These days, you can find me by the sea. I sit on my board, waiting for that final wave—drifting as the sun drops below the horizon and paints the water with hues visible only to those in the water. I am tired, my body is sore, my skin is crisp from the harsh Indonesian sun, but I am happy. One last wave. One last wave, I tell myself. Then, just as the light of day is usurped by evening’s darker hues, I paddle into that one final surge and am pushed into motion.
I grew up in Minnesota, far from the ocean. Skiing became my passion. After high school, I moved to Colorado and spent eight years skiing, high on life in the mountains. For a long while, it filled me. But along the way, something inside me changed and enjoyment waned. I worked long hours just to afford the pace I’d set for myself. And I allowed the industry and the people surrounding me to rob me of joy. I stopped skiing to my potential and progressing the way I wanted. Relationships were broken—and I became negative toward everything. Ultimately, I allowed the bitterness to grow inside toward a sport that had been my life.
Nearly 2 years ago, I stopped skiing all together. I knew I needed to make a change before my negative frame of mind became my prison. I let go of everything and escaped to Indonesia—with only my camera and a few other possessions. Bali was about as far away from home as I could possibly get– which at the time I needed. My goal was to use photography as a means of exploring the possibilities the world offers.
Surfing intrigued me from the start. I yearned for something new to grab a hold of me and pull me. But the Indonesian waves seemed no match for my inexperience and I held back. By the time my two months in Bali were drawing to an end, I was healthier and happier—but I was still hungry for something that could fill the hole that skiing had left in my heart and mind.
I returned home and worked enough to travel to Central America with a longtime friend. After making my way through several countries, I ended up in Nicaragua, another surfing mecca I knew little about. It was hard to miss the irony of once again finding myself in a world class surf community. But again, I failed to use it to my advantage.
After that trip, I spent several months in Alaska, working on a friend’s boat, seining for salmon. This funded trips back to Nicaragua and Bali. This time, my plan was to immerse myself in surfing—both as a sport and as a photographer. Something inside of me just couldn’t let go of the call to surf.
I left for Nicaragua wide-eyed and open-minded. My friend Braxton, a talented surfer, accompanied me. I also got acquainted with a local surfer, Tito. Day after day, I experimented with my camera—seeing the water through their eyes, becoming intimately acquainted in this way with the sport I was so curious about. I came to understand the ocean, how waves form and how the light plays upon it, and how to capture its beauty with my lens.
My time in Nicaragua came to a close with a hard drive full of photos, one badly infected ear drum, and a handful of new friends. But something was still missing. Looking back now, I should have put my fear behind me and put myself in the hands of people who could have taught me to surf. I had discovered my passion for surf photography, but I craved the rush and freedom that I had known as a skier.
When I returned to Bali, I told myself I wasn’t going to spend my time partying. My goal was to buy a board and throw myself into learning the sport that I had been observing for the past year. And I did just that. I bought a 6’2 Quad Fin Fish. She was beat up and well-used. I spent every day in the water, dawn to dusk, learning how to surf. I quickly understood that the power of the Indonesian waves is far different from the surf in Nicaragua. Here, sharp reefs were just a few feet below you–sometimes inches—and the surfers themselves are far more aggressive than those in Nicaragua.
At first, I was my own teacher—and I learned by I observing others. I knew from the start to stay out of the way of the seasoned surfers—both from etiquette and to bolster my own confidence. I went out at dawn so I could have the waves to myself. I got tossed over and over again as I learned the movement of the waves. I understood how crucial it was to control my thoughts and concentrate. And I fought the constant battle between getting up and giving up.
After a few weeks, I linked up with a couple of English lads who helped me progress to the next level. Every day when I went home, my feet and body were cut up from the reef— and I was tired and frustrated. But I remembered what it was like for me when I first started to ski. You fall, you get back up, and you try again until it works. And finally, it did. My muscle memory kicked in. Drops became easier and pretty soon, riding a wave was pure and simple freedom.
For me, skiing had been marked by friendship, freedom, and joy. Somewhere along the way, however, I lost sight of that and allowed my negative outlook to impact myself and those around me. In retrospect, I can see that I needed to refocus and remember how to appreciate the simple things in life. The vastness of the ocean and a small board has taught me that.
These days, you can find me by the sea. I sit on my board, waiting for that final wave–drifting as the sun drops below the horizon and paints the water with hues visible only to those in the water. I am tired, my body is sore, my skin is crisp from the harsh Indonesian sun, but I am happy.