words: amber o’dell
You will often find Shay next to her blush longboard on the beach, smiling at sunset colours next to a bowl of quinoa oats and berries.
We all work towards the bliss of a perfectly balanced lifestyle. For Shay, the daily chase of finding the key balance of health and happiness has never stopped, and she comes closer to reaching it every day. As a lover of life, health and the surf, she carries with her a buoyant spirit that is contagious enough to lighten any moment, which is why we humble Smorgasboarders were so lucky to have a surf and a chat with her.
Many may recognise Shay and her bright smile from Australian Survivor’s 2022 season, Blood Vs. Water, where her fitness and inner strength earned her runner-up in what was considered the most ruthless season to date.
As a surfer, yoga instructor, biomedical student, dancer and organiser of retreats, Shay’s lifestyle is anything but bland. Constantly chasing health and happiness, her enthusiasm has taken her across the world to her current home in the Sunshine Coast. Here, her lifestyle is so full it’s a wonder how she fuels her mind and body to be so physically and mentally active.
Shay’s love of a healthy life and the ocean is canvassed all over her body in the form of tattoos, with a manta ray gliding over her shin, a palm tree on her hand, a whale tail on her forearm and the amusing addition of ‘eat your veggies’ on her other forearm. She also has ‘salty’ tattooed on her thigh, which she got after she was inspired by the salt left on her skin after going for a surf.
For Shay, surfing combines her love of fitness with her love of meeting different communities and people, even when she is travelling. She understands the best way to meet someone is when you are both doing what you love, and as a self-proclaimed ‘goofy and fun’ surfer, said she has never been the one to take it very seriously.
“I love surfing because it’s the perfect intersection of exercising and meeting people. It’s getting your heart rate up, it’s getting out and moving, it’s the social life and the mental relief and it’s seeing sunrises, sunsets, rainbows, dolphins and turtles. It’s the perfect crossroads of all things that make life good and healthy.
“It’s also such a challenge and really pushes my ego to the side because you can’t expect to be good at everything or predict how the waves are going to go. Mother nature just throws a gigantic set at you when you don’t expect it. I love that.
“Things constantly go wrong, and it just shows that you’ve got to adapt, be ready for anything and be ready to laugh. I feel sorry for people trying so hard, missing waves and getting angry, because if you aren’t having fun, why are you out here? Have a laugh!”
After seeing her quiver of boards, you’d think Shay hand-picked them for their harmonised pink and cream colours. Actually, she said her surfboards make up an aesthetic little colour pallet by complete coincidence and were collected across her life as various gifts from photoshoots and friends.
“Currently, my quiver is my 6’8 single fin, 9’2 mal, 5’6 fish, 5’7 shortboard and then my two other longboards. I’ve got a little collection.
“I’m definitely a shortboarder at heart but having gotten a longboard in the last year, I’ve loved trying silly things and it’s been fun to do some party tricks. It’s nice to have a move.”
The move Shay is referring to is her wicked surfing handstand, which had us all cheering on the shores of Cotton Tree and wondering how much balance, strength and concentration is needed to learn such a thing – and if we would ever have a chance at doing it ourselves (not likely).
“I was in this photoshoot with a longboard down in Byron and the waves were really big. They made me come into the whitewash because I was too scared to go out with the big waves. It was too boring to just get up on whitewash and stand there, so I kind of threw my arms down and just started doing it, and it brought me so much joy. Now I can probably surf better on my hands then I can on my feet.
“When I started surfing, my parents were like, ‘what is this foreign sport?’ You’d think a Cronulla family would surf, but my brother was into soccer, my dad was into golf, my mum was a jazzercize teacher and I was a ballerina. So for me to be on a skateboard or a surfboard was very naughty.
“My ballet teacher always made examples of why ballerinas should only do ballet. So I kind of stopped going. I actually took my ballet a lot less seriously because I realised I couldn’t do all the sports I wanted to. I started meeting some really cool people surfing, so I just wanted to stick with that. It was nice.”
Despite all sorts of predicaments seeming to gravitate towards Shay, no matter what is thrown her way, she always manages to overcome it. We aren’t just saying that either. Many of Shay’s stories have so many unpredictable plot twists and bizarre coincidences that we struggled to keep our jaws from hanging open and our hands from covering our faces while listening to them.
For example, her passion for being a yoga teacher flourished when she was 23 after she met someone on her trip to Thailand. It was here Shay found one of her greatest motivator’s – helping people do, be and achieve the best they can through yoga and wellness.
While she did discover her love and talent for being a yoga teacher in Thailand, her hopeful trip turned sour when she fell victim to an incredibly unfair series of events that landed her in danger. Shay was able to escape back to Australia with the help of her friends, and said the second the plane took off on her way home, she was overcome with emotion and relief.
“I was sitting at home in Cronulla for about a month after that. I didn’t surf, I didn’t leave the house, I didn’t cook – I did nothing. So much had happened, and I just convinced myself that I was okay and put it on the backburner, because I didn’t want to think about it. Then, my mum got me one of those adult colouring books, and that was how I meditated by way out of feeling stuck.”
The universe seems to weave some pretty difficult situations for Shay – without realising she has the physical and mental strength to take them on head-first and come out the other side with a bright smile on her face. Her many adventures would make for a gripping book, or maybe even an inspirational Netflix series. Shay assured us that she had considered it before – after all, she was almost cast in one of the Matrix movies as a little girl.
As someone who thrives on adventure and positivity, it was no surprise when Shay said despite all of the rollercoasters she has been on, she strongly believes life is all fun.
