Meet Natalie Small, Sail Captain, and Founder of Groundswell Community Project

Her current home breaks are in California and Peru.

Let's take a little walk together. Natalie Small for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Candace Loy 2018

Let’s take a little walk together. Natalie Small for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Candace Loy 2018


Where were you born, and where do you live now?

Durham, North Carolina and now I live part of the year in San Diego, California and the other part in Huanchaco, Peru

Where are your favourite waters?

The water where I find home! My grandma’s waterfall: it was a source of day-long creek stomping adventures with my cousins and sister as kids where if we could dream it, it was possible! From treehouses to mud holes up to our necks, it was a childhood heaven!

My grandma, a fiery, stubborn, ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ lady, was tromping through the woods and found this natural waterfall and decided that was where she should build her home, and she would sit and listen to the waterfall all day….and that’s exactly what she’s done! I’ve never met someone who was able to find so much peace, bliss, and stillness by sitting and listening to a waterfall…I think that’s how shes lived to 99+….her waterfall vitamins.

Sunset Cliffs: my home break. its my escape from the business of life, gives me peace, and reconnects me to my full self. I’ve feared for my life here and been my most humbled here by the waves and terrain. And I’ve had some of the most sunshiney joyful laughter waves here bringing tears of pure joy and bliss. Whether I surf the cliffs waves, run her jagged coastline, or sit and watch the sunset over the oceans abyss…this place is home, nothing else matters, I am present.

Would you please share a favourite water memory or two?

My First trip to Cuba with Yaya (one of the only female surfers in cuba) and a crew of California surf sisters we loaded up an old ford mail truck and road tripped to the other side of the island to find a river mouth with a beautiful little wave. We paddled out with a local family, the only surfers in the village, who had found healing for their son’s learning disability through the power of surfing. We party waved, wooped and laughed as each waves rolled in and we taught the family’s daughter how to surf.

Once the tide came in and the waves got mushed we jumped off the bridge and took our paddle adventure up the river mouth to find an unreal water fall cascading from 100 feet above.

We jumped, swam, found stillness, where children in natures beauty. For dinner we sat on the floor in the surf families living room around plates of freshly caught lobster, fish, veggies, and grains…everything this family had the sea had gifted them, “The sea brings us all we need and she takes it away when she needs, we have nothing but need nothing thanks to Mother Ocean”.

This day was perfect! True deep human connection thanks to the equalizing beauty of Mother nature! WE all spoke different languages, lived different lives, but in mother nature we were all the same! united! Full of joy!

Talking waves. Natalie Small for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Candace Loy 2018

Talking waves. Natalie Small for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Candace Loy 2018


How do you incorporate nature in your life, and the way you make a living?

Being in connection with mother nature is my life source and how I am able to sustain and find balance while living in the city. I choose to move aboard a 28 ft sail boat in 2010 and this daily waking up being held by mother ocean keeps me grounded. I’m not hopping from bubble to bubble, I start my day in nature!

My jobs are all ocean-focused as well…I am a sailing captain for a local charter company in San Diego where I get to share my love for the sea with visitors from around the world.

But my main passion, is Surf Therapy! I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and in 2016, realizing I was referring all my clients to mother ocean to help in their healing of depression, anxiety, and trauma, so I decided to take my therapy practice to the sea! I started the non-profit Groundswell Community Project to offer healing, empowerment, and unity to women overcoming addictions, abuse, trauma, depression, anxiety, and fears through surf therapy and ocean conservation programs. We now run programs in San Diego, San Francisco, Peru, and Cuba giving the transformational gift of surfing mother ocean’s waves to women around the world!

To give myself balance and self-love I take a solo back packing trip every year to detox my mind and body and re-root to my true self and journey. Nature, whether it be green forests or blue waves serve as a reset and refresh button for me…its not just a nice perk its necessary for my health and wellbeing.

Surf seasters. Natalie Small for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Candace Loy 2018

Surf seasters. Natalie Small for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Candace Loy 2018

Why do you do what you do?

I’ve given up my well-paying private practice profession, which is the goal of most MFTs, because I truly believe in the power of Surf Therapy on healing the body and brain. I see it every program in the smiles and stories of the women we serve. Stories of women who have been on psyc. meds for depression and anxiety for years being able to cut back their doses for the first time. Women who have suffered years of sexual abuse and trauma growing a new positive relationship with their bodies as being strong and beautiful celebrations. And women who have felt alone finding home in the surf sisterhood that Mother Ocean’s waves foster. I’ve set up Groundswell Community Project as a non-profit because I strongly believe that every woman belongs in Mother Ocean’s waves and I don’t want anything to come in the way.

I also sail/surf and share it with others because I straight up love it! When you love something its impossible not to be stoked to share it with others so they too can feel the connection and stoke for mother ocean! It never feels like work!

I never thought that at age 33 I’d be back to teaching surfing again but I can’t imagine doing anything else and I hope I am able to share my stoke for the sea the rest of my life!

Surfing puts a spring in her step. Natalie Small for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Candace Loy 2018

Surfing puts a spring in her step. Natalie Small for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Candace Loy 2018


What happens when you don’t have time for nature?

