Our Paris

Somewhere Along The Road…

The Quiet American, Padang Padang, Bali, Indonesia, February 18, 2012.
So, I’m doing it. I’m back in Our Paris. I’m back in Bali. I’ve decided to go for it. I’ve decided to make a full fledged, make or break, go for broke attempt at changing my life for the better, to change my life from one reality to another. We’ll see if it works. I’m going after what I’ve always dreamed of, what we all dream of-a life doing whatwe want to do, what we love to do, living our lives the way we want to. I’ve decided to base my life around passion versus the pursuit of the mighty dollar. I’m performing an experiment with my life, an experiment in of whether or not a normal guy can change his life from what he always thought he should be doing to what he always thought he wanted to do.

For me, it’s surfing. I’ve always dreamed of living the life of a professional surfer.  I’ve always dreamed of being at the precise location of the best waves in the world on any given day. But I’m not a pro surfer and I’m not wealthy enough to spend the rest of my life chasing swells across the globe. I’m too old and not skilled enough to consider surfing professionally, so endorsement deals typical of professionals aren’t really an option for me. So how can I live this life? How can I finance this life? Is it possible for me to live this life? I don’t know. Is it wise? Some would say no, others might say yes, and others might just want to see if I succeed or crash and burn, but I have been lucky enough to experience a taste of this life over the last eight months and I am magnetized by the idea of at least trying, and I have a plan. Perhaps more of a hypotheses for an experiment than it is a plan, but that will have to do for now.

How do you change your life into the life you’ve always dreamed of? I don’t know, hence the word experiment, but I’m going to do my best to figure it out. I’ve spent the majority of my post-college adult life in an office chasing money, and now I am pondering how I can spend the rest of my life chasing waves. Eight months ago I quit my job, sold all my things, and boarded a plane for Indonesia. Why I was doing at the time is something I couldn’t tell you, and perhaps still can’t completely understand, much less clearly explain. There was a little voice inside my head, a little voice that I had been ignoring for a long time, a little voice that “adulthood” and “maturity” had beaten out of me, and for some reason I decided to listen to this little voice this time, and it changed my life in a big way. I had a round trip ticket with a return flight home to California after one month. But because of the kindness, and encouragement of some extraordinary friends that I met along the way, and through some extraordinary circumstances and events, one month in Indonesia turned into four months chasing swells to some of the best waves in the world in remote parts of Indonesia. I got lucky, and eight months after first leaving home I am back in Indonesia after having just spent three months in S Africa chasing some other world class waves. I’m off for Western Australia in a few days-home of some more of the world’s best waves. How did this happen?

I didn’t see it coming. I’m still not sure how it happened. Never in a million years did I ever think that I would end up staying in Indo for four months rather than one, nor did I ever expect to be heading to S Africa to catch some more of the ocean’s finest rides after that, nor did I ever expect to end up back in Indonesia on my way to W Australia after that. I thought I would spend a month in Indo, get barreled at a few of the big-name surf spots, and come home with the pictures to prove it having been reborn and refreshed from my theretofore unimaginably long one month vacation. Once refreshed from my ultra-long vacation (by American standards) I would re-enter the workforce and continue on my hell-bent struggle to get rich and live the American dream, somehow wiser by my four week adventure in surfland.  Instead, I turned my back on my old life without even knowing it. I wasn’t running from my old life, I was being drawn into a new one. I did get drawn into a new one, and I still am.

It wasn’t until four months after leaving home-when the season climaxed with a huge swell only to go completely flat for weeks afterwards-that I realized that I had become used to chasing waves, it had become my life. I had become accustomed to letting a swell chart dictate where I would be and when I would be there, rather than the calendar on my Blackberry telling me what boring meetings I was to attend or who I was going to meet for lunch. I never noticed the transition while it was happening; I just woke up one day to see a flat ocean and an empty forecast. It was then that I realized something was missing-waves were missing. They were conspicuous in their absence and that brought something to the forefront of my attention: waves had become the governing force in my life. I let my guard down, I lived in the moment, and waves took over. That was a huge moment to realize that. That was a good moment when I did realize that. That moment put a big smile on my face.

