Chani Demello walked into a local surf shop last year looking for some brand identity. She found T-shirts and stickers for surfer chicks and surfer girls, but nothing that "represented me as a mom," she said.
So Demello, a mother of two from Seal Beach, crafted her own brand, complete with T-shirts and bumper stickers, and gave it a name: Moms on Boards. She recruited fellow wave-catching mothers -- women in their 30s and 40s who use the words "stoked" and "awesome" without sarcasm or apology.
It's not endless summer they seek, just a few hours of exercise and uninterrupted "me" time carved from a schedule crammed with schlepping kids, running errands, preparing meals, and in some cases, holding down jobs.
A handful of Moms on Boards gathered on a recent chilly Friday at 8:30 a.m. -- half an hour past kid drop-off time -- in the parking lot of Bolsa Chica State Beach. The sky was gray as sidewalk cement, but the oppressive gloom couldn't dampen their enthusiasm as they traded their sweats and jeans for wetsuits.
The petite Demello, 34, pulled her longboard out of a rusty white van decorated with the Moms on Boards logo and other surf stickers. She crossed the sand with the others, laughing and chatting, surfboards tucked under their arms or propped on their heads.
She slid into the Pacific and paddled out. Soon she was standing up on the board, catching one wave after another, confidently maneuvering the mild swells that topped out at about 3 feet.
For two hours, the women stayed in the water, catching waves or sitting on their surfboards talking. A pod of dolphins swam around them, checking them out.
Moms on Boards has 50 or so in its roster, about 20 of whom are local. The rest, scattered around California and across the country, stay in touch via e-mail and phone calls. The $25 annual dues make for a limited budget, so advertising is done primarily through word of mouth.
A core group of five or so women meets two or three weekday mornings at Seal Beach or Huntington Beach. Demello is happy to give beginners lessons, and doesn't limit the group to moms or even women -- dads sometimes join in.
It's not the first such club encouraging uncommon athletic pursuits for mothers. There's the International Society of Skateboarding Moms, started by Barb Odanaka of Laguna Beach, and mothers are among members of WakeChicks, a Texas-based group that promotes and supports wakeboarding among women and girls. And it's not unusual for mothers to form small, casual groups for hiking or walking.
"I've always been such a tomboy," Demello said, ticking off an athletic history that includes soccer, in-line skating and snowboarding. She's not the gym type. "My lifestyle is very active," she said. "We take walks all the time, go bike riding. I don't think of myself as exercising. I'm not training."
Demello made surfing look effortless that morning, but it's hardly an easy sport. It requires cardiovascular conditioning, upper body strength for paddling and pushing up on the board, strong quads for standing in a squat position, and core strength for stability.
"I've always done things that required lower body strength, and this really gives you upper body strength," Demello said. "I have these muscles in my arms now, and people ask me, are you a swimmer?"
Cindy Duncan, a 39-year-old mother of two from Seal Beach, used to be a gym-goer, has done yoga and is currently an avid skateboarder. Still, she called surfing the most demanding sport she's ever tried.
"It's a great workout, but it's a lot harder than people think," Duncan said. "They think they're going to just float around, but it's not like that at all. My core strength has really improved and I've never had a better upper body."
But in the same breath that Demello and the others explained what the sport demands physically, they expressed what it gives them mentally and spiritually -- making it apparent that the elements are inseparable.
"I could go to the gym and feel really good afterward, but there's nothing like going out in the water and having a really good day surfing," Candace Iwami said. The 38-year-old mother of three from Seal Beach started surfing a couple of years ago. "You're on this rush, and it's such a high for the whole day."
The camaraderie, too, keeps these women coming back. The conversations center on kids and school, but can segue to anything going on in their lives, said Iwami. "You think about all the things you have to do -- and should you really be out here?"
Despite such passing pangs of guilt, each knows that the physical and mental release are essential for her well-being.
"Spiritual leaders and Zen masters always say to live in the moment, but that's hard when you're so scheduled," Demello said. "When I'm out there in the ocean, I feel the closest to nature. I live a spiritual life, and surfing has helped me stay on that path."
Demello ultimately would like to see Moms on Boards add more members, create a surf team and branch out to other board sports such as skateboarding and snowboarding. The group has cosponsored some sporting events, including a skateboarding fundraiser for local libraries, and Demello would like to do more.
"I'd like to be a force -- something that girls can look up to," she said. "I never would have thought I'd be a good surfer. I'd look at surfers and think, 'They look beautiful.' And now it's me."
For more information on Moms on Boards, go to www.momsonboards.com.