Keeping the Stoke Alive

During a recent trip to Mexico, a hurricane that slammed the coast of Oaxaca a week before rearranged the sand banks at a remote point. I took a two-mile march up the coast, noticed a new post-hurricane wave spinning down the beach and paddled out.

Out in the lineup a set came. I caught the first wave and drove down a head-high wall that kept slightly open as it peeled along a narrow sandbar.

For me the essence of living a stoked life is being able to see and try new experiences and tap into the energy of the ocean.

I met my wife Emily in 1985 on my first day as a UCSD study abroad student in Lima, Peru. Emily, who is from Wisconsin, had just turned 20. I was 21.

We immediately realized we shared a passion for adventure, the outdoors and the ability to laugh at our misfortunes. Soon we were clambering up rocks to reach 16,000-ft. alpine lakes in the Andes and exploring the culturally rich coast of northern Brazil.

A few years after our marriage in 1989, we found ourselves living in a 14-foot trailer in an off-the-grid fishing village in Baja with our Australian Shepherd Chip while we carried out graduate research on gray whales.

At the end of our two-year stay in Baja, Emily became pregnant with our oldest son Israel and we moved back to the U.S. Three years later my youngest son Daniel was born.

That is when life got really good.

Before my children were born I was pretty much over the marginal conditions of the beach break I grew up surfing. As soon as my two sons were old enough to enjoy the beach, all of a sudden the mundane became exceptional.

A normal day at the beach became the best day ever.

With kids you get to experience everything new again and again. Their laughter as they jump over waves holding my hand and their joy the first time they surf a real wave.

A few years ago, the boys and I hiked down to Black’s Beach on one of the best days of the winter. Normally I would have avoided the super-packed lineup of one of the world’s best beach breaks like the plague.

But whereas I was frustrated trying to compete with the likes of Jordy Smith for set waves, the boys were stoked to share waves with one of their heroes.

After a few waves I went in and found surf photographer Jeff Divine on the beach.

“You know, with kids, everything is an adventure,” he said.

Six months after that experience at Black’s, Emily was kind enough to let me take the boys to Australia for six weeks to live in a van while we chased cold and powerful winter surf along the New South Wales and Victoria coasts. Emily came over and spent an additional month with us, which included a trip to New Zealand.

The memories of our adventures—finding perfect, empty waves in Ulladulla, watching Daniel light up as we encountered a mob of kangaroos on a wild beach, surfing Bell’s Beach, hiking around glaciers in New Zealand and watching tiny penguins waddle up a beach on Phillip Island—will be embedded in my memory for the rest of my life.

I have never had much money, and I am not sure how to go about making much of it. My life is richer for all the experiences I have had and the family that is my greatest joy.

What has kept my stoke alive are those moments of transcendence in which something new brings my family together around shared adventures, experiences and making the world a better place.

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