Author Archives : alexbrost


Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Right

“Anything worth doing, it’s worth doing right!”  -Hunter S. Thompson

It was about 7 years ago when some friends and I were sanding away at insulation foam with whatever tools were laying around when I dropped my sanding block and muttered those words in ambitious frustration.  You see, we wanted to build our own wake surfboards, but we were lacking the tools and materials to do it properly.  Fortunately, I had budgeted about $1,200 to buy myself two new surfboards for an upcoming surf trip to Central America.  I had been researching what it takes to build surfboards, and realized I had enough money to either buy two new top-of-the-line shortboards or purchase the tools and materials to build about 6 boards.  So there I was, a recent college grad with a bachelors degree in economics doing some cost/benefit analysis.  You have $1,200 in your pocket.  What is better:  2 surfboards or 6 surfboards?  The choice was easy, so I started purchasing tools, foam, fiberglass, epoxy, and fin boxes.

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Me and the first two idol ocean surfboards in Dominical, Costa Rica.

I don’t think I really knew what I was getting myself into, but at the same time I knew exactly what I was doing – I had a dream, and it was one worth pursuing.  I had an office job doing Business Development for The Brost Clinic, my family’s chiropractic clinic, right out of university.  I tied my tie neatly every morning, arrived at my desk each day with coffee in hand, spent most my time in front of a computer, liked the people I worked with, and did good for the clinic.   During my time there, the patient base doubled, and in order to accommodate the increased patient load, I led the project of building out a new facility that was double the square footage of the clinic I first clocked into – one of my mother’s dreams which I was proud to help make a reality.  It was new and exciting.  I was learning and accomplishing.  It was fulfilling for some time.   However, it was not my dream nor my passion to work at The Brost Clinic.  If it was, I would have likely gone to chiropractic school like my mom, dad, sister, step-dad, and brother-in-law all did.

The original garage workshop (click to enlarge)

The original garage workshop (click to enlarge)

My passions happened outside of work – If I wasn’t wake surfing with my friends, I was in the garage working on boards or spending my evenings searching websites like wannasurf.com for my next surf travel destination.

If you want to be successful, find something you love and get really good at it.”

If you have followed this blog at all, you have probably noticed I love quotes.  I think the title of this blog may be my favorite quote to which I do my best to abide, but there is another quote I hold closer to my heart.  It’s something my mother said to me during my adolescent years, “If you want to be successful, find something you love and get really good at it.”  Surfboard design is something I love.  I don’t mean to gloat, but over the years I have gotten really good at it (feedback and performance from riders tells me this is true).  I can spend hours going through the relationship of rocker, rail shape, bottom contour, and fin placement in my head, the shaping bay, or on shaping software.  Wake surfing lends itself perfectly to the mad-scientist/surfboard shaper in me – it is effectively the most controlled environment in which to experiment with different surfboard design concepts.  I can put the board under my feet and feel subtle changes I put into the boards as the wave remains the same, and I can watch closely for hours from the back of the boat while my friends/lab rats test a design, analyzing how water flows and refracts around the board and fins.

Where was I going with this?  There was a point to all this… Oh yeah

“Anything worth doing, its worth doing right.” 

shapingRemember that $1,200 that I spent building my first 6 boards?   It didn’t take long before that turned into about $20,000 of debt building a couple hundred boards over the next several years.  By that time, idol surfboards was functioning as a business, just not a profitable one.  And there was a big problem: as demand and production quantity increased, quality suffered, and so did my free time.  It got to the point where I spend most my summers sanding away in the workshop, and I was forced to sacrifice nearly all of my surf time for the time-consuming build process.  In the summers the company would do ok, but my personal life would suffer.  In the winter/off-season things would slow to a crawl and idol would sink deeper in debt (but hey I got to go surfing!).  Something had to change about business operations.

I made the decision to take production to another factory in hopes that the surfboard company could continue to operate in a financially sustainable manner.  I went to Surf Expo, the world’s largest surf trade-show, in September 2013 with a specific mission in mind – find the highest quality surfboards and find out where they were made.  I would then find the best factory that fit my build criteria, and begin production on a 2014 line of surfboards.  The criteria fit the motto which founded idol – “Anything worth doing, its worth doing right.”:

  • Quality:  First and foremost I want to be building boards of the highest quality construction and shapes.  I want to do it right.
  • Integrity:  Fair and safe labor practices were prerequisite:  Since I first learned what child labor was, I have forever opposed this practice – Children are meant to play and learn, not work in factories.  There would be zero tolerance for child labor, unsafe, or unfair labor practice.
  • Profitability:  The price had to be right – It was time to turn this passion of mine into a legitimate business venture.

My first Surf Expo was a fun Surf Expo… in fact, every surf expo is fun!  It was my first one, so I had a bit of a honeymoon while I was there.  I partied hard and worked harder.  I made a lot of friends, but I also got a lot of flack as I went to every surfboard booth on site and dug my thumb into boards and scratched at pin lines to check construction quality (After building boards long enough, I am able to apply pressure to the fiberglass of a surfboard and safely estimate the amount and quality of fiberglass and foam density used for construction).  I would strike up conversations with manufacturer reps and eventually drop the question:  “Do you feel like sharing which factory you use with a young wake surfboard builder looking for a new manufacturer?”  Most of them would laugh and give me a polite version of “hell no.”  However, most of them would go on bragging about how their factory was superior to the competition, and then go on to list the factories their competition used.  I took notes and cross-analyzed everyone’s responses, and in doing so I was able to figure out which factories most major suppliers used (most people use multiple factories for various reasons).

My initial thought was that I would use a domestic factory – Factories in the US have the advantage of knowing the material quality is high and labor laws are strict and fair.  However, I quickly realized by checking prices that a domestic factory was out of the question, as the prices were too high to allow manufacturer AND dealer distribution profit margins.  After the first day I knew I would need to source boards abroad where cost of materials and labor are cheaper (you may be thinking the idea of cheap and fair labor is contradictory, but there here is a link to a previous post titled “Fair Labor Practices From my Surfboard Factory in China” which touches on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) and its effect on material and labor costs).

Like I said, I looked at every board at surf expo.  Surprisingly, the brand that I found to have the best traditional foam/fiberglass construction quality was a small SUP company from the East Coast of the US with a very simple 10×10 display, the smallest booth space available for vendors at Surf Expo.  On the first day, I complimented the owner on the incredibly quality of his boards.  Then I asked the golden question, “Which factory do you use?”

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carbon bamboo construction (click to enlarge)

He laughed at me, “Sorry I’m not going to share that information.”  I understood and carried about my business.

On the second day of Surf Expo I returned and told him, “I’ve looked at every surfboard here, and congratulations, I think you have the highest quality product at Surf Expo.  You sure you don’t want to tell me where these things are made?”

“Sorry bud, not happening.”

On the third and final day of Surf Expo I stopped by his booth again near the end of the day, well into happy hour when the kegs come out and people begin to drink.   “Seriously, I’ve checked every board twice, and you have the highest quality construction of any board here…”

Before I could ask the golden question he interrupted me with a, “You know what, I like you.”  I could tell that his happy hour had started well before most.  He was drunk.  ‘This is good’ I thought.   “I really shouldn’t do this, but I like you.” he reinforced as he picked up one of his brochures and began to write something on one of the inside pages.   I wasn’t about to interrupt him as he handed me the brochure and said, “Do not share this information with anyone, and don’t tell anyone you got it from me.”  I opened the brochure, and saw a word I didn’t recognize and an email address.  “That’s the contact info for the factory I use.  Like I said, don’t share it with anyone, and don’t tell anyone you got it from me.”

I had my golden ticket.

I was in shock.  I did not know how to respond.  All I could do was smile and say, “thank you,” as I scurried away before he could change his mind and take my golden ticket from me.

