Surfing Through Adversity

Happy girl smiling in Costa Rica
From the Concrete Jungle to the Costa Rica Jungle
February 12, 2020
Surf instructors in Costa Rica
“Dream on Wheels” ~ Converting a Bus into a Home
June 8, 2020

Surfing Through Adversity

Life has certainly shown us in recent months that no matter our best laid plans, the world can turn itself upside down in an instant. As we’re all taking some time to slow down and look inward, we’d like to share an awe-inspiring Pura Vida story of perseverance that touched our hearts.


After reading our series of blog posts about the life-changing power of surfing, Brenda Novak reached out to us with an incredible story of her own. Just a year after learning to surf with Pura Vida Adventures in Costa Rica, Brenda had a tragic accident that changed the course of her life forever. Her story is a reminder of the incredible power of surfing to lift us up and bring us joy—even in the face of extreme adversity.


It all began in 2007, when Brenda joined our New Year’s coed retreat as a first-time surfer. “It was amazing,” she said. “I fell in love with surfing, and even caught a ‘real’ wave!”

At the time, her life was unfolding nicely according to plan. She thought her Pura Vida Adventures retreat would be the last relaxing vacation she would have for a long time: She was graduating from business school in a few months and assumed she’d soon be working in an office with few opportunities to get away. But within just a year of her trip to Costa Rica, Brenda’s life took a very unexpected turn.


In December 2008, she was working as a post-graduate in West Africa when she suffered a major trauma in a devastating accident and lost her left leg. It was a long road to full recovery and rehabilitation, and a struggle to return to work and piece together a new career. Yet in all that time, Brenda never forgot about surfing. And sure enough, 10 years later she was finally paddling out to surf again—this time with a prosthetic leg.

With five extraordinary surfer friends to help and support her, Brenda returned to Costa Rica on a surf trip in 2018, where she rediscovered the exhilarating feeling of riding a green wave. Nothing could hold her back!


In fact, the trip was so memorable, the group of friends vowed to surf together again the following year. They visited the surf town of Cabarete, Dominican Republic in 2019, where the entire surfing community there encouraged and supported Brenda. At one point, after the ride pictured at the top of this post, she got a standing ovation from everyone on the beach.

Deeply inspired and empowered by surfing, Brenda credits her first lessons with Pura Vida Adventures in 2007 with getting her hooked on the sport. But more than just that, surfing has forever shifted her perspective on life.


“Being in and on the water mirrors the meditative experience of being one with the universe, and surfing feels like flying—or as close as we can get to flying,” Brenda said. “After surfing, every time, I am emboldened with the sense that if I can do that (surf), I can do anything.”


Sharing this experience of joy and empowerment is at the heart of our transformative retreats in Costa Rica, where we guide women of all ages and abilities in learning how to surf. Brenda’s story is a testament to our core belief that surfing helps us connect with that beautiful power within all of us, and expands our understanding of what is possible!


Since her injury, Brenda has established a new life in a new part of the country and widened her circle of friendship even further. She co-founded the Connecticut Amputee Network, was a key player in advocating for passage of a CT state law in 2018 that protects insurance coverage for prosthetics, and spoke about that experience at the Amputee Coalition 2019 National Conference.


She is also co-owner of a start-up travel platform for women, GoFirefly (, a bed and breakfast designed for women by women. GoFirefly members share short-term accommodations focused on safety, comfort, and hospitality with the goal of building a network of women travelers and hosts around the world.

Thank you, Brenda, for sharing your amazing story with us and being an inspiration to women everywhere!


Do you have a story about how learning to surf has changed your life? We’d love to hear about it! Get in touch: [email protected]. Pura vida!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *