Now Snatch the Grasshopper from my Hand

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They all look a little goofy when you first see them: A group of adults crawling on all fours, dodging wooden doles with slow-motion Matrix moves. To a passerby, it would be easy to mistake them for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon enthusiasts. In fact, these fitness classes are practicing a type of movement known as the Ido Portal method, which—goofy as it may seem— UFC featherweight and lightweight champion Conner McGregor uses to train for fights. 

The philosophy behind the Ido Portal method is a combination of health, aesthetics, performance, and art, and it was recently brought to our town by way of Santa Cruz Movement. “We want to teach our students to be springy,” says instructor and co-owner Leela Kalow. While the classes incorporate standard exercises like pull-ups, many of the movements emphasize typically overlooked benefits like wrist and ankle mobility.

Early in my first class, I was instructed to stand on one foot and was met with what felt like a sea of bouncing tennis balls that I had to snatch from the air. After I stumbled and lost my balance for the third time in a row, any preconceived notions of goofiness quickly gave way to ice-cold focus. After a series of equally frustrating Karate Kid-style exercises, I felt my fast-twitch muscles start to fire and a bead of sweat drip down my face. As an athlete whose ego admittedly flares when tasked with such drills, it’s a familiar habit to grit my teeth and attempt to push through the same way I would in a CrossFit class. The Ido Portal method, however, demands a level of attention to detail that forced me to slow down and breathe—neither of which have ever come naturally to me. 

I can’t speak to fighting in the UFC, but when it comes to the sport of surfing, it’s rarely the large muscle groups that fail first. If a surfer couldn’t stick that airdrop at Mavericks or fell coming off a floater at the Lane, it was probably because they lost their balance and not because of their quad size. Training fast-twitch muscles is the oil that allows the engine to run smoothly—and being labeled a "smooth" surfer is one of the highest forms of praise. Surfing smoothly requires dancing with the wave rather than forcing yourself on her. It requires a level of grace that is often overlooked in a culture that is obsessed with becoming bigger, stronger, and faster. Paradoxically, though, the fastest surfers are also the most graceful. 

I didn’t feel gassed after the class, but more like I was ready to hit the waves or even attempt a breakdancing move. “And that’s the point,” says Kalow, “Whether you’re a dancer or a surfer or a fighter, we want the classes to prime you for what you love to do.”

Localism 2.0

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Growing up in Santa Cruz, I was taught to treat transplants with the same amount of respect as gum stuck to my shoe. I watched as their one-wheel electric skateboards, Costco soft-tops, and $7 lattes eroded my beloved surf culture like the winter swells that batter West Cliff Drive.

Rather than defend my local brethren who perch themselves on the railings of our crumbling cliffs, though, let me step down from my racehorse named Entitlement and, for the sake of argument, play the transplants’ advocate. After all, the question of “who deserves the set wave all depends on how you rank hierarchy.  

Right now, status is determined by the amount of years a surfer has dedicated to a given break as well as the surfer’s skill level. What if, however, status was determined by the level of sacrifice a surfer had undergone to be at the wave? Remember that the transplant took the initiative to relocate his or her entire life in order to enjoy the same waves that I was born into. Using this logic, all I had to do was not die in order to ascend my way up the totem poll. The transplant, however, exercised true grit. 

Although it would be funny to hear people plead their versions of “I walked 20 miles in the snow to get here” in order to gain status, systems that reward martyrdom don’t tend to bring out the best in us. That is why I propose a new system to structure hierarchy that is designed to bring forth our highest selves—let’s call it Localism 2.0.

Localism 2.0 is a model that would determine status in a lineup based on community engagement. That latte-drinking Netflix engineer could quickly rise through the ranks if they clocked enough hours at The Needle Exchange or volunteered at The Homeless Garden Project. Similarly, a local like moi could secure set waves as long as I volunteered with Ride A Wave or went grocery shopping for my 90-year-old neighbor, Gloria. If a dispute broke out in the water it would be solved with a swift tally of community-service hours. “Hey kook, you snaked me on that last wave!” one surfer would shout. “Screw you man, that wave was mine.” The other would shout back, “I spent nine hours cleaning up plastic bags along San Lorenzo River last week!” 

Rather than passively grumble about our meth epidemic, Localism 2.0 would incentivize locals and transplants alike to get involved. Before long, San Fransisco and Los Angeles would take notice of our success and the model would spread across seas until even the most colossal issues of our time were being spearheaded by surfers and the Dali Lama himself would kiss my forehead and grant me his most holy medallion to honor my brilliant idea.

But, until that day comes, when you hear me hooting, stay off my wave, kook. 


Sit Down and Shut Up

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A friend told me to shut the fuck up, so I did. For a week. 