Mr. T and I (click to enlarge)

Mr. T and I (click to enlarge)

The next day I was emailing the factory, getting price quotes, and asking if they would be OK with me visiting the factory to check labor and production quality.  The prices were a bit higher than most in China, but the quality was worth it.  The person with whom I was communicating, we’ll call him Mr. T, ensured me that I would be welcome at the factory any time I wanted to come.  “Sweet!”  I didn’t know it, but it turns out Mr. T was the owner of the factory, and better yet I would come to find he is the same age as me (28 at the time) and would eventually become a good friend of mine… but that’s a whole story on its own.

I added up the numbers on what it would take to fill a shipping container, necessary to keep the freight price per board down, and quickly realized I would need a bank loan.  I went to my community bank where I had a savings account since the age of 11 and my grandmother served on the board or directors (Remember kids, “it’s not always what you know but who you know”).   They moved things along quickly as I was in a hurry to get into production.  The day they approved my bank loan, I booked a flight to china, and on the day after thanksgiving 2013, I boarded an airplane to China and traveled to Asia for the first time in my life.

I had done my homework, but I couldn’t help but be nervous as I soared across the Pacific Ocean en route to China.  I was risking a lot on this dream, but there was a certain serendipity to it all that helped to calm my nerves.

I was headed directly to my first factory choice, but I had this fear that I would walk into a factory full of child laborers.  If that was the case, I would move production to one of the more well-know backup factories that I had lined up.  Fortunately, that was not the case, and I was able to use this factory which fit and exceeded all my standards.  I arrived to China and caught a connecting flight to the airport nearest the factory.  Mr. T and some new friends greeted me with smiles as I exited the baggage claim area.  They took me to lunch, then we made the 1.5 hour drive to the factory town.

That evening, we stopped by the factory although it was closed for the evening and had tea in the office, like I would countless times thereafter.   I had made it.  I was standing at the threshold of a dream coming true, tired from jet-lag, yet euphoric; there I stood at the threshold of my dream.

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Hello from the factory!

You see, when I was a child, I was often asked, like any child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

lao tzu quote“International businessman,” was always my reply.  I’m not sure I even knew what that meant throughout most my childhood.  I was gutted when I went to college and learned that “International Business” was not a choice of major, and in fact, I don’t think I considered myself an international business person when I walked into that factory for the first time.  I was just a guy chasing a dream of owning a surfboard company, and this smallish factory in China is where that had led me (I think this proves that Lao Tzu quote to be true).  How many kids grow up to be the thing that they said they wanted to be all their life?  And how many of them are able to combine it with a dream they had in their adult life?  I don’t think many, but holy shit I did it!?

I spent the following two months in the factory over-seeing production.  I wanted to make sure that the proper processes wouldn’t be switched out as soon as I left (a common issue in outsourced manufacturing), but I watched my boards get produced alongside several other brands, and the standard processes and materials never changed.  My trust in Mr. T and his factory grew quickly.

I thought I was going there to teach them how to do it the “right way.”  That was a naive thought to say the least.  Their practices, though very similar to those I was used to doing myself, were so dialed there was almost nothing I could say or do to improve them.  I can count on one hand how many times I have taught them something they didn’t already know.  Instead, I became the student, not just in terms of surfboard construction, but in terms of every aspect of being and ‘international business person’ working with china.  Its amazing how much I have learned in the last few years.  I’m not trying to brag – I’m trying to inform you, so that if any of my friends out there have any questions about foreign production, shipping, etc etc, feel free to ask.  Well… except the golden question which is, “what factory do you use?” ;-p  (*Disclaimer – I do offer private label production, but it goes in under my order ticket to increase my volume discount)

Secret Point in Bali (click to enlarge)

Secret Point in Bali (click to enlarge)

Once my work was done at the factory, it was time to fulfill the heart of this dream – go surfing!   For those who are less familiar with ocean surfing, you may not know that Asia is scattered with world-class surf destinations.   The Mecca for many surfers is Bali, Indonesia.   Bali attracts long-fetch southern hemisphere swell.  Waves travel un-interrupted from storm systems that originate anywhere between the tip of South America to Western Australia.  Bali is littered with reef passes and beaches.  The combination of open ocean swell and some of the most exposed coastline in the world make it the ideal location to catch consistent waves year-round.

So this has become my fall and winter routine.   I go to the factory for production, then head off to Bali to score waves in a tropical paradise.  Last year and this year, instead of spending months at a time in the factory, I spend a few weeks initiating the production, head to Bali and surf, then check back in to do some quality control (QC) checks when I need to.

Right now I’m writing this post because I have some free time in the office, as I just finished submitting my final board designs.   The only thing left for me to do this week is approve a few skim board shapes that are being machined as I type.  Then, I’m delighted to say, I ship off to Bali with two brand new surfboards on Monday.  I know in my head and my heart I am doing this right, and I will continue to live by that mantra.  When you buy my surfboards, you can be assured there are no moral concessions in the name of increased profits – I found a way to turn profit but not sacrifice integrity.  It’s a lot more work than I let, but sometimes doing it the right way is a lot of work.

So here I find myself typing away in a surfboard factory office in China thinking about how, when I was a child telling people I wanted to be an ‘international businessman,’ I pictured myself in a suit and tie shaking hands with foreign people and having important business meetings in big glass high-rises in major cities.   That is not my reality.  Instead I’m sitting here in flip-flops and board shorts, and my most important meetings take place over beers or cups of Chinese tea (and a lot of emails).  Somehow, my dream came true, and it is even better than the dream I dreamt as a child.  For this I am ever-grateful to all my family and friends who helped, encouraged or just believed in me along the way.   Thank you to all of you, my noble helpers along the way.

Next post should be less formal and more awesome coming from Bali.  As for now, thank you and see you down the road :)

-Alex

Cruising Bali with good mates.  Photo: Terje Talpsepp

Cruising Bali with good mates. Photo: Terje Talpsepp

 

 


Jennifer Concienne Joins Team iDol

 

image of wake surf teamiDol Surfboards is pleased to announce that Jennifer Concienne has officially joined the Team iDol wake surf team, and we could not be more excited!  Jennifer approached us after an incredible 2014 season, where she put together an impressive string of podium finishes on both the World Series of Wake Surfing and the Endless Wave Tour (where she finished 1st overall in the Women’s Outlaw division).  This year, Jennifer will continue her quest for world wake surf domination on her new custom iDol wake surfboard with iDol support along with the support of Tige Boats and and Wakeboard & Waterski Specialty.

Jennifer recently made a trip to iDol Surf headquarters on Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota, to pick up her new board and do some wake surfing with the team.  She got on her new custom board and immediately put together an impressive run with her big airs, smooth spins, and signature style.

 

IMG_2071“We are so excited to have Jennifer on-board!” Alex Brost, iDol’s founder and shaper weighs in.  “She is an absolute shredder, and shows incredible potential to be one of the best.  Above that, Jennifer is an incredible personality, and a treat to be around – the caliber of person we seek when taking on a team rider.”

 

wakesurf-airJennifer shares, “I was drawn to iDol surfboards because of the awesome relationship that the company has with its riders. The boards are high quality and everyone from the shapers to the riders are extremely friendly and awesome to be around. When I began to show interest in riding for iDol, Alex Brost came to Colorado and watched me ride. He then took the time to personally shape a board that ideally fit to my riding level and style. My iDol was perfect for me from the start. The first day riding I was able to comfortably land all my tricks right away and even started working on new tricks. I couldn’t be happier with my decision to ride for iDol surfboards and I can’t wait for all the exciting things to come.”

 

We are so excited to have you Jennifer!  Welcome ‘on-board’!


Medina Living Features iDol’s Founder Alex Brost

**The following was content created and provided by Medina Living Magazine.  To view a PDF of the actual article, click here.**

Waking Up the American Dream: Alex Brost

By Chris Pederson

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“I was a terrible swimmer. I hated swimming, but I realized I needed to become a good swimmer to surf, and I wanted to surf and travel the world doing it.”

