It’s 4:30 a.m. in Santa Cruz. While most exhausted parents are fast asleep, big-wave surfing couple Sarah and Mike Gerhardt are tiptoeing past their children’s room and starting their day together with wetsuits, surfboards and prayer.
“We get up early, and that’s our time to connect,” Mike says. “We read the Bible together, we pray together, and we have a window of our own time before the kids start stirring. Then, one of us will go surf for an hour.”
Sarah adds: “We constantly have to rearrange and switch off — and it’s all surf-dependent! … I’m the surf forecaster of the family, and so I check the Web. Then we figure out childcare, who’s surfing in the morning, who’s surfing in the evening. … It’s all about balancing!”
So, how do the Gerhardts balance everything? Simple: love, faith and taking turns.
Ultra-busy parents of a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter, the Gerhardts break every single one of the surfer stereotypes you can think of. Hands-on parents and practicing Christians, they nourish themselves with a largely vegetarian diet and give many hours of volunteer work to their community. Both Gerhardts also have full-time jobs jam-packed with responsibilities. Sarah, 35, is a pharmaceutical sales specialist. Mike, 42, is a general contractor with Santa Cruz County Builders.
“Parenthood is constant juggling … improvising … priorities are always shifting,” Mike says. “It’s a lot like surfing that way!”
But what about sleep deprivation? How do they balance demanding athletics with the demands of child-rearing?
Mike answers: “Well, it’s a compromise. I’m unable to work out like I used to, but I’m OK with that. … My family is much more important to me than being a better athlete. I’ve got bigger fish to fry, and being a parent is what I’m focused on now.”
“Sleep is overrated, anyway!” Sarah says. “The reality is that I’m an outdoor person. If I don’t get out and have quiet, focused time, and get my body moving on those waves … I’m not going to be what I want to be. I want to be joyful, I want to be compassionate, I want to be understanding. I want to be patient. … And that’s the cool thing that I learned about being a parent: that if I take care of myself, then my children will thrive. … So, the child-rearing has really been parent-rearing!”
Fellow big-wave charger Grant Washburn also understands balancing childcare with the call of surf breaks: “All of us have little kids; mine are a year older than theirs. … When everyone is tired, there are so many things going on at once: somebody is hungry, somebody needs juice or a diaper change, and it’s just crazy! … How can you surf big waves when you can’t even get out of your pajamas? … But somehow, all of us manage to surf. Because we have to. We love it.”
Their kids love it, too.
Sarah continues: “Our children are teaching us so much, too! Our whole life is being reorganized and turned upside down. … Every day’s an adventure. … It’s so amazing!”
“It’s crazy, sometimes,” Mike adds, “but, it’s cool and it’s working, and hopefully, we’ll be able to inspire others … to have faith and keep on doing what you love.”
[by Heidi Trilling]