Is there a dream in your life that has faded away with time? What was it that held you back from achieving it? Was it lack of funding, self-doubt or maybe just the realities of juggling everyday life? As the saying goes, “Life goes on…” Unfortunately, we often let life go without ever realizing our full potential.
There is something very sobering about facing the reality of a lofty goal. It is intimidating in itself, and when you add in the backlash of people’s opinions, it can crush even the most hopeful. Then, there are people you come across in life that have managed to accomplish an incredible feat. People who have overcome immense odds to build their dream from the ground up.
As a woman, I find it incredibly important to share the hard-won successes of other women. It is important not only within in the realm of our gender but also as a stepping stone in a path to gender equality. The landscape of female idealism is constantly evolving and in the last century we have seen amazing strides that have broken barriers far beyond what our ancestral sisters could have ever dreamed of. That being said, there is still a lot of work to do, and we must find inspiration to keep us going. There are women around the world out there every day succeeding in their personal goals, and at the same time creating a larger space for women in the global community. They add to our collective voice giving many a chance to be heard when once their cries fell on deaf ears.
In the spirit of empowering women, Ashley Blaylock began to develop an idea that would bring women from all over the world together and give them the gift of inner strength. It was a powerful notion unlike anything else done before, and fifty years ago, I don’t think it would have been plausible. Yet, with every woman that comes along and refuses to back down and devotes her life to a passion, she changes this world. She gives our future generations of women even more opportunities.
It began when Ashley Blaylock was a young law student and she first surfed in the waves of Nicaragua. Immediately drawn to the beauty and culture of the country, she knew she wanted to call it home. Ashely returned to her native Houston where she finished law school and slowly began creating a plan to build a life in Nicaragua.
The dream of spending her life surfing the waves of Central America took center stage, but surfing had not always been one of Ashley’s passions. In fact, she had never surfed until college. While 3 of her brothers had grown up catching waves, she had never felt welcomed by the sport. It wasn’t until Ashley had a roommate in college that surfed, and she realized it was something she could definitely tackle. Feeling encouraged by the sight of a female peer tackling the waves, Ashley began surfing and fell in love with its challenging but rewarding nature.
After completing her law degree and passing the bar, Ashely returned to Nicaragua where she began selling real estate and surfing the local waves just as she had wanted. While perfecting her surf skills, she quickly realized surfing wasn’t much of an attraction for the local girls. In fact it was often associated with bad behavior and young girls were told to stay away from the beaches. Ashley’s efforts to incorporate the sport as a safe and healthy outlet for women would forever change the small community of San Juan del Sur, and it sparked an amazing idea for women from all walks of life. As she encouraged the local women to surf, Ashley realized it was an amazing way to connect with each other as well as build emotional strength and courage. She knew she wanted to expand on the idea, and she once again began systemically carving out a plan.
As Ashley created a life in Nicaragua, the locals saw her battling the waves on her surfboard, and they began to call her chica brava which means brave girl in Spanish. It became the perfect namesake for what would eventually become Nicaragua’s first and best all female surf resort. Ashley worked night and day to bring her dream to fruition doing everything herself in the very beginning until she could pay a staff. From picking up visitors at the airport to teaching lessons all day and cooking meals, she was determined to build a place where women could discover themselves and share in a sense of reciprocity brought together by the powerful experience of surfing. In her years of hard works she also became a six time National Surf-Champion in the Women’s Division, and in 2007, she was also ranked fourth overall in Central America. From lawyer to surfer to business owner, it seemed Ashley could conquer anything she put her mind to.
Today, Chicabrava welcomes women from all over the world to join in a weeklong stay where they will receive close surf instruction with expert surfers that are well versed on the moods of Nicaragua’s swell. Guests watch film of themselves surfing and get pointers from their instructors to take advantage of on the next session. There are also theory classes and lessons on reading the swell. You even learn how to stow your surfboard for trips to the beach. Besides surfing, the camp also has a variety of activities at additional costs including sailing, Spanish lessons, yoga, horseback riding and even local volunteering. During the stay, guests get an introduction to the culture, lifestyle and cuisine of Central America. It is a place where many women arrive in the midst of emotional crisis feeling lost and alone in their world and looking for something.
Greeted by the breathtaking landscape, the fact that women are unaccustomed to the exotic location also plays a huge role in the experience. To be immersed in an alien setting forces people out of comfort zones and to truly shed inhibitions. Here they are given the chance to discover a new spark of strength and passion. No matter the skill level, to be challenged by the waves and surrounded by like-minded women, it is a place to feel vulnerable but learn to get passed it. There are no demands of daily life, there are no emails or crying babies. Just you and the water and what you want to accomplish, what you hope to find within yourself.
While Chicabrava has blossomed into a much-sought after resort, it is easy to forget the obstacles that threatened the very life of Chicabrava, and there were many. First and foremost, trying to start a business in foreign country is never easy. The unfamiliar cultural and legal stumbling blocks were ever present causing setbacks and frustrations. However, Ashley never gave up, and she learned to embrace the community in order to create a symbiotic relationship and support the goals of each other. This collective sense of support is evident in Ashley’s work with local girls teaching them what empowerment means.
Ashley wanted to further the goals of Chicabarava, and she started an annual camp known as Camp Bella. Each year it welcomes local girls affected by a wide array of gender inequalities, discriminations, and abuse. In an area where females give birth to the first child at the average of 14 years old, to give them the tools to take control of their lives is an incredible undertaking. During their stay, the girls of the camp are given surf lessons and participate in self-confidence building activities meant to teach them to strive for more. It is also serves as motivation to break the mold of traditional gender inequalities evident within the culture. Female professionals from their own community such as a local Mayor and a Doctor come to the camp as guest speakers to discuss long term goals and how to achieve the life they want. Camp Bella gives these girls the encouragement and most importantly the empowerment to avoid the cultural and societal pitfalls that hold women down. In a world where many of these girls are never told they are important or worth anything, this Camp is showing them they have the strength and courage to be whatever they can dream.
Now, as the resort has evolved so has Ashley’s life, and she has a growing family to care for as well as a business. As so many mothers can attest to, juggling a career and motherhood comes with its own challenges which often require us to make sacrifices in one area or another. It can make our goals feel impossible as if we must choose between family and career. It is never easy, but we are not alone in this dilemma. By creating an open dialogue and sharing the successes and struggles of other women, we raise each other up.
What we want and what we think others want from us are usually two different things which so many women struggle to keep in balance. We are expected to juggle a lot in our lives, and it can feels like with broader gender roles there are only more elements in our lives to schedule and more compromises. It can makes us forget who we are and what we want for our lives. Chicabrava exists only because one fearless woman demanded to see her dreams through to the end. In her accomplishment, she has opened the door for women across the world that dare to challenge themselves. She has given women the opportunity to devote a week of their time to see what they are made of. Sometimes we don’t know our strength until it is tested, and if we never test ourselves, do we really ever live up to our true potential? Don’t you owe it to yourself to take a chance and explore your potential?
Ashley says watching women thrive is her favorite part of Chicabrava. To see them get up on the surfboard and change so much over just one week is very rewarding. Many women come back yearly to surf and one of the first few campers actually moved to Costa Rica so she could surf every day for the rest of her life. This is proof of the power of this experience. It is a once in a lifetime adventure, a gift given from one woman to another.
Visit Chicabrava for details on your next adventure and find out what you are made of. Many thanks for hosting my stay.