Meet Alex Brost, a local entrepreneur, founder of iDol Surfboards, past marketing guru for The Brost Clinic and an avid surfer. But not the conventional kind of surfing (though he does that, too). Alex is a wake surfer. Yes, wake surfer. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t feel bad, many haven’t, including Alex and his friends before they managed to accidentally “discover” it on their own over six years ago.

Creating Waves

His unassuming, calm demeanor began describing the discovery of wake surfing: “So when we put a cooler in the rear corner of a boat and piled everybody back there, we realized we could get a pretty nice little wave off the back of the boat. I also had this friend who had an old surfboard and went to school in Hawaii.  So when he came home with his surfboard in the summer, we started surfing behind the boat with the big wake and realized if we had enough people in the boat, we could actually throw the rope in [for the person to hold onto] and they could start surfing in the boat’s wake.” While chuckling a bit, “So yeah, we started wake surfing, thinking we invented the sport… but it had been around forever – well, since the ‘70s.”

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Living in the land of 10,000 lakes makes most of us familiar with wake boarding. But this is not that. In fact wake boarding is on the decline when compared to wake surfing. As Alex describes it, “One major difference between wake boarding and wake surfing is with wake surfing you do it right behind the boat,” he began. “The idea is you create one bigger wave – about waste high – on one side to create an artificial wave. You then start with a rope and ride the wave and once the wave fully sets up and you find what we call the ‘sweet spot’ of the wave, you can throw the rope back in the boat and begin surfing behind it, basically indefinitely.”

Building iDol Surfboards

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“So this is how I got into making surf boards. My friends and I thought we had invented a sport and decided that there were no good boards for it. First we made these pretty crappy plywood boards, which were essentially skim boards. Then we decided to make some foam – more traditional boards. There was a lot of watching YouTube videos and reading forums online,” Alex said. He also had met a surfer named Stefan, while surfing Lake Superior, who became a business partner and provided great guidance and teaching for shaping boards early on. Making the boards comes down to three basic ingredients: foam, fiberglass and epoxy, as well as long hours of sanding and lots of hard work. In fact, after spending much of his summers working with his team of sweat equity enthusiasts, like his best friend, Eric Oppen, building the boards by hand in his family’s garage, the orders started to pile up, and Alex decided he needed a more economical and faster way to manufacture them to fill the demand.

Scaling up Business Economics

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Given Alex didn’t want to sacrifice quality, he decided to go to the Surf Expo in Orlando for some strategic manufacturer scouting. He went prepared, stating, “I can now stick my thumb in a board and tell you how good it is based on how it flexes and what not.” Using this method he was able to find which boards he liked best. “I found my favorite companies and started asking what factories they used. Most people will never give up that information, but there was one small manufacturer there who I happened to catch during happy hour later in the show, and the guy finally gave me the information on the factory I needed.”

When Alex arrived back home in Medina from the expo, he got on the phone with the bank to get some financing for the surfboards. The day they approved his loan, he booked his trip to China. And with an economics degree, international business certificate and no formal engineering background, Alex headed to meet this elusive, high-quality surfboard manufacturer.

Maintaining Business Ethics

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However, Alex had other criteria in mind beyond just price and quality for the manufacturer. You see, back in high school, Alex had developed concerns for child labor laws and although now self-described as a raging Capitalist (a bit tongue-in-cheek), he was able to confirm that this factory had strict standards for labor conditions and safety. “They make about 500 boards a month. Small compared to many factories which may produce 10 times that many and have 25- 45 workers, working 48 hours a week (a normal full-time job in China) with two-weeks holiday for Chinese New Year, one week for Chinese National Day and some other days off.” Alex smiles, “they get more time off than anyone here I know.”

It was in 2013 when he met that manufacturer and sealed the deal. And just in time, too. He was sold out of his paddleboards a mere six weeks after his container arrived later that year.

Minnesota Surf Scene and Beyond

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Alex explained that Minnesota is slowly developing a bit of a surf culture on the foundations of stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) and wake surfing. He suspects there are about 12 events in Minnesota per year focused on those two sports.

There are two bigger wake surf events, the Minnesota Wake Surf Championship on Lake Minnetonka, which began in 2014 and the 10,000 Lakes Wake Surf Open held on the Mississippi River for the fifth year this summer – part of the World Series of Wake Surfing circuit. In 2014, Alex qualified for the World Championships at an Arizona event.

wakesurfingarticle8“I tried surfing when I was 12 in San Diego. They say you never forget your first wave, and although I took some lessons, I don’t really remember it. I knew I wanted to surf, but I really didn’t touch a surfboard again until I bought a surfboard in Lima, Peru, in 2008 and surfed up the coast into Ecuador.” When asked if he picked it up right away, he quipped back laughing, “No, I didn’t catch any waves for two weeks.”  Clearly he has come a long way in the past six years.  Although Alex believes he will always call Minnesota home, he currently spends about half of his year abroad, recently traveling to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Indonesia, among other places, this past winter to surf. So, yes, when he is not working, he is traveling to exotic locales looking for the next best break… And, doing real-world product testing for his next board design breakthrough.

One of Alex’s favorite sayings is, “If there is anything worth doing, it is worth doing right.” It seems Alex Brost is living that motto in both his personal and professional life. There are few out there who could be accused of creating their own American dream. However, I find Alex guilty as charged, and the wake he is creating in the process should carry him far in this life.

**Story by Chris Pederson of Medina Living magazine.  Learn more about Medina Living at their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/medinaliving


The End of The Road

“The quest is to be liberated from the negative, which is really our own will to nothingness. And once having said yes to the instant, the affirmation is contagious. It bursts into a chain of affirmations that knows no limit.  To say yes to one instant is to say yes to all of existence.” -Waking Life

It has been a very long time since a blog post, but when it comes to writing, I live by Henry David Thoreau’s quote “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” And I don’t like to write un-inspired. I have certainly lived an amazing past 6 months, but any time inspiration struck, I would sit down to write and find myself buried in a bottomless email inbox. Busy is good, they say, when you own your own business.  Anyways, I’m all caught up on emails (mostly) and inspired, so let’s go…

We’ve made it! We’re here. We’ve officially arrived to the middle of nowhere, the end of the road. If you know me well, it probably baffles you that I’m saying “we” while on the road – I usually travel alone. This time I brought Mr. Alex Linnell along for the ride. It’s time to move into SUP race & touring boards, and I have very little knowledge when it comes to design theory on those.  Ask me anything about surfboard, wakesurf, or surf-style SUP design, but the nuances of race SUPs are vast, and Linnell understands them well, so I took him onboard at iSurf as a shaper.

Alex, quickly becoming known around Bali as “Alex too/two”, “Other Alex” or “Gentleman Alex” (The warung ladies at Serengan call me “Handsome Alex” and him “Gentleman Alex”), has been racing SUPs and designing paddleboards for another brand for several years. He also has an incredible amount of experience with touring SUPs, as he was the first person to ever paddle the entire length of the Mississippi River on a SUP surfboard. He owns a surf shop called The Black Oar on Lake Minnetonka, and quickly became the number-one iSurf dealer during the summer of 2014. I asked Alex to design a series of race and touring boards for the 2015 iSurf line.  And he is accompanying me to Asia to make sure the factory produces the shapes to spec. As soon as we approved our final board designs at the factory, we walked back into the factory office and booked a flight to Bali for some “product testing”. We surfed several of the main spots around Bali for the first week.  Then, a Dutch friend, Robert of Surfschool Karavaan, I met surfing in El Salvador years ago invited us to G-land to catch the next incoming swell. We haggled a good deal for accommodations, and jumped on a boat two days later.

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G-Land is a 9 hour drive, or 2.5 hour fast boat ride from Kuta, Bali. It is truly one of those end-of-the-road destinations: When arriving by land, you enter the Alas Purwo National Park from the city of Grajagan (This is where G-Land gets its name). From there, 4×4 is required for two hours on bumpy jungle track to arrive at one of three surf camps. After the final surfcamp, the ‘road’ becomes a walking path to the “fishing village,” which consists of four or five lean-tos reinforced by some blue tarps. From there, the path turns right and leads out to the reef. That’s it, there is nowhere else to go, except the “Keyhole.” The Keyhole is the channel at the end of the first break, “Kongs,” where they recommend surfers paddle out. So depending on how you count it, the end of the road is somewhere between G-Land Surfcamp, and the Keyhole.

