“The ocean accepts me as I am.” Riding the wave of body positivity
One of our best surfing coaches is still learning how to surf. Annelissa Mhloli wanted to try her hand at catching a wave. But the sport made her conscious of her weight. Mhloli was afraid she wasn’t like the other surfers. “I saw that a lot of them were in great shape,” she says. “That was a setback for me because I felt as if I wasn’t going to fit in.” Stereotypes of what plus-size women can and can’t do invaded Mhloli’s mind, threatening to hold her back. Then she got offered her dream job. The only snag? It involved surfing. Never one to shy away from challenges, Mhloli got her wetsuit on.
For years, she’d wanted to work with children. When Waves for Change offered her the chance to work for them, Mhloli couldn’t say no. A Laureus Sport for Good Project, the initiative uses surfing as therapy for kids from impoverished and dangerous backgrounds. But before Mhloli could accept the opportunity, she had to overcome her anxieties about her body. Taking a deep breath, she put her fears aside. It wasn’t going to stop her. Mhloli started learning to surf, swimming further out in the ocean and getting her balance on a board. Since then it’s been a journey of improvement and self-discovery. She knows that if she at least tries, the kids she mentors will feel inspired to do the same. As a coach, her role is not just to teach children how to surf. “I fall all the time when I’m on the board, but that’s part of the fun,” Mhloli says. “Getting up is the most important thing.”
What matters out in the ocean is not what you look like, but the lessons you learn. “Surfing has taught me to rise above my circumstances and to commit fully to what I love no matter how hard it may be,” Mhloli says. In the sea, there’s freedom. “The ocean accepts me as I am,” she says. Getting back on her board again and again, Mhloli’s example is clear. If we learn to love ourselves, we can chase our true potential.