wasn’t the way I looked or acted. But then I realized I could be an activist every single day in all the small ways that mattered to me.

If this is speaking to you, I encourage you to explore this further. 

Find something you’re passionate about and really lean into it. It’s okay if you don’t have the time to volunteer every week. Even if your support is minimal, every little bit counts—both for the cause and for you.

4. Falling in love with the ocean inspired me to adjust my diet.

I’m not vegan or vegetarian. Sometimes I struggle with guilt over choosing not to check one of those boxes completely. I am, however, much more thoughtful about the food I put into my body.

To lean into that further, my food choices aren’t all about my personal health. Yes, good nutrition makes for better surfing, but my food choices are also about the health of our oceans.

I believe in the importance of awareness and moderation.

About 80% of my diet is plant-based. I find ways to work veggies into everything. Not only that, but I find that I genuinely enjoy all that vegetable-based goodness—way more than I ever thought I would.

Just like the section above about alcohol and caffeine, it’s not my place to tell anyone else what to put in their bodies, and vise versa. But I do encourage us all to be more intentional.

Think about what you eat in a typical day. Write it down. What’s on your grocery list to pick up this week? Think about how those things makes you feel—physically and in relation to the planet. Are you in a good place with your eating habits? If not, what changes do you need to make to feel better about your choices?

5. Falling in love with the ocean inspired me to break up with the fast fashion industry.

Do you want to hear something crazy? I have a Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design from Chicago.

I spent three grueling years learning how to make patterns, visualize, create, source fabrics, build a collection, and everything else that goes into producing clothes. We’re talking about endless hours of sewing.

And then I threw it all away.

I actually had my own clothing label based out of Los Angeles. But after I developed my love for the ocean, I started to struggle morally with all of the waste the fashion industry produces, the 2nd biggest polluter next to oil. How crazy is that?!

And yes, there are some great brands out there doing things more sustainably. Allbirds, for example. But I had to throw in the towel on creating myself.

Now I shop second-hand clothing as much as possible. It’s great for the planet and great for my finances.

I encourage you to look through your closet. Do you have clothes you could donate? Stuff you simply don’t wear? When it comes time to buy new clothes, think long-term. Pick items you can wear often and mix and match.

And check out your local second-hand stores. Nothing feels as good as an awesome thrift store find!

Your Healthy Lifestyle Homework

These 5 habits have been powerful in my personal life, and that’s not the end of the list. In reality, the list continues to grow every day. Having a relationship with water—any body of water—is a lifelong, beautiful journey.

You’re never too old to start.

If you’re ready to dive into your own journey, here’s a place for you to start today:

  • Write out your morning or evening routine. Look for 2-3 ways you can adjust or refine it to make it fit better with the rest of your day.
  • What is your relationship with caffeine and alcohol? Would a little less make your days or weeks better? If so, give that a whirl and see how you feel.
  • What cause do you feel passionately about? What one thing can you do this week to help with that cause? Remember, it doesn’t have to be a big, grand gesture, every little bit helps.
  • Be intentional about your food choices this week. Think about your personal health and the health of the planet.
  • Look through your closet. Find at least a few items you can donate. The next time you feel like shopping, hit up a thrift store before you look at anything new.

Oh, and I haven’t officially announced this on social media yet, but if you actually made it all the way to the end of this article, I’m excited to share I will be coming out with my very own Salted Spirit waterwomen’s tea line very soon!

I found the cutest labels on Sticker Mule, their custom labels​ and stickers have added so much personality to my packaging, more coming soon!

Thanks for reading, and I welcome you to leave a comment below and let me know how having a relationship with water has positively impacted  your life! 

  1. Amé T. Flournoy says:

    This was right on time, especially the relationship with caffeine. I’ve become a bit of an addict these days and it does nothing good for my newly acquired anxiety! Lol! But what I especially love is your action item about fast fashion. As someone who also went to school for fashion design and manufacturing, I can appreciate your decision to walk away especially when I know how fulfilling designing can be. How wonderful you found another way to create and design through your words, and your teas! I’m looking forward to more of those blends. Anyway, thank you again for always being willing to share a bit of you with us!

    • Stacie Vanags says:

      Ame, thank you so much for your personal note here, and for reading! I had no idea you also went to school for design and manufacturing, crazy small world! I’d love to chat more about this sometime and hear your take on it. i can’t believe it took the ocean and surfing to open my eyes up to the horrors of fashion. Media, magazines etc do a great job of covering this up so they can keep driving money, lust and ‘wanting more’ in the industry. At the same time, there is more information out there exposing this than there was 10 years ago, and I’m grateful for that. Thanks for being one of my sisters always pressing to learn more, be better, serve community etc! Also, I started blending my own teas a year ago to combat my crazy caffeine addiction!

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