After a busy summer schedule, three weeks of working in china, ten days in Balinese tourist traps, a bad case of “Bali Belly,” and some stressful moments in my personal life, it is an incredible relief to have made it to the end of the road and forget about everything for a few days. I recall walking out the reef to take some photos on my first evening here, still feeling too week to surf from stomach sickness. There was something about this place. I felt like a Catholic man walking into The Vatican, or a Muslim arriving to Mecca, as I walked the jungle path to the point. There was something in the air.  “This is a holy place,” I thought to myself. “I wonder if a non-surfer would feel it?”

I felt revived mentally and spiritually, but physically my body was still weak. Despite this, I told my friends and myself that I would surf the next morning. I was asleep by 8:30pm that night and awoke in cold-sweats at 5:30am from Robert, the Dutchman, knocking on my door. “It looks good. The sets are big. Do you want to surf?”

“Yes.”

It was low tide, so we walked out on the reef.  I was weak, aching and incredibly dehydrated. “I’ll feel better when I get in the water,” I thought to myself. Robert and I entered the water, and began paddling to ‘Money Trees’, G-Lands most infamous left point break. We arrived at the peak and I stretched my arms a bit, I still felt miserable.

There were only four of us in the water that morning. I sat there looking up and down the reef, left hand point breaks peeling everywhere I looked. Looking back to the horizon, there, the unmistakable lines of set-waves pushing into the bay. As they approached, the first unloaded on the reef just to my south. Surfers have pretty different standards when it comes to judging a wave as “big”. To me, waves are big when the faces are clearly over my head. This first set wave was MUCH bigger than my definition of “big”. The second set wave reeled in, and I stared down its open throat, as it broke even closer to me. “Today there is no hesitating,” I thought to myself as I analyzed the hollow face of the wave.  The second wave passed under me, and I looked back to the horizon. The third, and biggest, wave of the set was lining up and putting me right at the peak (where the wave breaks initially and leaves a clean shoulder to be surfed). Often times in surfing, the surfer does not choose the wave that will be surfed. Instead, the ocean chooses the surfer who will get the wave. This was my wave. “Today there is no hesitation.” I paddled and made the drop, but what the ocean giveth, the ocean taketh away…

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I dove into the wave and tried to make it out the back. It seemed to go well – I penetrated with the dive (but not deep as to avoid the reef). I waited underwater for a few seconds and then ascended thinking I was in the clear.  I wasn’t.  It was like swimming into a giant washing machine. I tumbled and dragged for a few more seconds (when underwater, a few seconds feels like much, much more).  And then surfaced to take one more wave on the head.  The set was over, and I paddled back out feeling like a new person. All the pain, all the soreness, all the grief, every negative of my life was gone.

This is one of the amazing things about surfing – When I surf critical waves with few people around, I think and feel nothing but present and connected. While I’m riding a wave, I hear nothing. Sometimes I’ll come off a wave I rode and not even remember riding it. Something takes over, and I operate in such a present state of mind that I don’t even form memories. This is one of the great beauties of surfing – We operate in such a present state of mind, that everything outside of the here and now is completely eliminated.

I stayed out for a couple hours that morning getting several rides, and no more smashings. It was a great session for me.  Afterwards, I retired to breakfast, took a nap, ate lunch, then went out for another session at a break down the way called “Tiger Tracks” (you can imagine why).  Then it was dinner, a movie, and sleep.

So that’s the routine here at G-Land. Get some great waves. Get some great poundings. Eat good food. Drink heaps of water. We are given two sodas and two beers each day (Though I’ve been mostly opting for water to help my body recover). Bed-time is around 8:30-9pm, and first wave checks happen sometime between 5-5:30am. Not much else to do when your at the end of the road.

Feels good to write again. I’ll be back shortly with some sneak peaks at the 2015 surfboard lineup. I just had to get warmed up with something a little more creative.  Bed time here.  Another day of good waves tomorrow.  Cheers ya’ll.

 

-Alex

 


Southern Surf Fest 2014

This year’s Southern Surf Fest, on Lake Lanier near Atlanta Georgia, took place over the weekend of May 2-4 and was a huge success with most inboard surf boat manufacturers and wake surfboard companies present.

image of wake surf boats on a dock
The format if this event was simple – fill each boat with a variety of surfboards, and rotate groups of 3-4 people through each boat for two days straight.  Nearly every major surf boat company was represented. The list included Centurion, Malibu, Axis Wake, Supra, Moomba, Nautique, Tige, and MB Boats. The big Centurion FX44 and Nautique G23 were favorites going into the event, but it may be the Supra SC that turned the most heads and got the nod for best wake out of the field (or should we say river?).

picture of wake surf boat

Click to enlarge

The official results have yet to be published, but based in public opinion and personal experience, the Supra arguably produced the highest quality wake surf wake of any of the boats equipped with surf systems, but biggest remains a debate between Nautique G23 and Centurion Enzo FX44.

 

image of wake surfing grom

click to enlarge image

There were forty-some wake surfboards available for demo to the participants. Wakesurf board brands included iDOL SURFBOARDS, iSURF, Inland Surfer, Phase 5, Liquid Force, Soulcraft, Chaos, Wake Wood, Brigade, Evercarve, Walker Project, Day 1 Wake, Triple X, and LipSnap.  The favorite board amongst the smaller riders was definitely the iSURF F-Grom – every little shredder at the event was absolutely stoked on this board, and some of them were landing surf-style tricks on the F-Grom they had never completed before.

 

image of wakesurf boards

click to enlarge image

Many of the older kids, some of them well into their 50’s, claimed the iSurf Tonka Kahuna as the best board at the event.  There was even some verbal tussling at the end of the event for who would get to take home the iSURF Tonka Kahuna demo from the event. Luckily, they are readily available at idolsurf.com.
Honorable mention certainly goes to Wake Wood. These hand-crafted hollow wood core skim style wake surfboards received a lot of attention for their unique looks, and several people claimed The Big Easy and Sputnik to be their favorites of the event.
All in all, it was a fantastic event. With pro riders and coaches like Sean Cummings, Trevor Miller, and the Surf NASA crew on hand to coach riders, there was just as much fun and progression to be had. Thank you to everyone who organized and participated in this event! We’ll see you next year!


Press Release: Minnesota’s Surfboard Shapers

Local Surf Companies Growing with Lakes’ Surf Culture

Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota – March 25, 2014 – For several years, there have been a handful of Minnesotans doing the strangest of things – They have been building surfboards in the landlocked Midwest. Oddly enough, growing surf culture in Minnesota has moved some of these surfboard shapers from their garage workspaces to surfboard factories in the Twin Cities and abroad.

The advent of Stand-Up-Paddleboarding (SUP), wake surfing, and kite boarding are growing an impressive surf culture in Minnesota. SUPs are displacing kayaks and canoes, wake surfing is replacing wakeboarding, and kite surfing is overtaking windsurfing. Surfboard Shaper at iDol Surfboards and former Chair of the Surfrider Foundation MN/Superior chapter, Stefan Ronchetti, states, “Minnesota is a good place for surf culture because we are an incredibly active state. In all seasons Minnesotans have the mentality to go out and ‘do’. That is very much the ethos of surfers around the world.”

‘Riding the wave’ of growing Mid-west surf culture is local surfboard manufacturer, iDol Surfboards. iDol began modestly as a few surfers in a garage hobby-building surfboards for surfing Lake Superior and wake surfing Lake Minnetonka. However, things progressed quickly, and iDol Surfboards are now praised and distributed internationally. Today, iDol operates as a partnership between two of the Midwest’s most respected shapers, Alex Brost and Stefan Ronchetti.

