Category Archives: Surfing

Surfing: The Power of Trying Something Hard


Let’s face it. Surfing is hard.

This is the least embarrassing photo, which says something

This is the least embarrassing photo, which says something

I just returned from a week surfing with Hillary Harrison at Peaks and Swells Surf Camp in Costa Rica. In the four years since John and I first went to Hillary’s camp my surfing hasn’t exactly improved. Granted, I’m a fair weather surfer. From the get go, I knew that surfing would never replace skiing as the sport I obsess about. I never planned on checking the swell forecast as carefully as I follow low pressure snow-producing storms in the Pacific.

kim and jk sunset 1

Smiles, sunset, surf and fresh coconut

But now, that might be changing.

First, let me tell you about the surf camp. It’s not just about surfing. There’s also yoga, massage, and all-organic meals. And of course, the daily walk to Montezuma for gelato. This place is more like a retreat than a “camp.” Every detail is handled for you, and once you arrive there are no real decisions to make. We attended the family camp with John’s daughter. One of the most appealing components of surfing is the fact that we can do it as a family. I’m not the kind of parent that truly loves watching the kids while they do their own sport (is anyone?). I’d rather be in there too, cheering alongside them.

The coaches at Peaks and Swells are fabulous. Each one of them exudes positivity. Lead instructor Victoria Ross actually smiles the entire time she’s talking. I tried it on for size, but it sounds ridiculous on me (and I’m okay with that). Victoria is an Aussie, so the accent helps. But her happy vibe infected every of her students. Even in the midst of their own cool surfer style, somehow all the instructors bring you along with them on the ride. This is a very special place.

Learning the pop up

Victoria teaching the pop-up

What I learned at Peaks and Swells is the importance (and the power) of sucking. It’s okay not to excel. It’s fine to look clumsy and awkward. It’s normal to be embarrassed. The first day of surfing at Peaks and Swells ends in a photo and video viewing of the day’s adventures in the water, and those feelings of awkward embarrassment are impossible to avoid. So I figured that I might as well embrace them.

If you never let yourself look like an ass, than you probably aren’t learning anything new. Which means you probably aren’t growing. The pressure to look good, and stylish, and coiffed, and camera-ready at all times is higher than ever. It’s only when you stop worrying about what you might look like that you really drop into flow. Only when you cease thinking of yourself from the third person and truly step into who you are in the moment, can you find happiness.

beautiful sunset

The sunset is always stylish

Trying something hard, like surfing, is a risk. There’s a risk (albeit small) of getting injured. But the bigger risk is simply embarrassing yourself. One of the surf coaches last week quoted a recent student you asked her, “when does the sexy part of surfing start?”

Let me be clear. Surfing is not sexy when you’re a beginner. There’s nothing sexy or stylish about that roll of wet snot dripping from your nose when you first pop up on your board. Nor is it very sexy when your bathing suit comes unseated from around your backside. The red eyes from that surprise wave that crashed on your head and the bruises on your hips and elbows from your failed pop-ups don’t scream sexy either.

Beginners are just surviving out there. We don’t care about what we look like. That is, until the photos go up on the screen during happy hour and we wonder yet again, so when does the sexy part start?

Evelyn makes it look easy

Evelyn makes it look easy

But I applaud every single person carrying their ungainly boards out into the surf to give it a go anyways. You’re putting yourself out there. You’re trying something hard.

I’ve written about this before, but adversity is good for you. Trying (and even sucking at) something new changes your brain. We crave novelty. Our brains release dopamine when we have a new experience. It’s the brain’s way of telling us to keep at it. When old habits and skills no longer require much of us, it’s time to pick up a new skill. In addition to surfing this week, I learned another important skill. Humility.

But there are moments that make it all worthwhile. When you catch the wave just right–for me it was catching a green wave and popping up in time to feel myself drop into the trough–the feeling buoys you up. You are in flow. You completely forget about what you look like from the outside; instead you are focused entirely on the task before you. And when surfing is the task before you, there’s nothing quite like it.

Except, of course, skiing powder.

Surfing Behind a Yacht


I’m here to tell you, surfing behind a yacht is amazing fun. While I didn’t make it out for this session on Lake Washington, the video below, put together by the great guys at Stohke, shows a little bit of the ridiculousness. And I thought yachts were for retirees. Silly me.


Are Extreme Sports Too Risky?


Each one of us has our own risk/reward calculus. Or perhaps we just weigh risk differently. Some people feel the sharp tang of risk just taking a stroll in the woods. Others can surf 30 foot waves or free-solo El Cap without breaking much of a sweat.

Chuck Patterson catches some air

Chuck Patterson catches some air

Regardless of where a person is on the risk continuum, others are always standing by to put that person in a box. Thrill-seekers take too many risks for their sport, say some. The risk-averse aren’t truly living, say others.

Since when did we care so much about the risks (or the lack thereof) that other people take?

