Where this all began.
Lena’s story, which would become the story of Saltwater Sessions, began where she grew up in Maryland, five hours from the coast. Her family was what some would call "alternative." She was raised vegetarian, and learned to meditate when she was 13. Not terribly strange for California, but pretty out of the ordinary for someone from a small town on the east coast.
Two years into an undergraduate degree at The University of Maryland she felt stuck, uninspired and restless. Around this time she was offered a one-way ticket to the island of Kauai. She took it, and two weeks later she bought her first surfboard.
This was 15 years ago. Back then, while most of her college friends were staying up until 6am partying, Lena was waking up at 6am to surf the pier at Hanalei Bay.
Surfing proved to be the root of dramatic changes in Lena's life. It awakened a love of nature. It improved her self-confidence. As a woman she found a sense of strength and beauty that was previously unknown to her. It also frustrated her immensely. On one occasion her surfboard hit her in the face, almost knocking her unconscious. And there were many less dramatic, but no less challenging days when she felt like quitting. But surfing’s special balance of elemental beauty, physical challenge, and incremental improvement, compelled her to stick with it.
As she got the hang of it, she learned how to channel the strength she found through surfing into other areas of her life, and found herself doing things she would have previously thought impossible. She moved to Central America and became a yoga instructor, eventually teaching classes in Spanish. She cycled 2500 miles through Southern Europe and travelled through India for two months. In addition to Hawaii and California, along the way Lena has surfed the waters of Indonesia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, Spain, and France.
After pursuing a life long dream of traveling she went back to school and finished an undergraduate degree in Integrative Medicine. She later obtained a master's degree in Counseling Psychology, followed by a doctorate in Clinical Psychology.
Saltwater Sessions is based off Lena’s doctoral research. It combines several years working as a psychotherapist, over a decade of surfing, and half a lifetime of mindfulness practice. Over the years while interning at several addiction treatment centers, Lena noticed that many people give up at the very moment when it is most important to keep going, when one more mindful push could carry them through challenge and into a new place of strength. This is where Saltwater Sessions was born. Lena realized that in order to succeed, one must first come face to face with feelings of frustration and failure. And not give up. She saw how surfing provided the perfect environment for learning how to keep going in the face of failure, while appreciating, and ultimately mastering the challenge. In 2017 Lena shifted the focus of Saltwater Sessions away from addiction and towards improving general mental health by teaching self compassion and understanding. The program is now open to everyone.
Mary grew up on the beaches of LA and the OC, body boarding and body surfing with her brothers. Naturally inclined towards the ocean environment Mary picked up a surfboard in college at UCSB but found the male dominated culture of surfing extremely unwelcoming and impossible to navigate. She put surfing aside to travel and experience other cities, knowing that she would get back to it sometime in her future. After college Mary moved to London followed by Washington, D.C. working in criminal defense law as a case investigator. She then spent several years developing websites, hopping back and forth from New York to San Francisco.
Mary settled back in LA and into her roots, picking up a surfboard and never looking back. Some of Mary’s best moments have happened sitting on a surfboard while meditating on the horizon. Surfing has provided such an inspiration in Mary’s life that she spends her summers teaching surfing to at-risk youth through Boarding House Mentors. Currently Mary has an MA in Clinical Psychology and is pursuing licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist. Mary is also a Registered Dietitian, with a Masters of Science in Nutrition Sciences, whose passion is to guide and inspire others to achieve their wellness goals. Mary wants to empower others in the water and encourage them to bravely face life’s challenges.
James is a licensed clinical psychologist who utilizes a playfully integrative, dynamic and evidence-based approach towards mind and body wellness. A life-long surfer, James has utilized surfing with clients in a recovery setting as a means of mindfulness meditation towards self-care and sustained sobriety. Additionally, James is a professional artist whose work has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, and he is currently authoring and illustrating a series of relationally interactive psychological children’s books to improve emotional intelligence. James received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) at Alliant International University, Los Angeles. James also serves on the Board of Directors and as the Chair of the 2017 Annual Convention for the Los Angeles County Psychological Association (LACPA). The organization develops, coordinates, & facilitates salient & advanced training to licensed psychologists.
Gina holds a Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy with a specialization in Clinical Art Therapy from Loyola Marymount University. Gina stumbled across mindfulness inadvertently during a particularly difficult time in her life. She had recently lost her mother and at the time felt as if everything in her life was out of control. There was a significant day while she was surfing alone in Santa Cruz. Thoughts racing through her mind about whether she could handle going to college, how to support herself, both emotionally and financially. Just as these thoughts were overwhelming Gina to the point of tears, she remembers cracking seaweed over her surfboard. Smelling the salt air and feeling the temperature of the water between her fingers and toes. Allowing the wind and sun to be felt on her skin. Then losing that tight grip over those loud thoughts, while sliding down waves. Adrenaline surging through her body, with joy and a huge smile, even if it was momentary, she understood “being present in the moment”.
Surfing and her practice of mindfulness meditation has brought balance, grounding, and the ability to feel truly alive on a daily basis. Gina made a decision several years ago to leave a group private practice to work with clients outside in nature, benefitting from hiking, surfing, and mindfulness practices. Gina is one of two women who founded Seakher, a women’s international surf and yoga retreat, based on the foundation of mindfulness, adventure, empowerment, and community. Gina also runs groups at Resolutions Treatment Center in Santa Monica, CA.
Zoe’s love and appreciation for nature began in Memphis, TN and in the countryside of Vermont where she spent the majority of her time growing up. It was in these places that she had her first experiences with mindfulness in any form, as she learned to appreciate nature as her happy, calm place. Zoe received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Boston University and her masters in Social Work from Smith College School for Social Work. Following graduate school, she worked at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services. This was her first experience with treating addiction and helped to cultivate a strong interest in the field of recovery. Zoe then worked at Clare Foundation, a non-profit drug and alcohol rehabilitation center located in Santa Monica. She currently sees individuals and runs groups at Evolve Treatment Center in Bel Air, CA.
Zoe’s relationship with surfing has not come without challenges. It took her some time to battle personal fears and build confidence in herself as a surfer, and a person, before experiencing the pure joy and inner peace she so easily associates surfing with today. Early on, she found that the relationship with the self is very much mirrored in the learning process of becoming a surfer. Zoe’s approach to surfing today is simple: get in the water, be safe, and have fun! She views surfing as an experience that allows us the opportunity to challenge fear, to work through adversity, to work with nature and within its bounds, and to be fully present.