All iDol surfboards are currently handmade at iDol’s St. Paul factory by Brost, Ronchetti, and their apprentice “Peru” Alvarado. In 2014, iDol is launching a partner brand, iSurf: a production line of SUP and wake surfboards, which will be available at water sports retailers across the nation. Brost says, “It’s been quite the ride. It started off just hanging out in the garage with some friends and beers, building surfboards for fun. Now, my whole life is surfboards and surfing – I’m stoked!”

Contact:

idolsurf@gmail.com

612-568-idol


Into the Mild

The journey home has begun. My flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul departs from Bangkok international Airport next week, and I’ve decided to take a brief tour of SE Asia while en route. The cheapest flight to BKK put me overnight in Singapore, which was a welcome stay-over since I made a good friend in Bali who is from here.

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Ash, like me, is not the typical native of his homeland. He is not career focused, planning a retirement, or bent on establishing ‘security’ so he can have a ‘good life’. He is a dreamer, a connector, an adventurer, and a lover of people and life – a traveler.
Last night we spent our evening doing what most travelers do when they are, or are soon to be, arriving to home port. We charted courses of action over the next few months to put ourselves back on the road as soon as possible. But like most dreamers, our plans were frequently interrupted by recalling fond memories of the good people we met along the road.
The travelers agenda at home is simple: work, but avoid a career. Love, but avoid a constraining relationship. Save money for the next adventure, but enjoy time with friends and family. And stay connected to the thing that sets you free while traveling, despite the conditioning of the traditional lifestyle and surroundings of home.
The thing that sets you free… We’re sure it’s not the places you go, but rather it’s the people you meet and the connections you make… The holy communion of the travelers’ bond. Why is this feeling so prevalent on the road, yet it is so difficult to attain in our natural habitats?
(Impossible to embed music with WordPress iPhone app, but I recommend listening to “Sets Me Free” by The Apache Relay before reading the rest of this post.)

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Today, I write this blog post while sitting in a Singapore subway train during morning rush hour. I keep looking up with my fresh-off-the-boat adventurer’s grin, but every time I make eye contact, I am met with stern face and sad eyes. I have passed by at least 1,000 people this morning, and have met only one smile (It was a young man in casual clothes holding hands with a pretty girl).
This comes in stark contrast to my last little islands of Nusa Lembongan/Ceningan, where most locals smiled and said hello as I passed to the point my face would hurt from smiling after a scooter ride to or from the farthest surf break. Why were these ‘poor’ seaweed farmers so much more happy with so much ‘less’?

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Like my home country (USA), The small island country of Singapore rewards hard work, loyalty, and dedication to a career with ‘security’. Ash and I tried to figure out what the benefit of ‘security’ is last night, but we’re lost to its purpose. The reason, I believe, is that Ash & I seek to act out of love, and never fear, and the drive for security is most likely rooted in the fear of insecurity.
In my opinion, fear-based-action is the most dangerous thing in this world to the human spirit, while love-based-action is the most essential thing to the development and sustainability of the human race. If you ask me what the meaning of life is, at this point in life I see it as this: “love based action, and appreciation/gratitude.” Simple and easy…
I’m currently reading Into The Wild, and last night on the flight to Singapore, I read the perfect quote the self-named Alexander Supertramp (McCandles) wrote in a letter to a good friend and admirer, encouraging him to leave his comfort-zone and pursue some adventure:
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit than a secure future. The very basic core of man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
-Alexander Supertramp

That’s all from this Alexander for now. Time to find my gate and make my way to Koh Phagnan, Thailand via Bankok and Koh Samui. I’m logging some serious miles this week. I’ll be home on Wednesday. Ciao~


There was once a man who became unstuck in the world

“There was once a man who became unstuck in the world – he realized that he was not his car, he realized that he was not his job, he was not his phone, his desk or his shoes. Like a boat cut from its anchor, he’d begin to drift.

“There was once a man who became unstuck in the world – he took the wind for a map, he took the sky for a clock, and he set off with no destination. He was never lost.

“There once was a man who became unstuck in the world – instead of hooks or a net, he threw himself into the sea. He was never thirsty.

“There was once a man who became unstuck in the world – with a Polaroid camera he made pictures of all the people he met, and then he gave all the pictures away. He would never forget their faces.

“There was once a man who became unstuck in the world – and each person he met became a little less stuck themselves. He traveled only with himself and he was never alone.

“There was once a man who’d become unstuck in the world – and he traveled around like a leaf in the wind until he reached the place where he started out. His car, his job, his phone, his shoes – everything was right where he’d left it. Nothing had changed, and yet he felt excited to have arrived here – as if this were the place he’d been going all along.”

Castles In The Sky

A Taylor Steele Film

 

 

The true destination of any successful adventure is ultimately home.  After a long trip, one usually arrives back with changed perspectives and priorities in life.  There is a great mental evolution that occurs when someone, of great enough fortune to travel the world, sees the stark contrast of the developing world.  There is no better way to realize ones own great fortune than to leave the resorts, walk the streets of the incredibly impoverished, speak to the 5th generation fisherman who was forced to sell his boat to buy a taxi, or refuse the drunk aboriginal beggar 50 cents towards his next pint.

(Press the play button for sound)

For a while, acculturation to the simple life of the locals is a welcome personal development experience.  However, this lifestyle begins to take its toll to the modern westerner.  For me, it is beginning to be too much.  Heat rashes, infected wounds, mosquitos, and other things that bite me in the night are becoming too much.  The daily ritual of waking up with unknown itches, trying to control infections, and avoiding mid-day heat at all costs is making this feel less and less like the dream holiday everyone imagines.

Anyone who has traveled long enough knows that a trip will end in one of two feelings: 1)  A feeling that there is much more to learn on this road and it’s too soon to leave or 2) A content ego and a longing for the people and places which create “home”.  Travel for long enough, and you’re bound to eventually make it to stage two.  I crossed that line this week.

Not to say that I am not enjoying myself.  The Indian Ocean is producing good swells this week, and the waves are pumping.  I am currently in Kuta, Bali sending off some friends and collecting my visa extension, but tomorrow I go back to the paradise island of Nusa Lembongan for more waves and good vibes.  Surf’s up and I am called to the sea.  But home is merely two weeks away, and right now that is a very welcome thought.

-Alex


Big Monday

Tomorrow is the BIG day… 6 ft at 16 seconds = double over-head barrels in Nusa Lembongan

big waves bali

“Lacerations” on a big swell

I’m currently sitting on the balcony of my hotel listening to waves detonating on the reefs of Nusa Lembongan.  It sounds like a combination of thunder and explosives, one after another, with no silence in between.  I tried to look out into the darkness to see the size, but the half-moon has not yet risen.  The roars of the ocean and the surf reports are our only indication to what we surf tomorrow.  The biggest swell of my Bali trip has arrived in the dark of tonight, and its building for tomorrow.

scratches on back

My first Bali reef bounce

Jay and I are both a bit nervous, and its obvious.  When we hear a bigger set hit the reef, we exchange semi-nervous looks and say things like “We shouldn’t have partied that hard last night.”  or “What are our safety precautions?”  We are both sitting in silence going through all the worst and best scenarios in our heads.  Long hold-downs, reef bounces, and stand-up-barrels are all possible, and they are not mutually exclusive or inclusive.  Anything is possible tomorrow.

Nusa Lembongan and neighboring Nusa Ceningan offers 4 main reef breaks, each with the potential for epic waves.  We’ve been told by a local friend to not surf Ceningan on anything larger than a 5 foot swell because the clean-out sets will be double (that means 15-20 foot rouge waves to wash you onto the shallow reef and into the punji-stick-like seaweed farms on the inside.  Thus, Cenigan is out of the question.

We will decide tomorrow between Playgrounds, Lacerations, or Shipwrecks, three quality reef set-ups out in front of the beach near our hotel.  We will balance wave quality, crowd, and risk to select the wave with the highest potential reward.