The New York Times recently published an article about the risks in extreme sports. The author cites the soaring popularity of extreme sports and claims that, “many young people eager for an adrenaline rush are trying to copy their extreme sports idols, putting themselves at terrible risk.”

Injuries related to extreme sports are on the rise, and the participants are younger than ever. Overall, the author of the article urges participants to use safety equipment—especially helmets. The article quotes Dr. Sabesan, an orthopedic surgeon from Western Michigan School of Medicine, who recently presented her findings on a study about head and neck injuries in extreme sports. Her advice to parents of young rippers is to require “children who skateboard to wear a helmet and elbow and wrist guards.” She also recommends that snowboarders wear wrist guards and that the participants for other activities wear a helmet.

This debate has been going on for some time. Most people seem to agree that children should wear helmets, either because they are too young to decide for themselves or because they are too impulsive and tend to take bigger risks.

Motorcycle fatalities on the rise

Motorcycle fatalities on the rise

But what about adults? Should adults be required to wear a helmet while skiing or riding a motorcycle? Another recent article in New York Times cites a study that as motorcycle helmet laws are weakening, deaths are increasing.

Should we require helmets like we do seat belts? What about at ski areas? Legislated helmet use at ski areas is on the rise. Should we require our customers to strap on a helmet when they strap on their skis or board?

It would certainly help reduce head injuries.

But should we require it? Or should adults have the choice? I wear a helmet. But does that mean I make my friends wear one?

We’re all adults here. We should decide for ourselves. Even if helmet use could guarantee a safe landing, should we force people to wear one? I don’t know. I always get a little squeamish when I hear about requiring helmets.

Readers, what do you think? Should helmets be required? What are the pros and cons of legislating safety equipment? Is there a difference between making kids wear one versus adults?

Are Adventure Town Locals Really Necessary?


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Is it still possible to chuck it all and become a ski bum? Or has the new resort landscape pushed the local culture out of the valleys they once called home?

Are locals even important anymore?


One of my favorite ski bums

Back in the Wild West days of the 80s (when I was a teenager on spring break in Sun Valley wanting so badly to own a pair of ISKI sunglasses and stretch pants) ski bums created the culture. Tourists wanted to emulate them–envying their ski-at-all-costs mentality.

Today ski towns are more chi-chi than ski. Ski areas have become ski resorts. And what has always been an expensive sport is edging out those that have somehow “made it work.”


Jeremy Evans

While I’d argue this isn’t true everywhere, it certainly seems apparent in the more established ski towns around the West.

What’s left might be smaller ski areas with fewer employment opportunities, with places like Park City, Crested Butte and Aspen now a vacation spot for the 1% crowd.

This week on The Edge, I’m interviewing author and adventurer Jeremy Evans.

Whether exploring a ski town or a surfing village, Evans delves into the importance of the individuals that make a place home.


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Tune in this week to The Edge as I talk to Evans about ski bums that made it work and the value of living life on the edge. Have a question for Evans? Leave a comment here or call in live on Wednesday at 8am 1-888-346-9144.

The Fear Project With Author Jaimal Yogis


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Jaimal Yogis, author of THE FEAR PROJECT: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing… and Love knows a thing or two about facing fear. He’s stared his fear straight in the face and surfed Mavericks. He also used himself as a guinea pig in his book to explore the human reaction to this most primordial of emotions. An epic adventure full of incredible characters, death-defying athletic achievement, and bleeding edge science, THE FEAR PROJECT began with one question: how can we overcome our fears to reach our full potential?


Jaimal Yogis staring down his fear

Yogis checks in with neuroscientists to find how our memories become our biggest fears and how to tell the difference between good fear and bad fear. He also mines the depths of his own fears–of sharks and lost love and getting caught in the maytag churn underneath a big wave. Most of all, Yogis hopes to turn fear into performance, unlocking his own potential and then handing the key to his reader.

When I read his book several months ago, I knew I wanted to sit down with Jaimal and swap stories. This is a guy who spoke my language. For me, fear is a dance partner and an enemy. It’s a nemesis that I keep trying to debunk; and one that I can’t help coming back to. Like watching a scary movie, I’m horrified by fearful things but I can’t look away. Someone recently asked me what activity would scare me the most. I immediately answered, “stand up comedy.” It was never on my radar, not something I ever wanted to do. But as soon as I said those words, they became a raised finger slithering in a come hither hook that I can’t ignore. Now I’m worried that unless I add, “stand up comedy” to my bucket list I’m going to feel like a sissy. Feeling afraid is strangely alluring to me.


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I’m looking forward to my chance to interview Jaimal Yogis tomorrow on The Edge Radio. One question I plan to ask is how does one get the upper hand with fear? Do you ever just let fear take over the yard, like blackberry bushes that crawl over every shrub and fold back on themselves until they’re too thick to cut down? Or must we, every time, face those fears as a way of of pushing back the encroachment? Have questions of your own for Jaimal? Leave me a comment here and I’ll be sure to ask.