I struggle with anxiety, depression, and body mind disconnect. When I don’t spend time in nature these symptoms increase their grip on me. Last summer, once the wate was warm enough, I committed to jumping in the water every day. wether with a board or just a bikini for 1 hour or a quick minute. As soon as my body was immersed in Mother Ocean I went from all my anxiety, self doubt and fears surrounding quiting my day job as a private practice therapist to pursuing my passion to grow and develop the profession of Surf Therapy to feeling present, connected, capable.

I also gift myself a solo back packing trip 1-2 times a year to detox and re-root to myself.  Life in the city moves so fast, there are always things to do and people to spend time with which is amazing…but I need my time with myself and nature so I can recharge and  refill. So I can have something to give the world. As a therapist conducting therapy you are to also see a therapist to help with self care. Mother Ocean has been my life long therapist! She meets me where I am at (joyful, hurt, fearful) and holds me there, washes me and reminds me that I belong!

Could you please share a time or experience where you felt lost in the crowd, like a tiny, insignificant drop?

When I first moved onto my boat, Mi Corazon, I was excited for the adventure of it, but once I finally moved on and was all alone in her hull I was flooded with feelings of alone, unwanted, misunderstood, not worthy. Up until this point I had always lived with others. But my apartment of 6 girlfriends was all splitting up as each was getting married, moving in with a partner, or across the country for a job. I was all alone. Mi Corazon taught me how to find self worth with out needing the acknowledgment of others. She taught me how to find comfort in the quiet stillness and how powerful time alone can be..now I crave time alone, especially on her!

As I started up Groundswell Community Project I found that familiar flood of fear, doubt and aloneness. I was embarking on my passion journey solo, I was going against what culture and family expected of me and I experienced a massive fear of failure for the first time. But as I started sharing my passion with others and inviting others in, I was constantly surprised by my communities’ support and how others were not only willing to help when I asked, but would seek out ways they could help and be a part of the mission! I learned how to ask for help and that I don’t have to do this journey alone!

Captain of Mi Corazon. Natalie Small for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Candace Loy 2018

Captain of Mi Corazon. Natalie Small for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Candace Loy 2018

How did you turn that around, and how did you get back to feeling like you were a whole Ocean in a Drop?

I think this describes perfectly how time in nature makes me feel…I feel so tiny amidst her grandiose beauty and strength, all ego disappears, you are part of the whole…yet in the very same instance I feel like all is possible and I am capable and called to live boldly.

Finding time to be solo in nature as well as taking the risk to be vulnerable in my relationships and share my stoke and struggles has transformed feelings of fear and aloneness to feelings of unity and capable!

Leading us in a pre-surf mindfulness session earlier this year. Natalie Small with Saltwater Eco, Tawharanui, New Zealand. For Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Candace Loy 2018.

Leading us in a pre-surf mindfulness session earlier this year. Natalie Small with Saltwater Eco, Tawharanui, New Zealand. For Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Candace Loy 2018.

Is there anything bothering you about the whole eco /green/conservation thing at the moment?

I feel like we are at this turning point as humans….going from consumers to conservers…and it is SO FREAKING EXCITING!!!! The surf industry for the longest time has used women and waves as a money maker, they’ve been consuming us. But now tides are changing!

Women are being recognized for their strength and beauty in the waves: a surfer is not just as a bikini on the beach! Waves are being recognized as a precious life force rather than a resource to be consumed and make money off of!

I’m attending the Save the Waves conference in Santa Cruz this spring and it was so exciting to see how surfing is slowly transitioning from being a consumer product to an ocean activist community!

How products are being made is being revolutionized toward ocean conservation, and we as human beings are being creative in how we can reverse our plastic footprint to save what we love and gives us a life worth living! The ocean!

Is there anything you would love to tell the you from ten years ago?

Your on the right path, don’t be afraid of living out your bold unique truth, stay connected to nature, self, and others, let others in you don’t have to do this alone….never stop surfing!

Where can we find out more about your surf therapy and retreats?

http://www.groundswellcommunity.org/

Instagram: groundswellcommunityproject

Facebook: groundswellcommunityproject

Saltwater Beauty. Natalie Small for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Candace Loy 2018

Saltwater Beauty. Natalie Small for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Candace Loy 2018

28 May to 4 September 2018: #100DaysofBlue

Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind

Ocean in a Drop : A series of illustrations by Candace Loy, with each water drop shape filled with sea life and the life that water supports, of a country or state (e.g., California). The bigger vision is to use portions of profits from the sale of beautiful and unique merchandise, to contribute to local marine, freshwater education, research and conservation initiatives in the region depicted by the drop.

#BlueMind is a movement started by Dr Wallace J Nichols, who is also a successful turtle conservation researcher. He has done collaborations with many people including neuroscientists, to show the positive effects of being around water, on the brain.

Not only is there an increasing number of organizations supporting people in overcoming PTSD and other debilitating circumstances through water-based therapy like surfing and swimming; his message is to encourage as many people to reconnect and strengthen their bonds with water, and be inspired as a result to take care of waters across our blue planet.

Combining neuroscience, honouring emotions and using it to create more beneficial solutions for our planet and the life she supports. Here are some of his talks on neuroconservation.

Get a free copy of Ocean in a Drop California coloring sheet, share it with your students, colleagues, friends, and family. Be the one to add colour and creativity to their day 🙂

#OceaninaDrop + share your favourite water memory to inspire others, on Instagram and Facebook, and get featured xo