Thunder and explosions on the horizon remind us that this is real, and this is why we came here.  Time now is for sleep, tomorrow is for barrels.

-Alex


Perspectives

stars at night

copyright: Alex Brost

…. And then I walked into the darkness until all I could see above was the light of a billion stars burning billions of miles away.  Across the sea, I see the twinkling lights of “civilization.”  My perspective: civilization is proportionately the same size & brightness as the stars above, but in reality, it is exponentially smaller.

If I approach “civilization,” the city lights will down out the stars, planets, and all great things above.  What a perfect metaphor when gauging what is really important in life!

My feet, thoughts, and soul grounded on crumbling sand below and infinity above – We are truly this small when we look above and to the horizon, but all that is easily lost when we leave the darkness and step back into the artificial light of “civilization.”

(a moment of inspired thought from the beach)

-Alex


Nusa Ceningan’s “secret point”

The view from Secret Point hotel's pool

The view from Secret Point hotel’s pool

I have found paradise, and it’s on a small island near Bali called Nusa Ceningan. Everything about this place is perfect: the waves are good and consistent, the locals are friendly, the water is clear, the beer is cheap, the food is good, the sunsets are beautiful… The list goes on forever.
The two main reasons I travel are (1) to surf waves and (2) to meet people. Locals’ attitudes make or break a surf spot, and I have never met more friendly locals in my life. Every time they paddle out, they do it with a big smile and say hello to everyone in the lineup.

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Ceningan Locals

Today, I was surfing the main point at Ceningan, and Jack, a local working at the Warung (restaurant) on the cliff over-looking the break, sat on the cliff and directed traffic. He called out when sets were coming and told us, “out farther, farther, farther… Stop!” The the set would arrive and everyone would be in perfect position to take a wave. Amazing! I have never experienced such a thing. Sorry Stoney Point crew. I never thought it would happen, but I actually found friendlier locals than you guys!

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Lembongan/Ceningan bridge

Even the non-surfing locals here are all smiling and saying hello. To reach the island from Nusa Lembongan, you have to cross a dodgy bridge, which is so narrow only one moped can cross at a time. Once on Ceningan, locals smile and say hello as you pass, and kids high-5 you as you ride by on the scooter. The guide books say “this is what Bali was like before tourism.” But now there are a few boutique hotels popping up around the surf break. Let’s hope Cenican can maintain its authenticity along with its surf-side infinity pools. Ok… Time for another surf. Ciao!
-Alex


The 2014 iSurf Quiver

Here it is folks.  The first look at the full iSurf Wakesurf and SUP lineup for 2014.  I’m going to be offering some special pre-sale discounts to my friends in the next few days before I begin distributing order forms to dealers, so keep an eye on my facebook page and shoot me a message if you’re interested.  Quantities are very limited during our first year, so don’t wait to get ahold of me if you want one of these boards.

If you don’t see exactly what you want below, remember we still make custom boards to your exact liking at iDol Surfboards.  Cheers!

Wake Surfboards

 iSurf F-Grom Wake Surfboard

 

wakesurf board for kids

  • 4’0″x19″x1 3/8″
  • EPS/Epoxy construction, full/hard rails, block tail, Single-to-double concave bottom
  • 3 honeycomb/carbon fins & traction included
  • Art Design by Frankie Jost

MSRP: $449

This board is made for Groms by Groms. Speed-inducing outline and single-to-double concave make this board fast down-the-line. A forgiving thruster fin setup and hard rails help the board hold in the pocket. This is the perfect surf-style board for little shredders up to 105 pounds.

 

 

iSurf Tollie Twist Wake Surfboard

iSurf Tollie Twist Wake Surfboard

iSurf Tollie Twist Wake Surfboard

  • 4’6″x20 3/8″x1.75″
  • EPS/Epoxy/Carbon/Bamboo construction – Ultra durable & light
  • Mellow rocker, thin/hard rails, deep single-to-double concave, & squash-thumb tail
  • 3-fin plus twinzer. 5 honeycomb/carbon fins & traction included

MSRP: $649

The Tollie Pro-model wake surfboard. A combination of Tollie’s favorite features with a special “twist” make this an extremely advanced wake surfboard that is very forgiving when performing difficult maneuvers. Fast, stable, drives, and releases – this is THE board for surf-style wake surfing looking to progress their riding. Designed for beginner-intermediate riders up to 165 pounds and advanced riders with quality wakes up to 190 pounds.

 

 

iSurf Tonka Kahuna Wake Surfboard

iSurf Tonka Kahuna Wake Surfboard

iSurf Tonka Kahuna Wake Surfboard

 

  • 4’8″x21″x2 1/8″
  • EPS/Epoxy/Carbon/Bamboo construction – Ultra durable & light
  • Flattened rocker, full/hard rails, block tail, deep single-double concave
  • 3 honeycomb/carbon fins & traction included

MSRP: $599

This board has a similar outline as the iDol Surfboards “Standard Wakesurf” shape, but has been re-engineered for larger surfers. Super fast rocker, concave, & outline make this board very user friendly, and block tail will let even large surfers release off the lip for big airs. This board is ideal for beginner-intermediate surfers up to 220 pounds, or intermediate-advanced surfers up to 250 pounds.

 

 

Stand-Up-Paddleboards

iSurf 911 Fresh Surfer SUP

911 iSurf Fresh Surfer

911 iSurf Fresh Surfer

 

  • 9’11″x31.5″x4.5″
  • 23 pounds with fins
  • Surfy outline & rocker, round rails, dome deck, fish tail, double concave bottom
  • EPS/Epoxy, carbonfiber rails, hardwood stringer, bamboo deck & bottom
  • 5 fins traction, carry handle, vent, & leash plug included
  • Ultralight & durable carbon/bamboo construction

MSRP $1,179

Designed specifically for freshwater SUP surfing – wakesurfing and surfing the great lakes. Still a great flat water paddle board for smaller riders. 5-fin option: use 3 fins paddling and 4 for surfing. Good for beginners up to 165 pounds & intermediate/advanced riders to 210 pounds.

 

 

iSurf 10-6 Aloha Cruiser SUP

10-6 Aloha Cruiser SUP

10-6 Aloha Cruiser SUP

 

  • 10’6″x21.5″x4.5″ 25 pounds with fins
  • Full rails, flat deck, squash tail, double concave bottom
  • EPS/Epoxy, with hardwood stringer and bamboo deck
  • 3 fins, traction, carry handle, vent, & leash plug included
  • Available in full carbon/bamboo or bamboo deck with white, red, green, blue, yellow or pink rails & bottom

MSRP $1,049 painted / $1,199 carbonfiber/bamboo

Great introductory SUP. Designed to be stable and fast upwind/downwind or in flat water. Primarily for flat water paddling, but can be surfed. Bungee storage on deck of painted model. Good board for beginners up to 200 pounds.

 

 

iSurf 11-1 Yogi Fisher SUP

11-1 Yogi Fisher SUP

11-1 Yogi Fisher SUP

 

  • 11’1″x32.25″x4.75″
  • 27 pounds with fins
  • Boxy rails, ultra flat deck, squash tail, double concave bottom
  • EPS/Epoxy, with hardwood stringer, bamboo deck & painted rails/bottom
  • Bungee storage, 3 fins, traction, carry handle, vent, & leash plug included
  • Bamboo deck with white, red, green, blue, yellow or pink rails & bottom

MSRP $1,079

This is one of the most stable & user-friend SUP boards in the world. Designed for SUP yoga or SUP fishing or over-sized surfers. Features wide flat deck for stability, and extra long traction for Yoga. The perfect board for static SUP sports or beginner paddlers up to 300 pounds.

 


Shanghai Lights (Shang Highlights)

Overview

(Note: all images can be expanded by clicking on them)

Like a retro Eiffel Tower

Like a retro Eiffel Tower

Shanghai is known as “the Paris of the east.” This is a wild understatement. Shanghai has more people, more diversity, more culture, more lights, and more fun just to name a few things. The only thing it may not have more of is cheese, Champaign, and Eifel Towers (but it does have a pretty cool TV tower).

