Katherine Donnelly | 06.01.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I hope to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Chelsea Lisaius.

From growing up surrounded by snow in Vermont to now living and loving surf life in Costa Rica, this Woman In The Wild makes the balancing act of work, play, and family look easy - and so, so fun! Get the full scoop below.

Photo by Fabian Sanchez.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Chelsea Lisaius is.

Chelsea Lisaius: I have just started this interview, and I know by the end of it I am going to learn more about myself than possibly the readers. I have been told many times I do not follow directions or rules very well. I am someone who likes to be in control, I’m competitive, open minded, ambitious, creative, and terribly optimistic. I have never had a 9-to-5 job, and I am pretty sure I wouldn’t even last a week if I did have one. My career path was never planned, and instead it has unfolded by making my passions my lifestyle. I've pulled together my loves: active lifestyles, competitions, and education.

By living in Costa Rica, running TIDE Academy, and running national surf contests (Circuito Guanacasteco de Surf), I have created a wonderful balance in my work. When I’m not working, I am surfing and taking care of my 5-month-old daughter, Coco, with my husband Steven.

I started surfing when I was 22 and competed for the first time when I was 23. I did awful, but I loved the competitive feeling. I have now casually competed for over nine years, winning several contests but mostly just enjoying the contest atmosphere. I love surfing because you can always improve and always push yourself to get better. Also, just catching one wave can turn a terrible day into a good day. Both Steven and I are addicts, and we are currently arguing if Coco will be a free surfer or competitive surfer...definitely a competitive surfer.

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Chelsea Lisaius: I grew up in rural Vermont - the outdoors has always been part of my life! Even though I grew up around snow, I am not a skier or snowboarder, and I don’t like any outdoor winter activities except watching the winter Olympics. I did play field hockey, run, play tennis, and enjoy camping with my family. The warmth of Costa Rica is much more my style: surfing and the Pacific Ocean.

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry?

Chelsea Lisaius: To me, it means respecting and enjoying the outdoors to the fullest. Feeling comfortable and grateful that we get to enjoy Earth’s beauty every day and not just on vacation.

OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?

Chelsea Lisaius: I wouldn’t be in Costa Rica if it wasn’t for the outdoors. The beach, ocean, and weather were the determining factors in my decision to start a family here. I recognize how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place and to be from such a beautiful place like Vermont. To pay it back I have focused on educating the students at TIDE on reducing and reusing through project-based learning. Currently we are building a test house out of plastic bottles with future goals of actually building community homes with this technique. I also teach a class called Surf Awareness, which is based off of an awesome documentary called "Manufacturing Stoke." I want the students to understand that we need the ocean to surf; however, the materials we use to surf are pretty much the worse materials to bring into the water: sunscreen chemicals, plastic-based waxes, styrofoam, fiberglass, and more. We try to come up with ways to replace these materials with more eco-friendly versions. We have invented a recycled surf wax (Gawaxy- the student’s named it), which we are now hoping to sell in local surf shops. In the future I want to work more on recycling single use plastics into new forms using 3D printing technology and my students' creativity. We are also focusing on making TIDE a waste-free institution.

I aim to make the surf contests I run as eco-friendly as possible by replacing single-use products with reusable products, organizing beach clean ups, and educating the surfers about eco-friendly sunscreens and other products. I am just starting to work with a super fun company, Sun Bum, and their mission mirrors a lot of what I want to see more of in the surf community.

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think surfers - and outdoor enthusiasts, in general - should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Chelsea Lisaius: We need to respect the land we have and always try to make it better than we left it. It is also important to be involved at a community level in keeping the beaches clean and educating both locals and tourists about the lands as well. An 8-year old in my town started a nationwide movement on “saying no to straws,” and his actions show that age shouldn't be a factor in making change for the better. He is beyond inspirational.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Chelsea Lisaius: Kids. The fresh ideas, stories, and concerns kids have are what inspires me to improve and make everything I do better. The reason I started TIDE was to support students who have priorities outside school (such as competing on the National Surfing Team). In other schools they would be penalized for leaving the school for a surfing event; however, in my opinion it is these events where real experiences occur that can never be replicated in a classroom. Families and students who choose to live an alternative life inspire me to continually think outside the box and push myself to live an alternative life like my parents gave to my sisters and me.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Chelsea Lisaius: Doing something outside my comfort zone. I am taking a scuba diving course with my students in two weeks. It will be an adventure.