Last March at Mount Madonna Center I meditated from 8 a.m - 9 p.m for a week straight with breaks only for meals and exercise. After having listened to dozens of podcasts with successful artists, entrepreneurs, and athletes who talk about meditation like it’s the ark of the covenant, I figured it would be worth a try. 

Much like a bee keeper who becomes allergic to bees later in life, growing up in the miasma of charged crystals, reiki healers, unhygienic yogis (aka Santa Cruz) I have developed an auto-immune disorder to anything that seems like magical thinking. Admittedly, this tendency is unwise because my skepticism can easily become close-mindedness and I risk writing-off legit stuff like turmeric and breath-work.

Luckily, about a year ago I found a very un-wooey app called Waking Up and have used it to meditate most mornings for 10 minutes before I start my day. Within the first 20 seconds of attempting to meditate I usually have the insight that my mind is completely out of control. Like a dog chasing cars, my mind becomes possessed by the next thought that captures my attention, and it’s not until the teacher’s voice comes through my headphones that I am reminded that I am supposed to be meditating. The ark of the covenant that so many meditators allude to is the ability to train your dog to watch the cars drive by without leaving the porch.

It has always struck me as odd that so few of us will spend even one full day of our life in silence. When I removed all stimuli from my life for a while areas of my mind that typically remain dormant become available. Most notably, the ability to pay attention. Sam Harris, the meditation teacher in the Waking Up app, repeatedly says that boredom is just the inability to pay attention. I can attest that given the right amount of concentration, a task as simple as following your breath can become as captivating as bungee jumping. After all, bungee jumping and following your breath are both just experiences that focus your mind. 

I could get all holier-than-thou and tell you about my spiritual journey and the insights I had on retreat (translation: I’m better than you) but then I would be no more enlightened than the magical thinkers I love to poke fun at. So I’ll close with this somewhat depressing thought instead: I have missed most of my life. For the majority of my waking hours, my attention has been hijacked by events that have happened or I believe are bound to happen. These thoughts include people who have wronged me, fantasies about women, the upcoming swell, and arbitrary comparisons to others. The most pernicious aspect of these stories is that I am generally unaware that they are robbing me of the present moment. Experienced meditators like Yoda and Adayashanti can cut through these stories and pay attention to the now, and if the act of sitting down and shutting up can help me miss less of my life, then sign me up. 

High Hopes - Can Psychedelics Fix Our Mental Health Crisis?

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Publication: Santa Cruz Waves

By Kyle Thiermann

Tim Ferriss is not the type you will find tripping to a light show at a renegade party in the redwoods or hula-hooping in Lighthouse Field. The scrupulous author cuts down intellectual laziness at the knees and often professes that he is allergic to the holier-than-thou Burner type. So it may come as a surprise that he recently donated $1 million to psychedelic research. His reasoning had little to do with a pseudo-spiritual reverence for tripping, and everything to do with healthcare—namely, mental health.

“Our mental health system is badly broken,” Michael Pollan told Ferriss on his wildly popular podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show. Pollan, named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, had recently released his latest No. 1 New York Times bestseller How To Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. “If you compare mental health to any other branch of medicine, mental health fails abysmally. It’s remarkable what a pathetic track record it has. The fact is rates of depression, suicide, and addiction are skyrocketing. So there’s a real crisis.” (Read More.)

The Blame Game: If A Tragedy Occurs In Big-Wave Surfing, Who’s At Fault?

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Publication: Adventure Sports Network

By Kyle Thiermann

As big-wave phenom Albee Layer kicked out of a wave at Jaws on the last swell of the year, he looked out the back and saw 15 or so waverunners floating in the channel - the majority of which had photographers perched on the back of them.

"This year at Jaws there were 60 surfers in the water and like two skis running safety," Layer told ASN. "The other skis were driving photographers ... This is unacceptable, it's unsafe, and it's downright stupid."

Although the risk in big-wave surfing has been partially mitigated in recent years with the invention of the inflatable vest, waverunners are still a crucial safety tool in lineups around the world. If a surfer has a bad wipeout, a waverunner can rush in and scoop them up.

However, on any given swell only a handful of surfers hire drivers dedicated to looking out for them. Typically, surfers rely on the good faith of whoever is running safety to rescue them. Waverunner drivers, however, can make upwards of $600 per day by allowing photographers to sit on the back of their skis and take photos from the channel. (READ MORE).

I Must Confess: ‘I Do Not Like Spearfishing’

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Publication: The Inertia

I give the climbing rope a tug, then turn and follow The Spartan down the face of the cliff to the isolated cove in Big Sur, California.