The city is easy to navigate by subway and walking (A GPS phone is great to help you find your way), and Taxis are cheap (But don’t expect your driver to speak a word of English or understand what you’re trying to say in Chinese).

In short, Shanghai is most westerner’s favorite city in china, and it is definitely a good place to spend a few days to decompress from the oddities the rest China offers to western foreigners.

My Experience

Sights

There are three main reasons I travel the world:

  1. Surf
  2. Meet new people and experience new cultures
  3. See and experience new landscapes

You’ll notice that visiting museums, galleries, archeological sites, and other man-made edifices are not on the list. There are plenty of things to see in Shanghai, but I don’t do a lot of sight seeing. Hence, this is short list. (This statement is slightly contradictory because I did go to Beijing specifically to see the forbidden city and great wall, but that is the next post).

SWFC

SWFC

The first thing I wanted to do in Shanghai was visit the Shanghai Financial Center and view the city from their 101st floor observation deck. So this was my first mission. According to my guidebook, on a clear day you can actually observe the curvature of the earth from up there. Unfortunately, the air pollution in Shanghai was so bad that I could only see a few miles in any direction from the observation deck. It was still a really cool experience to look down on the city form 474 meters up.

View from the SWFC observation deck

View from the SWFC observation deck

IMG_1294I spent a lot of time walking around shanghai’s old European grotto, “The Bund,” which has made a big comeback in the last decades as China has reopened to foreign investment.

I also checked out a few Malls in China (They are loaded with good restaurants). I am from Minnesota, where the Mall of America is, and I found the size and number of malls in Shanghai absolutely staggering!

Jing'an Temple

Jing’an Temple

On my last full day, I went to visit the Jing’an Buddhist Temple. It was only a couple miles away so I decided to walk. I got a bit lost, and it was closed when I arrived. However, I found a nice park across the way to snap some photos as the sun went down. On the way home, I could feel liquid pooling in my lungs like I was getting pneumonia – the air pollution is really that bad in China!

Maglev Train

Maglev Train

On my way out of town, I rode the Maglev (Magnetic Levitation) train to the airport. Instead of wheels, this train uses electromagnets to hover above its tracks. There is virtually no friction, and the train can go incredibly fast. My train zipped to the airport at 301 km/hr (187 mph). A friend told me they used to run it at 440 km/hr (273 mph), but they have toned it back, probably over safety concerns.

 

Accommodation

View out the back of the Rock & Wood hostel

View out the back of the Rock & Wood hostel

I stayed at the Rock & Wood International Hostel. This was the most modern, clean, and organized hostel I have ever stayed in (I’ve stayed in hostels in 15 countries across Europe, Central/South America, Africa, and Asia). It has everything a good hostel has – comfortable mattresses, bunks that don’t squeak, A/C & heat, wifi throughout, clean bathrooms, hot water, social space, bar, movie projector, outdoor lounge, helpful staff, and a couple of guitars to boot (I think all hostels should have at least one guitar).

People back home are always a little weary when I tell them that I prefer to stay in hostels when I travel. Most Americans’ entire perception of hostels comes from the horror movie Hostel, where American tourists are abducted and sold to murder-fetish houses in Eastern Europe. If you think this is what hostelling is like, you’re probably ignorant enough to stop reading here, and continue believing that story. I wouldn’t want you to stay in a hostel and pollute the incredibly positive, tolerant, international atmosphere with your ignorance.

In my 10 years’ experience hostelling, I have never been attacked or robbed of anything except a little sleep – Sometimes the beds move and squeak every time your bunkmate shifts, and I’ve encountered some incredible snorers along the line. These issues can usually be resolved by using earplugs and having one more drink before bed.

People

My bunkmate Mehdi

My bunkmate Mehdi

The first person I met upon my arrival to Shanghai was my Iranian bunkmate, Mehdi. As I approached our tiny 4-bed room, he was just walking through the door himself. I smiled and said, “Hello, how are you?” to find out if he also spoke English.

He replied with a handshake and a smile from ear-to-ear, “Hello! I am happy because you are smiling!”

We began with the usual “What is your name? Where are you from?” How long are you here?” questions, but we digressed quickly into deep philosophical dialogues concerning greater meanings in life. I quickly realized that we came from very different places and backgrounds, but somehow, for that week in Shanghai, we were operating in the same place physically and mentally. On one occasion, our differences in background and culture led to intense disagreement and some arguing, but it always returned to friendship, trust, and understanding.

Mehdi and I are of the same god – Our opinion what, exactly, that means may be very different, but we are both peaceful souls and students of the earth and this life. Through this perspective, we forged a great bond and walked a similar path for several days and nights. Needless to say, we learned a lot from eachother.

In the hostel I stayed in previously, I met an 88-year-old retired heart surgeon from Sweden. He had spent a great deal of his life volunteering with Doctors Without Borders, and had incredible experience to draw upon. I recall the first conversation I had with him:

The Chinese language barrier had me starved for good conversation in English. I was thrilled to hear some people speaking English in the common area in the hostel when I arrived. I walked into the room and said awkwardly, “Hi, I’m Alex!”

Rolf returned with, “Hey Alex, where do you come from?”

“USA,” I replied.

“USA? Get the hell out of here! We don’t want talk to you!” He it said in a tone that I wouldn’t realize was a joke if he didn’t smile and start laughing immediately after.

I told him to “Bugger off!” in an attempt to prove my international travel proficiency and asked him where he was from.

“Sweden,” he told me. Excellent – I had him right in my crosshairs.

“Hjavla Svenskor!” I shouted at him. “Fan med dig!” That translates to, “Damn Swedes… Fuck you!”

I was born in Sweden and spent my younger years speaking Swedish and English at home. This leaves me with the unlikely ability to call out Swedish jerks and hit on Swedish girls in their native tongue – A huge benefit on both ends while traveling internationally.

My conversation with Rolf moved quickly to hugs and admissions that we were both a bit on edge because we’ve been unable to speak and joke in our native languages for so long. He had spent a great deal of time in New Zealand, and missed “taking the piss” out of his friends. He welcomed the opportunity to joke back and forth with somebody who understood kiwi humor.

I went on quite the tangent there… The point I was trying to make was that he said something incredibly simple, but gloriously intelligent in our first conversation there. I sat in the hostel common space with two Chinese people, a fellow Swede, and a student from Bangladesh. Rolf expressed seriously and with great empathy,

“I can’t stand it that people in this world try to solve their differences by killing each other. The more different people are from you, the more potential there is to learn something from them, and if you kill them, you can’t learn anymore from them.” The Chinese people didn’t speak much English and didn’t quite understand, so Rolf clarified to them. “You and I are very different. That means we can learn a lot from each other, but if I kill you, I can no longer learn anything from you.”

While Rolf clarified, I looked across to my new Muslim/Bangladeshi friend. Our eyes met as we nodded in agreement to Rolf’s words. Our eyes spoke a silent understanding – Yes, we are from cultures that have been at odds for hundreds of years, but we are beyond that. We lead lives of peace and hope for a better world.

I’ve been around. I’ve met people from Kansas to Kazakhstan, but I have never met someone I wished violence upon. Nor do I think I have met someone who wished violence upon me. Rolf’s simple words of genius can only be backed up by the words of another old wise man: “Peace cannot be kept by force, but it can only be achieved by understanding” –Albert Einstein.

Wow… I really lost myself there. This is going to be a long post. Back to Shanghai:

Through the hostel and a few choice oases, I made some great friends. It’s probably easier to just list the ones that I want to remember. I like to make a list of people and occurrences after each city I visit, so I won’t ever forget my friends and experiences around the world.

• Nathan: A Hawaiian living and working in shanghai as a distributor for Santa Cruz surfboards, skateboards, and snowboards across Asian Markets. I met him at a Reggae show that Mehdi and I stumbled across my first night in Shanghai. His wife was the backup singer – it was a great show!