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Chelsea Lisaius: My sisters. They are two of the more badass ladies I know. They speak their mind, stand up for themselves and others, and are beyond brave in everything they do - that's badass! I brag about them to everyone.

OP: We are seeing a shift in what the term woman or female might bring to mind (LGBTQ), both in the outdoor community and throughout the world. What does being a woman mean to you? Femininity?

Chelsea Lisaius: Women have the extraordinary capability to make things that are extremely hard look easy. They are strong and independent, and at the exact same time they are understanding and creative. Femininity is a word to describe everything a woman is at the same time. I have never thought being called feminine is an insult, and if someone says I surf like I girl, I take that as a huge compliment, because surfer girls are epically amazing.

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?  

Chelsea Lisaius: “Never settle.” You can always improve every aspect of your life, and being proactive is the only way it’s possible. Blaming others or complaining about things that cannot change won’t get you anywhere.

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without?

Chelsea Lisaius: Now, my daughter. Once I have her in my arms, my sunglasses.

OP: Let’s talk gear: What are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Chelsea Lisaius: Not really my thing when it is just used for a marketing scheme. I’ll just go from the cheaper product over color. However, for products that are actually designed for women, like well-fitting swimsuits for surfing...I’m stoked. It’s awesome to wear a suit designed for sports over fashion that still looks good. Mi Ola is one of my favs.

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received, and what’s the story behind it?

Chelsea Lisaius: One of the first people in my life to see my potential outside of my family was my middle school field hockey coach, Lisa Atwood. I had a friendless middle school experience but loved sports. Captains were always voted in by the other players, so I knew my chances were slim, but Mrs. Atwood personally picked me as a captain. It was one of the first times in my life that I saw that I had the potential to be a leader. After that my confidence grew, and I took on many leadership roles in academics, athletics, and in the community, something I am still doing today.

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out as a surfer and as the Director of TIDE Academy, what would it be?

Chelsea Lisaius: Oh my gosh, I would have loved advice then! However, I think being as stubborn and optimistic as I was is why TIDE happened. But I would never recommend that anyone start a school by themselves, and especially in a foreign country. My advice to my pre-TIDE and pre-surfing self would be, “Don’t stress about the small stuff, and remember to impress yourself before anyone else.”

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media, and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Chelsea Lisaius: I would be lying if said I don’t get caught up in the altered reality that social media portrays. I have to remind myself daily that even those on social media can have a bad day. However, on a personal level, living in a foreign country away from my family and many of my friends, social media is what has allowed me to stay connected with them on a daily basis, and it has allowed them to know what I have been up to as well. The same goes with work: The networking in social media is how people have discovered TIDE Academy and what it is all about.

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

Chelsea Lisaius: I am getting married in June, and I now know why couples get married before having children. Planning and preparing for a wedding with a 5-month-old is close to impossible. Thankfully, my family has been helping out me with it. In the upcoming years I want to continue to focus on TIDE Academy’s message and mission in education. It is easy to slip into a cookie cutter educational form because that is what families are comfortable with, but TIDE is not traditional. I want to continue to expand TIDE’s programs in outside learning, environmental awareness, community relationships, and student entrepreneurship. We need to help the youth think outside the box, get creative, and be engaged members of the society. My goal is to make that part of all my students’ experiences at TIDE Academy.

OP: The title of your autobiography would be...

Chelsea Lisaius: Stumbling through an Amazing Life.

OP: In your next life, you will come back as...

Chelsea Lisaius: I think a dog that loves the water.  

OP: Tell us one thing about yourself that no one knows.

Chelsea Lisaius: I’m addicted to Spider Solitaire.

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

Chelsea Lisaius: As cliche as it sounds, don’t ever let someone else’s opinion crush your dreams. If you believe in your idea, dream, or goal, make it happen. Nothing should stop you if it’s what you want to do. Additionally, when things get hard, learn from it, and come back stronger.

Learn more about Chelsea's work with TIDE Academy and Circuito Guanacasteco de Surf, and follow along on her adventures through Instagram.

Featured photo by Fabian Sanchez, Surfing Nation Magazine.


Amazing story..amazing woman....keep following those dreams....giving back.....believe.......the possibilities are endless! So proud of all Chelsea has accomplished.....she has dedicated her life to it! GO TIDE! Looking forward to hearing more about your adventures!
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