Stand-up Paddling and Surfing with Maria Souza

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For This Woman, The Ocean IS her Heaven On Earth

Written by: Dwayne Mac Murtrie  ( My ghost writer)

What makes a person a champion? Is it their accomplishments? Is it their desire? Is it their determination? Or is it how they measure up to…. themselves? For one such athlete it goes beyond this as she includes wanting to make a difference in everyone’s lives, especially her daughter’s. Musical Artist Bruce Springsteen sings the line, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?” from the song “The River.” That is why women’s water sport champion Maria Souza has shown time and time again, that she is that champion and has been relentless in making her dreams come true.

Souza has been involved in many different water sports over the years, but it is for her tow-in surfing that gave her the most recognition to start. She has been credited as the first woman ever to compete in tow-in surfing as she got started in back in 1989-90. Tow-in surfing is a method where a partner pulls you into a giant wave with the assistance of some form of motor vehicle, whether it is in the form of a water vehicle or helicopter. “I met my ex-husband (surfer Laird Hamilton) and they were testing and starting the tow-in with a zodiac,” recalls Maria. However, it is her stand-up paddle surfing competitions at Channel Crossing, along with teammate Andrea Moller, which has made Maria the most proud, as she remarked, “All wins and no losses.”

Stand-up paddle surfing is a sport where you are standing on a surfboard and using a paddle to brush strokes through the water instead of using waves only as the force behind your movements. Think of it as the water version of cross country skiing as it is about endurance and not the quick spurt. Although Souza is proud of her accomplishments in the water, she grew up hating competitions but fell in love with the adrenaline of big waves and feels that “surfing is an art form and should not be judged.”

Maria was born in March of 1969 and is from the city of Recife in Brazil. While living in Brazil, Maria’s first taste of water sports was swimming. “I did swimming to compliment my cardio when I did gymnastics,” stated Souza. However, it wasn’t long after that Maria took off her gymnastic slippers and headed to the ocean. Souza continued, “I wanted to grow in size and develop as a young lady, my (gymnastics) training was too intense and the ocean set me free.” Much of Maria’s love for the ocean is credited to her mother, Edilza. As a youngster, Edilza used to take Maria and her older sister, Tai, down to the ocean at sunrises before going to school to suck up water through their noses and blow the water back out, as her mother believed this prevented colds. It not only prevented colds, but it gave Maria the confidence that she could overcome anything in the ocean. “I was 12 years old when I tried it (surfing) for the first time. Someone let me use their board and I went straight into a surfing hit, I got pounded, lost the hit but got hooked because I was so used to the drowning feeling that my mom taught us with the salt water flushes.

Then things took a turn as Maria and her ex-husband of five years gave birth to her first child, Izabella, in July of 1995. Maria recalls, “My beautifulBela was three months old when I became single. I had no choice but to make the Bela choice. I kept doing all the ocean life I could but took a nine year break from the extreme sports venue. I had a mission to be there for her and to teach her right from wrong. In addition, the frame of mind and the emotional state you must be in to ride big waves would have been selfish for that moment in my life. It was the best choice I ever made in my life.”

Despite the success that Maria was having in the water sport competitions, major sponsorships just were not in the cards for her and instead of ending her dreams, Maria relished in it and preferred it. “I had lots of help from local stores as I never really wanted to sign a contract for money because being a single mom, I could not promise that I could be on a location to do a promotion, photo shoots or anything else that was needed of me. Therefore, I had to pretty much sponsor my hobbies, which in turn have become one of my jobs. Besides, I appreciate it more because I savored each equipment I bought and I took good care of them because I know how much and how long I had to save for them,” Souza noted.

It was also this kind of drive that led her into her own business ventures as Maria has taken her multi-talents in the water sports world and is adapting them in the business world. Souza runs Ocean Sports LLC, a company that studies and teaches body therapy, corrective exercises and injury prevention. Maria has taken all these techniques and has become a personal trainer in which she also includes the art of yoga. In addition to personal training, she also teaches stand-up paddle surfing through Ocean Sports to all that is interested. With all her focus going towards personal training and water sports lessons, Maria has set aside for the time being another business venture of hers, Amazon Swim Wear, which is her line of clothing for the water. “I had to set it (Amazon) on the side when I started the Ocean Sports School. I had to go back to Brazil to oversee manufacturing and shipping. It took so much time and energy,” Maria commented.

Today, Maria has been living on the island of Maui in Hawaii for nearly half her life and has been together with her current husband, Kawika, for about four years. “We met while paddling canoes. He is an ocean lover and an incredible fishing man. We also have done tandem surfing together. Maria and Kawika were married in Tahiti and are expecting their first child together in June 2010. As for the now 14-year old Bela, she is establishing an identity of her own. “Bela helps me on Saturdays and holidays when she is not with her dad. She is really good with kids and a natural in the ocean. Now she is involved in volleyball, soccer and just being a teenager. She is still my best friend and we have a close family life. We eat dinner every night together and I drive her everywhere so we can chat. She’s a wise old soul,” gushed the proud mother.

As for the path that Maria’s life has taken her, she knew early on it that it would always include the ocean. “Without thinking about it I went with the ocean flow, which also has included different continents. I am blessed that my being is used to transform lives and to inspire other women and people I encounter in life, all through the water ways as I’m more comfortable in the water element than on dry land,” Souza concedes. She also contends that she “can make a difference in so many lives and do it from the heart, with the most pure intention.” People, especially kids, are what motivates Maria to keep training and learning.

Souza isn’t done giving back, as she hopes someday to bring back her once a month free stand-up paddle surf lessons for kids which not only shows the fun aspects of the sport, but also features a good portion on water sports safety. The lessons have grown so much, Maria needs to find a new location appropriate enough to handle that many kids at one time before she can reintroduce the program back to the community of Maui. However, in the meantime, she continues to give private lessons and has found the most popular trend these days are the lessons for the grandparent/grandchild tandem as she has witnessed when both are in the ocean, age simply disappears. “I get a lot of kids that are interested in learning stand-up paddle surfing, but lately it has been more of tandem teachings to a grandparent and grandchild as they bond together,” Souza says.

One of Maria’s inner beauties is the dreamer within her. She dreams big and with a purpose. Maria’s biggest dream is to one day develop an ocean center where kids could learn to fish, keep the ocean clean and to stay healthy through ocean sports. It is also a place where water sports and fitness would be taught. “I love to work with kids. I wish their parents and caregivers could give them (kids) the opportunity to experience water sports and all the healing the ocean provides to one’s life,” exclaimed Souza.

With all that she has experienced and accomplished in her 40 years plus on Earth, Souza feels there is still so much more to experience. She feels that life is a learning process and that she has not yet reached her peak. Souza continues, “I keep getting more motivated the more I learn and since I learn so much from my own injuries, I feel obligated to pass that on, so that every day I have a chance to perpetuate my life’s lessons.” However, when all is said and done, it is still family that motivates her and makes her the most happiest. As much as each water sport she does has its own charm, it’s when she tandem surfs on the long board with Bela, acrobatics with her husband or simply has a soul surfing session alone that she is on top of the world. With all her family now living in Maui, they are always together and is a dream come true for Maria as she needs both the ocean and her family every day.