The Spartan had been a hunting guide in Montana before moving to California to become a firefighter. He loves jiu-jitsu, square-dancing, and swimming to the bottom of the sea to shoot fish in the face. The 31-year-old does not “hang out.” Rather, he goes on “missions.” The last time we were together I contracted a severe case of poison oak as we trudged through the wilderness to forage wild mushrooms. (The Spartan does not get poison oak, supposedly, because he eats it periodically). The time before that, we shot and skinned a boar together. The time before that, we drove to Mendocino to dive for abalone. When I am with The Spartan, there is a 100 percent chance I will be physically exhausted by the end of a memorable day.

“I bet there’ll be some fish past those kelp beds,” he tells me as we unpack our dive gear on the beach and look 200 meters out to sea.

Spearfishing is an uncomfortable sport from the get-go. The 7-millimeter-thick dive suits require lubricant to get into. I douse the inside of my suit with some “seaweed sludge” (a mixture of water and pulverized kelp) and slither into the neoprene. Equipped with a knife, weight-belt, stringer, mask, snorkel, fins, and gun, I wade into the water and kick out through the choppy waves.

Mariners warn that when the swell amplitude and interval are equal, it’s a recipe for seasickness. Today is six feet at six seconds of northwest wind swell. As soon as I reach the kelp and stare into the abyss, I feel queasy.

The Spartan is already braining a rockfish with his knife by the time I take my first drop. Although the visibility is poor when I dive down about 25-feet, I spot at least a dozen rockfish and wait for one to get in range. With the bands on my gun cocked, I lurk behind a pinnacle and stay as still as possible. No fish come within range, and I have to swim up for air. I take five or six drops before a small rockfish swims right up to the tip of my gun. I fire. The fish thrashes for a moment then opens its mouth and goes limp. I feed the fish back through the tip of my spear and tie it to the stringer around my waste. The process of fiddling with the fish in the choppy conditions, however, has left me feeling even more queasy. I surface, then remove my mask and snorkel and take a few deep breaths to ease the nausea. In one poetic moment 200 meters off the coast of Big Sur, with a bloody skirt of fish around my waist, I vomit into the sky.

I signal to The Spartan that I’m heading in. As soon as I reach the beach, I drink the beer I stuffed into my dive bag to wash down the sour puke taste in my mouth.

That night, in a redwood grove up the hill, we meet friends and cook the best fish tacos of my life. We tell jokes that will never leave the campsite. As I close my eyes in my tent, exhausted, I conclude that I do not like spearfishing, I do, however, like having spearfished.

CONVERGENCE: THE UNLIKELY PARTNERSHIP THAT SAVES PUNTA DE LOBOS

Converge: to come together from different directions so as eventually to meet.

Ramon Navarro didn't initially trust the millionaire. "All I have is my name, and if Nico backed out of the deal, my reputation would have been ruined," he tells me.

Navarro, Chile's most famous surfer, comes from a family of fishermen in the small town of Pichilemu. Nico Davis, on the other hand, is heir to EuroAmerica, one of the largest insurance companies in the country and was raised in a life of privilege in the capital, Santiago.

The two men come from different worlds, but both served as key players in a recent land conservation success story at Chile's best-known surf spot, Punta de Lobos, in the town of Pichilemu.

On a brisk November morning in 2017, Navarro stands in front of a large crowd at "El Mirador," the valuable beachfront plot of land at the tip of the point that has recently been protected from development. In the crowd are musician Jack Johnson, members of the outdoor company Patagonia, and hundreds of Pichilemu locals.

Cactus hug the iconic cliff and mustard-colored wildflowers explode in the surrounding pastures. Pichilemu has developed rapidly in recent years, and new homes dot the hills in the distance. Chilean architecture has a distinct style and the homes, although uniformly square and boxy, somehow complement the bucolic hillside.

As Navarro speaks, the wind whips into the microphone and creates a vibrato. His typically energetic voice sounds uncharacteristically shaky. "My earliest memories were listening to the seals barking on the rocks down there," Navarro says. He pauses and turns his head away from the audience and removes his sunglasses for a moment to wipe his eyes. He exhales and continues. "I just can't believe this is real, I can't believe the point will be protected forever." He says a few words of gratitude to his community in Spanish, puts the microphone down, walks over to his wife, buries his head in her arms, and begins to sob... (READ MORE)

THE HYDROFOIL HYPE

On a pleasant day last fall, although the water is still warm by Santa Cruz standards, I walk down to the beach in my thickest wetsuit with a hood and booties—a get-up I normally reserve for only the coldest days of the year. I’m not using the extra rubber for warmth: It’s a safety precaution.