Bali. Photo by Shawn Brooke.

I’m going to give this life a shot. I’m going to keep it up as long as I can. I share this with you not because I am extraordinary, or because my surfing is good enough to be important to you, but because of all the people along the way that said “wow, I’ve always wanted to do what you’re doing Evan. I’ve always wanted to quit my job and go surfing, or sailing, or rock-climbing, go here or there [or insert your life’s passions here].” This is for all the people that sent me emails saying “I wish I could do that, but I can’t because I am [pick one: married/tied to my career/to broke/too old/too scared to take a leap of faith].” This is about a surfer doing his best to live his life as a surfer, but it’s not about surfing. It doesn’t have to be surfing, it could be whatever you love doing most, and it doesn’t have to be me, it could be you.

I’m not extraordinary; I’m just a normal guy with the same fears and anxieties as you. Dane Reynolds- one of the world’s most extraordinary surfers-said it best in a message to his fans explaining why he was walking away from the World Championship Tour in the prime of his career to go chase waves as he sees fit, rather than the way that competition judges see fit. He said “I have a heart and I have bones and muscle and skin and eyes and teeth. I have emotions. Sometimes I act according to emotions. Sometimes I think and make a conscious decision.” In other words, he has ten fingers, ten toes, and two eyes, just like you and just like me. Dane made a conscious decision to pursue what makes him happy. We all have a god given right to pursue what makes us happy, and not sponsors, nor fear, greed, bosses, ‘career paths,’ mortgages, girlfriends, boyfriends, parents, or spouses should ever stop us from that pursuit. We have one life. We have a right to do everything in our power to make it a happy one. I am going to do my best to continue to do that, I am going to try to do that-with no guarantees that I will succeed of course.

Dane is an extraordinary surfer to say the least. He is the Picasso of our sport, his work speaks for itself, and his work does not need a judge to tell us that it is innovative, creative, or important. His work says that, his surfing says that. He’s not going to lose sponsorships or paychecks because he’s not competing anymore; he is a brilliant enough surfer that he will still sustain himself simply by surfing. I don’t know Dane, but I would be willing to speculate that if he were to read this, he would want to make the stipulation that he is just a normal guy, and he obviously is. We are all just people with 10 fingers and 10 toes. But Dane is an extraordinary surfer. I am not Dane. I am not extraordinary. I am an everyday surfer. I am an everyday guy, and because people will not pay an ordinary every day guy to surf, I will have to find other ways to support myself and my surfing habit. That’s where the experiment part comes in.

My goal for my life is to be free to chase waves full time. My goal in the interim is to do whatever it takes to chase waves to the best locations in the world as much as possible while working towards the aforementioned goal. That means work-some form of work.  I’ve never changed my life like this before; I can’t say that I’ve ever changed my life period. So I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to do it or if it will even work, but I want to do it. I want to try to make it work.
The idea of making the shift was inspired by a visit to a beautiful nature reserve in South Africa, a place that has nothing to do with surfing, but would have never seen if it wasn’t for surfing. I was inspired by all the things that surfing had given me, things which have nothing to do with surfing. Surfing had brought me to this place in South Africa which inspired me, surfing had brought me together with the friends that would bring me to South Africa, surfing had shown me so much along the way, so many great experiences that happen in the pursuit of waves in far off places in third world countries, things that I would never experienced otherwise.  Surfing is a gift that brings many other unforeseen gifts.

I had been away from home for four months when I arrived in South Africa and walked through that nature reserve, and I had the beginnings of new life-new friends with shared passions, friends that I consider brothers, new perspectives, and new goals-although I didn’t know it. I was smiling a lot. I never smiled in my Old Life. I was still trying to make sense of it all. I had seen places that I never would have seen without surfing and made friends with people that I never would have met without surfing. I thought about how much my life had changed in four months and wondered what would happen if I kept this up for another four months, or another year, or forever? What direction would my life go? Would chasing waves become my life? Could chasing waves become my life? I had followed my heart for four months and it had worked out. But what if…what if I kept going? What if, instead of returning to my old life as an office robot working in the commercial real estate business, I kept chasing waves? What other great things would I see that I never would have expected to see? What other opportunities would I be lucky enough to come across that I wouldn’t have otherwise? What happens when you do whatever it takes to do what you love? What happens when you live your life by following your heart?

