It’s only fitting that we have a July 4th tête-à-tête with someone in possession of a fierce independent streak, an indomitable spirit and an iron will.
That would be Becky Burt.
At 30, she’s created a surf school for girls, run exclusively by women, on the East coast where surfer girls are something of a rarity—and she did it after suffering a debilitating injury that threatened not only the new venture but life as she knew it.
Q: How’d you get to where you are now?
A: I grew up at the beach. I think a love for the ocean is in the blood. Because I was a serious soccer player in high school, it wasn’t until I was around 19 that I fell in love with surfing and started to make it a huge part of my life. My boyfriend at the time was an incredible surfer. We went to Costa Rica for a couple of months, and that was it for me. Surfing has taken me around the world—Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Israel, Jordan—and completely changed my life.
“Surfing has taken me around the world and completely changed my life.”
When I was 23, I worked for a nonprofit in Hawaii called Surfing the Nations, which uses surfing to connect with communities in need. After that, I enrolled in the University of Hawaii and lived on the North Shore of Oahu, the surfing mecca of the world, living out my BlueCrush dream. I came back home to New Jersey and started working for a surf school as well giving free lessons to the Boys & Girls Club. As one of the few female instructors, the girls clung to me. It made me think, “Imagine if there was an all-girl surf camp…?”
Two summers later, I started Pink Pineapple Surf School. I had all these plans to make it big until everything changed: I had a freak accident and fell backwards off of a porch, hitting my head on a cinderblock. I don’t remember anything after that. Doctors said I was lucky to be alive. I was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury and out of work for 9 months. My memory loss was to the point where I didn’t know if I’d just put shampoo in my hair. Tasks like getting dressed seemed impossible. I couldn’t drive. I was having severe panic attacks and went into a severe depression. No doubt, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. I felt hopeless. Pink Pineapple wasn’t even a thought in my mind anymore because I had no idea if I would ever recover. I took it day by day and slowly started feeling better. I decided I had to keep Pink Pineapple going somehow.
I gave private and small group lessons. By the end of last summer, we were completely booked—and I’d hired five girls to help me. Being in the ocean helped me recover so much faster than if I was sitting home. It was therapy. So this summer is the official launch of Pink Pineapple. We got approved to have a camp at the Manasquan Inlet. I had to go in front of the town board because they’ve never done this before. The Pink Pineapple girls and their parents, friends and family all showed up to support me, and we got approved. Just goes to show how much you need support in your life for anything to get done.
“Just goes to show how much you need support for anything to get done.”
We also have a bunch of sponsors including Roxy, one of my favorite surf brands since I was a girl. Everything keeps falling into place. When I look back, I now see that my brain injury changed my life for the better. It’s made me more focused on things that really matter. I’m thankful to be alive and have the chance to work hard and make my dreams come true.
Q: What about surfing speaks to you so much?
A: Surfing is a way of being; it’s one of the healthiest lifestyles. For me, there’s no better feeling than riding a wave. It’s a blast. You’re at one with nature. Water is life. Surfing is the greatest sport in the world.
Q: What’s your mission?
A: To make a place where girls feel empowered, where they can come together and realize their potential. I want to teach them there’s nothing they can’t do, that there’s a world outside the bubble they grew up in. You never know what someone’s home life is, what they’re dealing with. If you have an outlet for these girls that encourages them, a place where they have role models to guide them through life, well, then my mission is complete.
“I want to empower girls by building their confidence and showing them how amazing they are.”
Q: What does empowerment mean to you? How do you empower others?
A: To me, empowerment means being given the confidence and knowledge to do something on your own. I want to empower Pink Pineapple girls by building their confidence and showing them how amazing they are. Sharing my personal experiences with them shows them how I got where I am. Sometimes you need someone to empower you, and sometimes you need to do it for others. I want to turn a light on in these girls’ heads and show them the world in a way they haven’t seen it before.
Q: How do you balance all your priorities? How do you de-stress?
A: I’m the queen of making lists. I write everything down no matter what, especially after my accident. If it isn’t on my list, it won’t get done. I’ve also learned through trial and error that if a problem arises, solve it as quickly as possible. Don’t put it on the back burner. Your life will be less stressful if you take care of it right away. I also take “brain breaks” now—I go somewhere and sit by myself with no phone, no distractions, and breathe. My bulldog Daisy has been a lifesaver. I got her when I was down and out about my injury, and the moment she came into my life, I felt motivated again.
