Mad to Live Retreats — Portugal 2017
Okay, I'm not gonna lie — this is a post I've been both super excited to write, and also dreading a little… The dread is down to the fact that I have no clue how to put my week in Portugal into words. It was just fucking A W E S O M E. The end.
Fine, I'll go into more detail… I booked on to Sophie Everard's Mad to Live Retreat earlier this year after looking around for a good surf retreat to visit on my own (brave step). Surfgirl magazine did a feature on Sophie that popped up on my Pinterest right on cue. It was meant to happen obvs.
Teaming with The Surf Experience, Sophie and the SE guys and girls put in a hell of a lot of effort to give you the best week of your life. And no, I'm not exaggerating. It literally was that for me.
Kickstarting the retreat with our main love, surfing, we had coaching from Sophie and Rui — the great (and super nice) instructors with everything included. No need to worry about boards or wetsuits. These coaching sessions made it such a great time for everyone of all abilities — from beginners to seasoned surfers we were all guided while being looked after, and never pushed to do anything we weren't comfortable with.
We were so lucky — that week the waves were perfect every. single. day. From starting out small and gentle to ease us into getting back on our boards, to bigger green waves that we could do some serious shredding on. All with great people and amazing weather — literally couldn't have asked for any more.
Over the week every single one of us progressed so much. It was an awesome personal achievement, but we really turned into a little community and felt stoked for each other improving and catching some great waves. I never thought I'd meet a group of strangers and immediately get on so well with them. It was great that we were all there for the same reason so we clearly had initial interests in common, but everyone was accommodating, funny (which is fucking important) and just easy going.
I know a lot of people feel a bit intimidated by the idea of a gang of girls, but the atmosphere on the retreat is so cool that I genuinely believe anyone will feel welcome.
As well as cramming as much surf in as we could, we had so many other cool experiences thrown in to the retreat that just made every day unbelievable. I did more in that week than I would probably do in six months.
Mountain biking through Lagos across beaches, up hills and ending with a kick ass lunch in a local restaurant was epic — definitely beats the grey streets of North West England anyway. This was the only part I was a bit nervous about as I'd taken a break from cardio but even though it was 25km I still managed to beast it and have a damn good time. I'm even tempted to dig my old bike back out now…
Another day was spent at a ranch, chilling by the pool and practicing board techniques, followed by a hack through the Portuguese wilderness on a beautiful (and well behaved) horse. Our gang was split into groups dependent on ability, so again there was no pressure on anyone to do more than they felt comfortable with.
Even though this is a fitness retreat, there's no competitive nature to it — just fun and a good laugh.
One of the moments my friends and family are already sick of me harping on about is the surprise location Sophie and Lucy took us to after we'd been hacking.
A dam (about 30ft high) set across a gorgeous, still freshwater lake. The view was epic. Then she told us we could jump. So I jumped. Holy shit.
Only a few of us chose to be brave (or stupid, your choice) and free fall off the dam into the super deep water, but I am SO GLAD I did it. I will never ever forget that experience. The feeling of letting go, seeing it all in slow motion and thinking 'what the fuck have I done' while plummeting towards the water can't really be compared to anything else. Hitting that water and swimming amongst fish in the cleanest, most beautiful spot was the perfect ending to a huge rush.
Heading back up to the van, stoked and soaking wet listening to Led Zeppelin just made it all seem unreal. Dreamy. Perfect. I was so happy in that moment.
One of those tales I'll be telling my grand kids one day.
Also mixed in with the retreat was yoga — on the beach and in a quaint old little theatre in the streets of Lagos with Igor. I have never been taught by someone with a voice as soothing as his. Savasana was an absolute dream with him.
After long days of surfing and working out the yoga was the perfect ending. Helping us to ease out the muscles we'd worked hard without even realising, and winding us down for the night.
There are loads of opportunities to socialise and head out in the evenings – Lagos is an awesome town with several cool bars that are great for a chilled hang out, or a heavy night leading in to the early hours (guilty). When you meet people as great as these guys you want to spend that week the best way possible before you part ways — bring on the tequila!
I made some friends in the space of a week that I hope will last a lifetime — people that have made me think differently about my own life, given me a fresh outlook and shown me that shit doesn't have to be so serious.
I never felt alone, or even like I was on a holiday with strangers. From the word go I was made comfortable, and I can't thank Sophie and Lucy enough for that. Those girls are absolute rock stars.
Sophie will be running retreats next year so get booking quickly, I promise you don't wanna miss out. Check her website for upcoming trips and info!