I wondered what would happen if I kept going? What if I did whatever it took to get back to Indo to chase the best waves in the world once again for the 2012 season? How much would my life change if I took it that much further? It had changed so much in four months, what would happen over the course of a year? Two? Three? What other great unexpected things would come into my life along the journey in pursuit of waves? What if I kept doing that? Could I keep doing that? Is it even possible? What if…what if…a person lives his life based on what he loves?

It sounds so cliché. Follow your heart-it sounds like something your mother tells you just before she tells you to “go do your homework so you can get a good job.”  I mused on this idea for three months while traveling around S Africa. Phil Nel, my South African brother from a different mother, and his wonderful wife Lara encouraged me. We discussed the idea for hours on end repeatedly, over and over. Without them, without their abundance of optimism and positive energy this idea would have surely died a quick death, or at least slowly withered away under the pressure of 29 years of living in an environment where ‘careers,’ and “success” are all that matters, and living like a career robot is the norm. They were inspired by the thought as much as I was, if not more, and that made me think. Such good people couldn’t be wrong.   If they’re excited, maybe there’s something to this? Maybe I should consider this?

I’m changing my life for me, but I am writing this for you. So many people in our generation are stuck in a rut. I was stuck in a rut, and it’s a rut that I am still struggling to break free of. It’s a rut that I’m not sure I will ever completely break free of.

Our generation is a Lost Generation in many ways. The worst economy since the Great Depression has held us back, held us down, and made it difficult for us to find our place in a world made smaller by economic adversity. It’s a world with no room for our dreams, no room for our talents. It’s a world where we learn to take what we can get and be damn thankful for it-whether it is a shitty job or a good career that maybe we don’t like but we hold onto because it’s considered by some asshole to be a “good career.” And we hold onto this thing called a “good career” and devote our lives to it not because it’s a life we want to live, but because we are somehow made to believe that being unhappy with our  everyday lives is normal, it’s just part of being and an adult.

We all had dreams. Many of us have given up. I gave up. I gave up and found myself spending my life in an office working in commercial real estate. I woke up and found myself on the La Jolla Town Council discussing matters of great importance-matters such as potholes and parking meters. I woke up and found myself “networking” and “advancing my career” on “committees” and “boards of trustees” in my spare time instead of hanging out at the beach. I never wanted to work in an office. I never wanted to work in commercial real estate. I never wanted to be on the town council or some ridiculous committee. I wanted to surf. I’m not a fancy guy-I’m happiest when I’m sunburned with sand between my toes. I woke up and found myself living a life that wasn’t mine and I felt I was doing a pretty damn good job of living it “successfully”-which is not a good thing.

I’m not writing this because I think I am extraordinary, but because I know I am not. I am writing this for the people back at home that are stuck in a rut. I feel that if I can change my life, anyone can, and if any of my experiences can help someone change their life for the better, than all this writing and all these words will be worth it. If I can inspire one person to take the initiative to change their life for the better, then it will be worth it for me. So, I’ve decided to make my life an experiment, and let everyone who wants to know about it able to hear about it, all you have to do is read it if you want to. The experiment is this: can I change my life into what I want it to be? Can I continue to chase waves in places like Indonesia, S Africa, W Australia, Baja California, and Nicaragua? Can I somehow make this my life? If I can do it, you can do it. Can a 30 year old average California office shmuck live the dream? That remains to be seen, but so far, so good.

The name I came up with for this experiment was inspired by my fascination with humanity’s two great motivators: love and fear. Thoughts and discussions during my time in S Africa were largely based on this dichotomy. So much of our lives is motivated by fear. We have six different types of insurance to protect us from any conceivable disaster that insurance companies can dream up to scare us into buying their insurance. We have careers that we don’t like yet devote our lives to for fear of being considered “unsuccessful.” We spend all our earnings from these careers on useless things like insurance or nice cars that we buy for fear of not fitting in, not being cool, not looking successful as we sit in traffic for hours every day, inching to and from our careers that we hate.