Q: What are you passionate about?
A: Traveling is my favorite thing to do. I feel most alive when I experience new places, new people. I wouldn’t be the same person if I never traveled.
Q: Walk us through a typical day.
A: Daisy wakes me up around 6 AM. I make coffee and take her for a walk. After that, sometimes I work out. I come home, shower and go through emails. I recently started managing a surf shop in Asbury Park called Lightly Salted, so Daisy and I go to the shop. I’ve been doing a lot of the buying for women. And I’m constantly working on Pink Pineapple. In the summer, I’m at the beach every single day. At night, my boyfriend and I usually watch a movie or read books. I need that downtime. There are never enough hours—the dream is free, the hustle is sold separately.
“There are never enough hours—the dream is free, the hustle is sold separately.”
Q: What are the pros and cons of being female in a traditionally male-dominated field?
A: Pro: You’re a female surrounded by men. Con: You’re a female surrounded by men! Seriously, there aren’t that many surfer girls where I live, so we all know each other and have a special bond. You also stand out if you’re a surfer girl and, in my opinion, that makes you interesting. Surfer girls have stories to tell. We’ve flown across the world to sleep in a hostel on a mat on the floor to find the perfect wave. We’ve lived a little.
It can be intimidating battling guys out there for waves. Men dominate the “good” spots, I know I’m not going to catch any waves and most the time end up feeling embarrassed or not good enough. That’s why my girlfriends and I love surfing together.
Q: What’s your secret to living a great life?
A: Relationships are everything. Material things don’t matter. In the end, all that matters is the way you made people feel, the relationships you have and the impact you’ve made. Doing things for other people is a big part of living well.
I don’t want to look back and say I wish I did this or that. I want to make as many mistakes as I can and learn from every one. Let go of fear; it’ll only stop you.
Q: What does support mean to you? What makes up your support system?
A: Support means everything to me! You can’t get through this life alone. Everyone needs help. You need to give and receive. Without my family, my boyfriend, Daisy, my friends and all the Pink Pineapple girls and their parents, life would be hard and less meaningful. It’s about sharing it all with people you love.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO BECKY
Greatest extravagance: My garden
Personal mantra: Fake it until you make it
Proudest achievement: Graduating college. Someone told me once I would never make it through, and I did it on my own without any financial help. It was something I needed to do for my own self-worth.
Best part about surfing: Feeling free
Best bra: I only wear bralettes. Now that I’m 30, it’s all about comfort.
Favorite SPF: Waterman
Latest hobby: Crocheting
Current obsession: Bulletproof Coffee
Favorite surf destination: Hawaii
Favorite book: #GirlBoss; Women Who Run with the Wolves; The Secret
In a word: Spunky
Portraits of the Jersey Shore https://www.facebook.com/portraitsofthejerseyshore/
“Pink Pineapple Surf is a surf school for girls. It is at the Manasquan Inlet Beach. Everything is pink, the surfboards, the rash guards, you name it. We have a lot of fun. Roxy sponsors us, we have a lot of giveaways. This is our third summer. I started this surf school because when I was little, there really were not that many girls surfing, and I wish when I was little that we had a big group of girls to take us out on the water and surf with us. Surfing tends to be a male-dominant sport, and with the whole girl power thing, I think more girls are comfortable getting out there. The response here has been awesome, it’s been really positive.
“One of my best experiences was this nine-year-old girl I gave a lesson to, who was autistic. That was her first time ever surfing. At first she was really scared, but when she got in the water, she was able to focus on the waves, and it was therapy for her. It was really special because it was something that it turned out she really excelled in, there was no categorizing her in any spectrum because when she was in the ocean, all of that went away. When she came to us, she had never surfed before, and by the end, she was catching waves on her own. That was so special.
“We want to expand next summer and have all-girl contests and things like that. I am not sure how the guy surfers are with us being here. To be honest, I don't feel the love that much from a lot of the local guy surfers, but we do from the parents and the girls who come out to see us. So we just have to get out there and be strong, and not let people make you feel like you shouldn’t be here.”
(Please see first comment of Pink Pineapple Surf website)