Category Archives : Travel


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

 

 


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.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

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

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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!


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


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:

 


Simple Comforts

There are many things you realize about life when you leave the comforts of home and travel to a place where the simple luxuries in life are not always available.  One of the major things I have realized in my journeys is that there is little worry over basic human needs in the USA.  If you are from a developed country, which you probably are if you’re browsing the internet right now, there is almost no chance you are concerned about your basic human needs:  i.e. you don’t have to worry about where you will find shelter tonight, if you can eat tomorrow, and whether you can find suitable clothing and accommodation to keep you warm.

my little friend

my little friend

On monday, I came home from the factory and found my apartment to be no more than 45 degrees fahrenheit (about 7 degrees celsius), and it is not equipped with heaters.  I looked up the weather on my phone and found that, for the next week or so, it should be near freezing temperatures in this town every night.  I immediately walked to Walmart (There are about 400 locations in China), and purchased a small space heater for ¥49.00 ($8.00).  This little heater has become my new best friend and greatest fire hazard.

This is my second winter living in a cool, damp climate without heat – I experienced a very similar winter in Malta last year.  People from my hometown in Minnesota, where it is currently 18 degrees fahrenheit (-8 C), often express jealousy that I escape the cold Minnesota winters so frequently.  Tonight, I sit here wrapped in down blanked, wool socks, and pajamas.  I’m huddled close to the heater wishing there was a better way to warm my core.

Then I think about the fact that it has rained for three consecutive days here.  All around me people are going about their daily routines, buzzing around on mopeds, carrying buckets of water and supplies on their shoulders, and walking the streets in sandals in this cold damp climate.  I know a lot of these people do not have little space heaters, nor can they afford them or the electricity to operate such a thing.  I realize how fortunate I am to be able to go to the store and buy a heater when I need it and pay for the electricity to operate my little friend to keep me somewhat comfortable.

Its amazing how basic necessities are not even considered by so many people, and to others, finding food and warmth are among their only concerns.


Its Not Easy Being Green

I’ve been in China for two weeks now, and I’m beginning to get a grip on what my reality is and will be here.  One thing is becoming very apparent – I do not fit in.  I’ve never been into conformity.  In fact, I’m quite the individualist.  I’ve always held a strong belief that beauty stems from uniqueness, but my experience in China is beginning to make me realize that too different can be uncomfortable.  Let me explain:

Aside from a 2 day visit to a larger city, I have spent every day in a small town where my surfboard factory is (by the way, a small town in china can have over a million residents).  In my first 2 weeks here, I have not seen another non-asian person.  When I am out and about, I am always the only white person in the room, and the next tallest person might be about chin-height to me if they really stretched their neck.  Also, Aside from 3 people I know with limited english vocabulary, it is impossible for me to verbally communicate with anybody.  Basically, I may as well be a giant green frog croaking his way through life here in China (queue the music).

Now, I have always been one for a good challenge – I even bought a pair of shoes in the market yesterday knowing only how to say “四-四” (“four-four”), as in my european shoe size is 44, but I am beginning to grow tired of constant stares and people randomly saying “Hi” to me without being able to speak another word when I try to converse with them.  I’m in the most populated country in the world, and I’ve never felt so isolated in my life.

 

"Blending in" - Atacama Desert, Chile

“Blending in” – Atacama Desert, Chile

Now, I have done a lot of traveling in my life, and one of the things that has always made it comfortable it that I’m a bit of a chameleon.  Like most Americans, I am an ethnic mutt.  My mother is a brown haired, brown eyed Swede, and my dad is a dark haired, blue eyed… who really knows, mostly german I think.  This has left me with brown eyes, a big nose, quickly tanning skin, and medium-dark brown hair (what’s left  of it).  The bulk of my travels have been in Latin America and Europe, and in these places, if I speak softly, I look ethnically vague enough that people passing in the street can easily mistake me for a local.  This is a huge advantage when traveling, especially in underdeveloped countries, as I do not worry much about being targeted by criminals, much less solicitors.

This experience in China has offered me a very interesting perspective on life – one that I have not had the chance to entertain before since I can usually fit in.  I am different… really different… so different that nearly everyone I pass in the street stares,calls out to me something that I don’t understand, or even snaps a photo of me walking by.  I’m not shy.  I am incredibly confident in my skin, but this is beginning to become uncomfortable for me.  At first, I would use my peripheral vision to notice the stares, and quickly look at them and “bust them” for staring at me.  Now, I walk around with my head down to avoid the awkward eye contact and looks.

Deep down inside I feel terrible – not because I know they’re judging me based on my looks, but because I know I have looked and judged others in the past.  Today I scorn myself for any time I was looking at somebody because they were different, especially if their eyes met mine while I gazed upon them.  It is not a good feeling to be looked at or pointed out for being different.  Take it from me – the only green person in this village in china.


The Young Man and the Sea

<–This post has music: Seaside by Kultiration.  Press play if the song didn’t autoplay.

image of beach where I said my surf prayer

The Beach / My Church

This weekend, the factory owner took me to his hometown in coastal China.  As part of my tour he and his friends took me to a small island outside of town.  We walked narrow winding streets where vendors sold fresh fish, seafood, pearls, and other ocean fairing goods.  As dusk began to approach, we found ourselves walking the boardwalk of a small tourist beach.  I told them I wanted to check the water temperature and walked down to the shoreline.  This would be the first time I felt seawater since I moved home form Malta.  I went past the high-water mark and dug a small hole in the sand.  Soon thereafter, a small double-up wave pushed ashore and filled the hole with salt water.  The water was cool and dirty.  Nonetheless, I wiped some of it across my brow and spent a moment with our mother ocean.