I am about to try foil-boarding for the first time, and my theory is that if the board flips and the carbon-fiber blade cracks me in the head, the cut won’t go as deep. Two accomplished surfers accompany me: fellow rookie foiler Kyle Buthman, who is sponsored by Quiksilver and has been surfing since he was a toddler, and Santa Cruz Waves founder Tyler Fox, who makes it to the finals of the Mavericks competition most years and has ridden a foil on a number of occasions. 

The wave that we are about to surf breaks roughly 200-yards off of a popular beach on the Westside. The swells approach from deep water and hit a shallow reef, causing a wave to break momentarily. The reef then drops into deep water, the wave fizzles out, and all that remains is an un-breaking open-ocean swell. It is a horrible wave.

As the first meager wave hits the reef and crumbles, Buthman catches the whitewater and stands up—a simple task that he has performed thousands of times on a regular surfboard. Moments after he pops to his feet, however, the board levitates 2 feet out of the water, leaving only a small airplane-shaped wing in the water. It accelerates like a rocket down the face and launches Buthman onto his back.

Fox catches the next wave. As he stands and the board lifts, he crouches and centers his weight. The wave fades. Normally this is where a surfer’s ride ends, but Fox continues to accelerate to a velocity I have never seen reached on such a small wave.

When it’s my turn, I don’t even make it to my feet. As soon as the whitewater catches my back, the board abruptly lifts out of the water and, like a ship free-falling over the back of a wave, I come crashing down. The sharp wing tip narrowly misses me. For a fleeting moment as the board rises, though, I feel weightless. I’m hooked.

A Sport is Born

Picture yourself in an airplane waiting to take off. Seat belts are fastened and you’re still texting even though the flight attendant warned you to turn off your cell phone. When the pilot hits the accelerator, your head is forced to the back of your seat and you look out the window to see the airplane wing slice through air. What you do not see is that the foiled shape of the wing is deflecting the flow of air downward, creating more pressure on the bottom of the wing and less pressure on the top. At a certain velocity, this pressure difference becomes so great that it creates lift and the plane takes off... (READ MORE).

WHEN THE RIDE ENDS

IS PRO SURFING A DEAD-END CAREER? 

BY KYLE THIERMANN

PUBLICATION: SANTA CRUZ WAVES

Most of my friends are, or once were, professional surfers. I was born and raised in Santa Cruz and, given that I am a part of this tight-knit community, it’s highly uncomfortable and difficult for me to write about the harsh realities that I see some of these surfers facing today. That being said, I will continue on as honestly as possible—because pro surfing isn’t always the glamorous career it can seem.

The definition of “pro surfer” will vary depending on whom you ask. Some people will tell you that Nat Young is the only pro surfer in Santa Cruz because he is the only one who competes on the World Surf League (WSL) tour.

To gain clarity on the definition, I ride my bike to Pete Mel’s surf shop, Freeline. Mel won the Mavericks competition in 2013 and is one of the most celebrated surfers to ever come out of Santa Cruz. “A pro surfer is someone who gets paid to create value for a brand by surfing and getting media attention,” he tells me.

Right now, I am one of the few surfers in Santa Cruz who still enjoys a small salary from my main sponsor, Patagonia. If my friends were to be brutally honest, they would tell me that dozens of unsponsored guys in town surf circles around me. They would tell me that I have never been paid for my surfing, and that, in reality, I get paid to create video content that aligns with my sponsor’s brand. Thankfully, my friends are too polite to tell me any of this, so I’ll go on introducing myself as a pro surfer, although it is unclear sometimes why I really get paid. (READ MORE.)

The 500-year Secret Conflict In Chile

In Chile, a secret conflict known as the Arauco War between colonial Spaniards and the Mapuche people has been on-going for almost 500 years. The war started in the 1500s when the Spaniards sought to take control of Araucanía, which at the time had been the homeland of many indigenous people groups, including the Mapuche. At the end of the first 280-year battle, the Chilean military succeeded in taking control of Araucanía. Since then, the Chilean and Mapuche people have continuously clashed over land, which has led to many brutal and violent encounters between the two groups.

I traveled with Nicolás Ríos Ramírez, a Chilean journalist to the heart of the conflict for Seeker Network, to learn how the centuries-long war has affected the Mapuche people and the nation as a whole.

Hawaii's Poo Problem

Hawaii has some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the world. The clear, blue water is striking to look at, but the water surrounding Hawaii also has a big problem: cesspools.

A cesspool is essentially a capped hole in the ground used for residential wastewater discharge. Whatever comes from your toilet at home goes into this underground hole and is contained there. Because there is no waste treatment, the waste fosters pathogens, bacteria, and excess nutrients, which can seep out of the cesspool and into the nearby soil. This contaminates ground water that eventually makes its way to the ocean, threatening marine life and human health. 

But many people are working to solve this problem. Watch this Seeker Stories video to find out what's being done to curb the cesspool problem in Hawaii.