“I mean, at times life can be terrifying, but when you look back you realise how insane, hilarious and weird it all was. That’s what you’ve got to look forward to. People say they don’t want to get old and turn thirty, but trust me, life gets good once it happens.”
After journeying across the world and living in Canada, Shay has since followed her whims to the Sunshine Coast. While she originally visited to help her parents renovate a house they bought, she said she stayed after something awakened inside her – a fascination for science.
Like so many miraculous things in her life, Shay said her name turned out to be prophetic as she took an interest in biomedical science and followed her passion into nutrition and genetics.
“My dad is from Mauritius, so my name is French. My mum wanted Shay, and my dad wanted Elle, so they stuck it together to become Shayelle. Then, like a decade later, it turned up in a baby name book and means ‘mathematical scientific ingenious one’ which is ironic because both my grandparents have PhD’s in science.
“One of the biggest reasons I went to uni was because I watched a lot of family go through heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s. All of those things as a teenager really frightened me, because I understood at a pretty young age how genetics work. I knew that, if I had to watch my grandparents go through that, then I’d have to watch my parents and then my brother and then myself. It was always in the back of my mind that eating healthy, exercising and sleep were important.
“Now I am loving biomed. My electives are all food-based, so I am doing nutritional biochemistry. I realised that I could be potentially capable of doing a PhD in nutrigenomics, so the effect that our food and body has on the expression of genes. Doing nutrigenomics would be a lot of research, but that’s what every PhD is.
“Every decision you make, even the first thing you do in the morning, changes your genetic expression. I know it sounds hectic when you hear it, but then you realise that you can actually make a positive impact on your genes with just the little choices.”
Listening to Shay talk about nutrition and people’s wellbeing with a spark in her eyes is enough to see that she has found one of her true callings. With all of her passion and knowledge, it was only natural for us to ask what on earth she fuels her body with to stay so fit. What could possibly be the key ingredient in the life of someone so active and intelligent in the area of nutrition? At first, Shay just said one thing – quinoa oats.
“That’s it! No but for real I would say my diet is 95% plant-based foods with a bit of fish and oysters. I have lots of quinoa, grains, seeds, nuts and like a ridiculous number of veggies. I sort of steer away from the word vegan because it comes with extra connotations. I’m not afraid to eat anything if someone offers me a bit, but I won’t order or buy it. My body feels so much more efficient now in my thirties then it did in my twenties.”
It was during her time studying, surfing, working and living a busy life in the Sunshine Coast when she got the call to spend almost 50 days in the Australian outback on the ninth season of Australian Survivor – as if her life wasn’t vibrant enough already.
From impressive shelter building to dodgy challenges to the length of time it takes to cook rice and beans, Shay’s personal experiences on Survivor are fascinating. Hearing her stories made it abundantly clear how strong, resourceful and genuine she had to be to make it to the end of the game as a runner-up – especially with how strangely cut-throat the season was. Shay said while it was an overall incredible experience, the biggest negative during the game was the bullying.
“I’m not really afraid to say it anymore because I used to think I should be more positive about it. But in all honesty, it was a lot. There was a really rare dynamic in the game, and so many people from so many different seasons have told me it wasn’t normal. If you weren’t in a clique you were just an outcast, and it was actually worse than what I experienced in school.
“After being voted off and going to purgatory and then making it back into the game, it was like walking into a group of people that outwardly hated you. I got bullied for eating too much. I had the same serving size as the guys, but they always said I was a small girl, so I have to eat less. I would also wake up sometimes and hear them whispering about me. It got to the point where the producers had to step in and talk to them about it.
“The positives were amazing though. The whole experience is like being in another world because you don’t have phones, you only have nature. Every night you are falling asleep under the stars and it’s beautiful. I did a lot of meditating and yoga, and it still taught me how important it is to have resilience, because if I didn’t I would have walked out of there a lot earlier.”
As someone who holds themselves so naturally and with confidence, it was no surprise that Shay was able to power through the relentless social nonsense and come out of the show with a bright smile on her face – just like she always does. Her approach to life is best reflected in her surname, Lajoie – a French word meaning ‘joy’, and a common nickname for a happy, cheerful person.
Shay has a down-to-earth approach to life and everything in it, so naturally we had to ask her where she draws her courage from. Shay said she doesn’t think she felt truly confident until she was in her mid-twenties, when she learnt to embrace the wild and lovable sides of herself.
“That was when I realised that over the years of weird coincidences and things going wrong and things going right – you can’t control anything. So if you just let go, be yourself and enjoy being yourself, then you’re never going to look back and regret that you were trying to be someone else, or that you were timid or held back.
“If I’m feeling sad one day, I’ll cry in public. If I’m feeling ecstatic, I’ll wave and smile at people in public. Just embrace yourself. Because my biggest fear is being like 80 and looking back at photos of me in my twenties and wishing I lived life more.
“I want to live with minimal regrets. The core of what I do is constantly seeking joy. I don’t want to ever have a day where nothing really cool happened.”
In a perfect role that combines all of her passions, Shay channelled her love and knowledge of the inner and outer self into organising mindfulness retreats. In addition to this, Shay also takes care of her other prosperous businesses and travels wherever life takes her while doing so. As someone who lives in the moment, she is just enjoying chasing waves, eating veggies and getting excited about the many things she occupies her days with.
After a sunrise surf session and a coffee, Shay left us with the warming feeling that, perfectly balanced lifestyle or not, life is there to be enjoyed.
“I’m kind of living up to everything I wanted. Everything so far in my life has fallen into place. So long as I’m enjoying life and still getting to surf, dance and do the fun things, that’s all that matters.” she said.