I stood up and approached my new group of friends, who I didn’t realize had followed me onto the beach.  Cissy (pronounced sea-sea) smiled at me and said, “you could write a book called The Young Man and The Sea.”  She, like most people I have met in China, carefully observes my actions as the culture gap makes for good entertainment.  By the way she had said it, I could tell she knew I was doing more than just checking water temperature.  I chuckled at her statement, and we continued as a group back to the boardwalk.

What Cissy observed was a ritual I have developed during my surfing career.  This ritual is something in-between a communion and baptism that I usually perform before or during every surf session.  I find it relaxes me and brings me to the present moment, which is especially important when the waves are big or I’m surfing a more dangerous break.  The ritual begins with me splashing water on my face or submerging it in the water.  As I do this, I go through a thought process thinking something along the lines of:

“The earth is composed of approximately 70% water, and so is the human body.  My blood, sweat, and tears are no different than the liquid that surrounds me.  The ocean pumps through my heart and veins. Water, you and I are one in the same.  My body is more you than anything else on earth, so take me kindly and let me experience your awesome power.  When I am done, return me safely to the shore, for you are the essential life giver and keeper.”

Instantly, I feel connected to the fluid which surrounds me, and any fear turns to understanding.  It’s really amazing how relaxing this practice can be when paddling out into larger surf where controlling heart rate, breathing, and oxygen consumption can mean the difference between life and death.  “I am the ocean, and the ocean is….” I have written that phrase on the stringer of every ocean surfboard I have ever shaped for myself.  I also put a little “70%” near the nose, so if I’m paddling head-down from exhaustion, I see it and remember to stay calm, connected, and in the present moment.

From the small island we went back to mainland and had dinner, then did Asian-style karaoke (private room with just our friends), and went on to one of the coolest nightclubs I have ever been to.  It was certainly an eventful and fun weekend.

The bus ride back to the factory town made for good sight-seeing.  It was a double-decker bus, and we had front seats on the upper deck.  Minus a slight hangover, I was enjoying the long ride home, but things took a somber turn as we reached our town.  Up the road, I could see an accident had just occurred.  Debris was scattered for about 35 feet in the right lane of the four-lane highway, and people were getting out of crashed cars as we approached.  Then ahead, a sinking feeling, a motorcycle lay on its side in pieces.  Next to it, an old woman and young boy sat bloodied, but upright and conscious.  The woman was crying hysterically, while the boy, no older than five, stared blankly into the street.  In front of the motorcycle, a man laid on his belly, his face lay sideways as we passed.  I will never forget his face.  One would expect the tragically deceased to bare an expression of terror or pain, but his face looked peaceful like he was gently dozing while dreaming pleasant dreams.  I looked again to the old woman.  I have never seen such agony – today was surely the worst day of her life.

Judging by the situation and their relative ages, the old woman, her son, and her grandson were all aboard the motorcycle when a vehicle struck it (riding on motorcycles and scooters with up to 5 passengers is common practice in developing countries).  We reached the scene no more than a minute after the tragedy occurred, so the man must have died on impact.  Today, that old woman lost her son, and that boy lost his father.

photo of sunset from bus

Melancholy Sunset

Those of us on the bus who witnessed the scene looked at each other and shook our heads – there are no words to be said in a moment like this.  For the short remainder of the ride, we all gazed silently ahead at the beautiful sunset before us.  It’s amazing how all your thoughts and perceptions can change in an instant when confronted by the reality of life and death.  I reflected on how fortunate I am to be alive leading this dream life.  But at that moment, I was most grateful for the blessing of a healthy family, whom has always been there with smiles and hugs when I return home from my adventures.

Traveling not only brings me places physically, but I often reach distant mental and emotional destinations.   It’s amazing how traveling far away will teach you the true value of the things you left behind.  To those of you who are at home right now with family and life-long friends – let me remind you, as today has reminded me, that there is no greater thing in this world than the good fortune of loving and being loved.  So if you are fortunate enough to be in the presence of loved ones today, I encourage you to take a moment and share your love and gratitude with them however you feel is appropriate.

 

Much love,

Alex


Ever have a friend that good?

This is an email that I just wrote.  I thought it really captured what a truly amazing thing friends are, and I think the most important thing to do in life is share love and gratitude.  I’m also having an issue loading images on here, so I can’t post what I wanted to but wanted to post something.

“So I’m having one of those days when everything seems to fall to pieces… Everything is great here in China, but things back in the states are slightly out of control and there is little I can do from here except send emails.  I also woke up from a dream I didn’t want to have, and my day just started in a really weird mood (This dream was of an ex – a great dream, but waking up alone felt like a nightmare in itself)… Anyways, I decided to write you for some advice or words of encouragement or just to have a dialogue to figure things out.  The amazing thing is… as soon as I started typing your name into the “To” bar, everything made sense in my head and nothing seems that bad anymore.   How do you do this?!!  You always seem to bring clarity. Even without your physical presence or words, today you brought clarity to my life.  And for that I thank you.”

-A-