Our generation is the Lost Generation. The term Lost Generation was originally applied to a group of expatriate writers living in Paris beginning in the 1920’s and lasting through the Great Depression of the 1930’s. They were a generation that felt alienated from the rest of society. Much like us, the world seemingly had no room for their dreams, for their visions for the world. They lived in the Great Depression; there was no room for dreaming in the Great Depression. The youth of that time, much like the youth of our time, sat underutilized, cast off to the sidelines to wither away doing nothing because there was no opportunity for them. There were no jobs for them. There was no room for them to come of age in America or elsewhere. But there were a few people who believed in themselves.
There were a few artists and writers that basically said “fuck this, I’m out of here.” And those few went to Paris. What did they do in Paris? They drank cappuccinos all day, drank wine all night, bounced positive energy, creative ideas, and optimism off of each other, and in their spare time they created some of the best works of art and literature the world had ever seen. They were people with names like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce. Good things happened when they surrounded themselves with likeminded creative people with positive attitudes. Good things happened when they put themselves in Paris. In my humble opinion there is something to be learned from that, but that’s just my two cents.

While in S Africa, Phil, Lara, and I had an interesting discussion on about a thought. The lives of some of the most important people in our lives now revolve largely around Bali, Indonesia. It is the land of instant karma. It is the land where good things happen to us. Bali takes care of us.   We all strive to return here. For half the year, she is the center of the surfing universe. She is always on our mind. She is the center of the spider web that holds us all together. Most of my closest friends will be here this season. Some like me are quitting their jobs to come here for the surf season this year, and to remake their lives in the process, to find a new path, a path based on love rather than ‘careers.’ Many of those friends are people that have had a huge impact on my life, people whom without their encouragement, I would have never come here in the first place, and I would have never have made it this far without them either. Bali is the center of our universe. Our futures lie here. This is where we remake our lives into what we want them to be, not what some career counselor who has never had a real job in their life told us our lives should be. Bali is the shining city on the hill. She is our refuge from our fear motivated previous existences. This is where we come of age. This is where our Lost Generation is being found. This is Our Paris.

2012 isn’t the end of the world. It’s the end of our old worlds. We’ve paid our dues. We’ve done what we are “supposed” to do. We’ve done what we “should do.” 2012 is when we come into our own. 2012 is the death of the nightmare of the second Great Depression which has dominated our adult lives, and the birth of the dream that is life as it should be-life as a happy person pursuing one’s own happy existence. Now, we’re doing what we want to do. And Bali is where we’re doing it.
I have spent the last eight months chasing what I love, and even though I don’t have a car or fancy zip code behind my address anymore, I am happier than I have ever been in my entire life. My life has been condensed to a surfboard bag, a duffel bag and a back pack. I have no material wealth whatsoever. My possessions are limited to what I can carry in the three aforementioned bags. For a guy that spent the first 29 years of his life stressing himself to the point of self-torture in the struggle to get rich in America, the idea of having my life condensed to three bags amazes me. The concept is still foreign. I believe I am happier now because I am pursuing what I love. Possessions are shackles. They are a prison. I traded my possessions for passion. The further I pursued this passion, this love- my love of surfing- the less the other things mattered. The old fears of not living the American dream began to matter less and less. The people that I used to think I had to impress mattered less. The standards that I thought I had to live up to in the name of success matter less. Fear in general began to disappear, fear began to matter less. Why? Because if you fill your life with what you love, you have no room for fear, and that is an amazing feeling for someone who was scared shitless every day because he wasn’t sure he was going to cut it in the American standards of success. Love is a Noble thing. This experiment is about pursuing what you love. This experiment is about basing your life around what you love, and letting everything else fall into place-not vice versa like we were always told we should do. It’s not about doing whatever you have to do in order to maybe sometimes have a little time to do what you love on the weekends when you don’t have to devote your time to your ‘career.’ It’s about doing whatever it takes to do what you love and letting everything else in life revolve around that. This experiment is about love. Fear is weak. Love is noble. This is a Noble Experiment.

I hope it works.

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