• Mike and Luke: Brothers from Ohio. One in China working for an international acquisitions firm from Brazil. The other in Shanghai teaching coaches basketball coaching strategy (NBA is huge in China, and china has more youth basket ball players than the rest of the world combined).

• Alex and Sebastian (Seabass): Danish dancing dudes. These guys were taking a break from studying Kung Fu elsewhere in China. Alex, Sebastian, Mehdi, and I went out dancing at several of the best clubs around Shanghai almost every night. We made a good team. Usually we would arrive back at the hostel between 6-8am the following morning.

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Eva & Anuli

• Eva and Anuli: East coast American girls teaching English in China. We met via dance-off while closing down a club at 5am with Mehdi, Alex & Seabass. They joined our crew afterwards at the convenience store for some snacks and dancing (Yes, in the supermarket). They joined Rina’s family and I for Christmas mass at a Chinese church, and we had a Christmas dinner and drinks together afterwards.

• Ivon: An Australian/Chinese guy who invited me over for his “Orphan Christmas Party” he hosted for people who were away from their families for the holidays. Unfortunately, I missed the party because I went to church & dinner with other friends, but I met up with him at Perry’s (everybody’s favorite college bar) afterwards for a beer and some games.

• Ana: Uruguaya muy linda sourcing textiles for a Uruguayan clothing company. I met her when Mehdi left me alone at a bar late on Christmas night. She has been working in Shanghai for 8 months, and was able to teach me a lot about sourcing in china. Ana was super easy going, showed me incredible hospitality, and there was something very familiar about her, which was welcome in this strange land on Christmas. She even let me do laundry at her apartment before I left, which is one of the nicest things you can offer a backpacker.

Rina!!!

Rina!!!

• Rina, Ralph, and James: Rina is my classmate from the University of Malta. She invited me to spend Christmas with her family. Her husband, Ralph, and son, James, were an absolute treat to spend time with. They invited me for dinner and church on Christmas Eve, and lunch on Christmas Day. I learned a great deal from them all. Surprisingly, one of my favorite lessons of the trip came from four-year-old James. When Ralph asked James if he and I were friends, James replied with, “No.”

“Why not James?” Ralph asked his son.

“Because Alex is Mommy’s friend.”

My feelings were a little hurt at first, but I realized his confusion and said to him, “You know, James, we can all be friends. You, me, mommy, and daddy!” It was in this moment I realized that the Keynesian economic principle of scarcity cannot be applied to love and friendship. Unfortunately, keynesians run the world, and I fear that, like James, they might be applying the “law” of scarcity to love and friendship. This might explain why there is so much suffering in the world.

 

Happy Merry Christmas

I wrote the following post on Christmas Day, but I never go around to proof reading or posting it.  Chinese people know the phrase Merry Christmas from marketing promotions.  However, many of them think the name of the holiday is “Merry Christmas.”  This led to a lot of people saying things like “Merry Christmas is tomorrow!”  or “Happy Merry Christmas!”  I thought it was hilarious.  Anyways, here is a belated Christmas post:

25 December 2013, 11:01pm – Shanghai, China

Today is Christmas, and I am in China. This is the first time in my life that I am away from my family for Christmas, and I am definitely missing our tradition. Instead of swedish meatballs, ham, and potatoes at my mother’s house, my christmas this year consisted of friendship, nightclubs, untraditional holiday food, and lack of sleep at my hostel in Shanghai.

I am fortunate to have an old classmate who lives in Shanghai with her family, and they were kind enough to invite me to join them for their Christmas celebrations. I am incredibly grateful to have so many friends around the world who are always happy to invite me into their homes, and Rina’s family has been exceptionally wonderful and welcoming. Last night, I had Christmas dinner with them, and we attended Christmas mass at St. Peter’s Church in Shanghai. I also had Christmas lunch with them today at their apartment in Shanghai.

After lunch today, I took a short siesta because I have spent the past two nights out dancing until the wee hours of the morning with my hostel bunk-mate, Mehdi, an Iranian man of mystery who I could write a whole book about, but in short: He is unlike anyone I have ever met, he dances more uniquely and frequently than anyone I have ever met, and he always says what he thinks and seems to be having continuous revelations that reveal deep lessons in regards to the meaning of life.

Anyways… after my nap, I decided to treat myself to pizza at Shanghai’s best pizza place, Pizza Marzano. I LOVE pizza, and there is not pizza place in the town where my surfboard factory is. While I was waiting for my food, I was reading through Christmas messages from my friends and family, and I was hit by a wave of Melancholy. “What am I doing here?” I thought to myself as I sat on a cold patio eating Pizza alone for Christmas dinner. I’m thousands of miles away from the people I love most on a holiday that, to me, is purely about the blessings of friends and family.

Luckily, technology allows us to communicate across the world. I was reminded by a wise friend via Whatsapp message that this is part of a dream I have dreamt for a long time – “You sleep in the bed you make.” This made me feel a little better, but I was still pretty bummed and decided to walk it off.

I strolled through “The Bund,” Shanghai’s most westernized district, with a grande soy hot chocolate from Starbucks in hand. I was surrounded by about 24 million people, yet I felt incredibly alone. I simply could not shake a feeling of misery.

About halfway through my walk, I finally got the reality kick-to-the-face that I needed. As I was about to ascend the stairs of a sidewalk overpass, I saw a man lying at the base of the stairs, face to the ground, shivering, begging, praying for change. I was emotionally frozen, but continued past not knowing how to respond. When I reached the other side of the overpass, there was another man in a similar position begging for change. Shortly thereafter, another homeless man with white hair down past his shoulders and no shoes on. “How dare I be cold in my thermal hoodie and Northface Jacket,” I thought to myself.  I continued on and found myself walking through a subway tunnel.  I noticed a man looking over my shoulder with a look of sympathy on his face like nothing I have ever seen before.  I looked to where his eyes gazed, and saw a mag that was either a severe burn victim or an Agent Orange child.  He was also begging for change, but with the most hollow eyes I have ever seen.

This is when it all came together for me. I am among the most fortunate people in the world in terms of friends, family, health, and opportunity. I am not with my family and friends this Christmas, but I am blessed with the choice and ability to pursue my dreams to the most distant shores. And I have done so under my own will. Instantly, my melancholy turned to gratitude and appreciation for the gifts I have been given.

My Christmas was really made when I arrived back to the hostel in time to Skype my family while they ate Christmas Breakfast. My sister has a lazy susan/turntable on her dining table, so they placed the iPad on it, and I was rotated around the table to have individual face-to-face conversations with my family as they waited for breakfast to be served. I got to pop into the kitchen and chat with my dad while he made eggs, and my niece, Rhian even showed off her Ice Princess dress for me.

I think the best part was watching my 15-month-old niece dance to my cover of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. I didn’t know what to get for my mother this Christmas, so I recorded the most christmassy song I know and sent it to her. She plugged her iPhone into a stereo and played it for everyone.  Apparently my little niece loved it!  Here is a link to the song if you want to here it:

Merry Christmas everyone.  Thank you for your support and helping me achieve my dreams.  So much love!   -Alex


A Moment of Inspiration

I meant to spend my Saturday night catching up on emails and optimizing thebrostclinic.com, but then I got distracted by a lesson from a friend. “Huni” told me that the universe vibrates at 432 hertz, which is the tonal equivalent of a Bminor chord. I recalled hearing that our planet, Earth, vibrates in the tonal equivalent of a C chord, so I picked up my ukulele, which hasn’t been tuned in 2 weeks, and tried the two chords together.  They sounded nice together.  Then inspiration struck.  Within 30 minutes, I had composed an entire song, lyrics and all.  I don’t really know where it came from, but that is the cool thing about inspiration – Sometimes it just happens. I haven’t composed a song so fast since I was about 17 years old.  I like it, so I thought I’d share: