PHOTOS BY @camillerdp @jkinphotos @delonbone

Surfing the Highs and Lows of T1D


Zen zone

Everybody has their peace place; their place that switches off all the buzzing worries of the outside world. Many people spend their lives searching for it, finding the “zen.” Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who’s found it: yoga, meditation, football, cooking, crafts, you name it… My off button is surfing, though it comes with one hurdle: Type 1 diabetes. The thing I’ve struggled with the most having type 1 is that this disease never sleeps. Levels rolling like a rollercoaster, where there’s no getting off the ride, no matter how much I scream in anger or cry of discomfort, no one, no matter how much I or they want to can press stop. I’ve been terrified to death of having lows, to be too weak to carry my own body to the closest sugar supply, and I’ve had nightmares of going blind and disabled in addition to running my sugars high trying to prevent the scare of low weakness again. So how can I have a normal straight line of blood sugar levels like it feels like the rest of the population does without even having to try? The answer is that there is there is no simple answer, the only people who will tell you otherwise are the ones who have no idea; who are telling you if you eat a certain vegetable you’re going to be cured.

My advice

There are always going to be unknown hiccups and potholes on the road of being a type 1 and all you can do is try, be patient and never stop loving yourself. Everyone’s diabetes is different and you should always check with your care team before switching insulin doses. That said, these are some tips and things I have learnt to help me along the way:
  • Find a way to keep living and doing the things you love and don’t take on anyone’s negativity who tries to shut you down. For me, this is surfing and traveling and although I still get worried about having lows mid-adventure, there are things I do that help give me security so I can relax as much as possible.
  • Pre-surf: I always eat before going out. Yep, that saying everyone used to say about not eating before exercise—it doesn’t count for us! I try to dose less/small amounts before surfing and eat sustainable, low glycemic index (GI) foods that give me energy for longer. My go-to breakfast at the moment is whole grain toast with nut butter and banana, yum!
  • Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs): I recently started using the Freestyle Libre which has helped me in ways like being able to look at the arrows shown and find out which way my blood sugars are trending; its handy when I’m unsure of whether to eat more food or not before paddling out.
  • I’ve had my kit stolen from the beach before but I always still at least bring some sweets/juice down to the beach or close to the break I’m surfing. Better safe than sorry! If you are worried about your things getting stolen an idea is to use a surf lock or something similar and lock that to a bike lock—then to a tree or pole. Bring snacks for later in your car in case it’s super pumping and you just can’t go home!
  • Post-surf: I’ve found that I need to dose less insulin (short & long-acting at bedtime), especially if it was a big session (I always forget this one). Components that can rapidly drop my insulin requirements can happen for me when the swell/ocean sweep is bigger or the weather is cold. Those sorts of environments use up a lot more of my energy during a surf and I have to remember to take that into account when doing my shots.
  • Traveling: Always bring extra supplies incase your undercarriage gets lost. Take a note from a doctor saying you are a type 1 diabetic.  Both of these things can save you a lot of time and stress. Try to be organized if you can, I’m the least organized person ever but when I do make the effort it really goes a long way and I never regret it. I have been in many situations having forgotten insulin or not had my gear and there’s nothing worse.

Speak up

I am a very shy person especially when it comes to not wanting to burden people with my problems but type 1 has forced me to speak up in times when I’ve needed too. By doing things that I love to do, coming to the realization that type 1 diabetes (T1D) doesn’t shape my life was one of the best things for me. I started surfing a little before I got diagnosed with type 1 and I remember at the time of diagnosis how odd and alienated I felt. There were moments where people would try and tell me what I could or shouldn’t do, who I am or how my life should be. I used to be worried and believe people when they said I couldn’t do something because of the way I was born or who I was, having my diabetes. I’m happy I had my passion of surfing to lead me to grow in confidence and create an identity where I could be confident in myself. Every time I achieved small goals, I enjoyed it and it became easier for me to believe in myself and stop taking on the negative doubts of other people. In the end, I realized how silly it was that I was letting those people stop me from achieving everything I had wanted. I began to understand that in the end, the only person who truly knows yourself the most is you, and believing in that will get you a lot further than listening to passersby in your life.

Surfing (much like whatever hobby you may have) has always been an escape for me, it has taught me to be more present and positive with life and every challenge that comes with it. Although type 1 has made it hard for me to fully clock out, I try to use these sort of examples and tips to make it a little less hard and tiring and am learning every day more and more about myself. I have been in situations where I’ve been left without supplies while boats have driven off on me in the surf as they were unaware. There have been many sticky situations that have forced me to need to speak up to protect my own health and safety.

I think it’s important to learn how to not let diabetes drive your life, and only have it on the sidelines as something that makes you stronger everyday. I hope that it can teach you to find confidence within. It’s not easy to speak up for yourself especially to people who don’t understand what you’re going though or how seriously life or death your situation can be. But I want everyone who ever feels fearful, worried, or alienated when diabetes has put them in an awkward situation to know they are not alone and to always speak up.

WRITTEN BY Elise Trigger, POSTED 05/13/19, UPDATED 11/08/22

Elise Trigger is currently 19 years old. Home for her is Byron Bay, Australia, where she was born and raised. Byron Bay is known for its beautiful beaches and surfing spots and growing up just a few minutes walking distance from the beach it was impossible not to fall in love with the ocean. She began to discover surfing around the age of 13, soon after she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Journeying through her teen years and diagnosis and figuring out her identity, Elise was met by the many insecurities that young teens deal with and face due to the public's unawareness/misconceptions about type 1 diabetes (T1D). She's gained confidence through her surfing and life experiences and hopes to inspire others to travel through the waves of life and T1D with the confidence to speak up and be unafraid to be themselves. She now uses social media platforms such as Instagram in hopes to spread awareness about type 1 and continue living her dream of surfing and traveling the world. Check her out on Instagram: @elisetrigger. Photos in this piece by: @camillerdp @jkinphotos and @delonbone.