Skiiing Waves and Kayaking in the Snow


Still doing just one sport at a time? How 2012 of you. These days, its all about hybridizing your sports. Like to ski when it’s cold, and surf when it’s warm? Why not ski a wave like Chuck Patterson? Or perhaps you prefer your waves in rivers. Why go snow kayaking like Miles Daisher. Check out these two videos and the watch how the new edge get cut away.

Showtime Chuck Patterson skiing Jaws.

Here’s Miles ripping it up at Pebble Creek Ski Area in Idaho.

Doing it for the Thrill

Verbier Extreme Spectators

Verbier Extreme Spectators

“Sensation-seekers”, according to psychologists, fill their days with thrilling adventures and novel experiences. Their brains seek more sensation, more of a dopamine kick, more of that optimal flow moment than the rest of the population.

Psychologists have been watching sensation seekers for decades, comparing skydivers to reckless drivers and gamblers, lumping them all together into a wide category of “risk-takers”. Psychologist Marvin Zuckerman created a personality test for sensation seeking, check it out and see where you stack up.

Neuroscientists have recently dipped into the “sensation-seeking” brain and found more enlightening discoveries. I recently interviewed Cynthia Thomson of the University of British Columbia for my upcoming book on action sports. Thomson focused her PhD study on skiers and dopamine. Dopamine is the brain’s way of offering motivation in the form of a reward. It provides that nice kick of good-feeling reverie after we accomplish something big. And it turns out, not all brains handle dopamine the same way. Thomson found that skiers tend to have a variant of the DRD4 dopamine receptor that affects the way their brain handles dopamine. In other words, they needed more thrill to get the same kick.

Just another day in Chamonix

Just another day in Chamonix

Where psychologists and neuroscientists diverge is by lumping together athletes and addicts. In Thomson’s initial study, she didn’t separate them either. But she was able to determine the difference in later work. In addition to being sensation-seekers, addicts also score high for impulsivity. This is not so for high-risk athletes. At least not the ones that stick around. Just imagine an action sport athlete that was also highly impulsive. He or she wouldn’t be around long. Involvement in a risky sport, such as skiing, skydiving or surfing requires careful planning and extensive training. Anyone jumping off cliffs without first checking the landing (acting impulsively) isn’t going to live very long. Impulsivity tends to fade as we age, whereas sensation-seeking remains more stable.

Stevens Pass Boundary warning

Stevens Pass Boundary warning

I believe that as we get older and log more experiences our judgement overrides our impulsivity. This is evident in my job as a ski patroller and EMT. I’ve seen enough head injuries to wear a helmet while skiing. I’ve watched avalanches rip down slopes and break apart trees enough times to choose my line carefully. In many ways, I’ve gained judgement by learning from others’ mistakes. But I’ve also had my fair share of close calls.

My new book project, which I’m calling Crystalized: Finding Clarity on the Edge (but that title probably won’t last, so don’t bother googling it just yet) will take a look at the hows and whys of participation in action sports. I will especially look at my own experiences with dopamine-inducing sports and try to determine where I stack up against the experts. Most of the time I wonder what they have that I don’t have. Why are they able to huck bigger jumps, surf bigger waves, run scarier rapids and overall scare the shit out of me watching them from the near sidelines? Maybe it’s their DRD4 dopamine receptors. Or perhaps it’s their training. Or maybe I’m just a natural born scaredy-cat in comparison.

The best part about this book is the opportunity to interview some amazing athletes and brilliant scientists. I will be sharing some of these interviews here. I will also start hosting a radio show next month at Voice America, an internet radio site, where I will have many of them as guests on the show. (Hopefully you will join me for those interviews.)

Cynthia Thomson’s research suggests that some individuals need more thrill than others. If so, she posits that skiing and other action sports offer a viable avenue for sensation seeking, rather than the more destructive types of negative risks often associated with the term. Either way, her research shows there could be a genetic link to sensation seeking after all.

As if I needed another reason to go skiing.

Off The Grid in Indonesia


The view from Heaven

When I spent an hour on the phone with my cellular company a few weeks ago to ensure that my phone would work while in Lombok, a small island east of Bali, the woman assured me that it would. Of course, she warned, I would incur steep fees. “Indonesia is a very long way away,” she said. As if I didn’t know this. As if, somehow, I’d miss this fact.

I’m not really sure why I’d bothered with the phone. At that point, I had still planned on bringing along my computer. I would bring my computer and my phone and maybe my own wireless internet connection. Or perhaps a refrigerator. I had thought I could lug it all with me to this small village in Southeast Lombok, without water or power, with a perfect, lonely surf break lapping at its shore and get some work done.

As if.

In the end I didn’t bring my computer. Instead, I brought a notebook and pens, and figured I could work on my book in long hand. I never even turned my phone on.

If looks could kill

There are monkeys in Lombok. Macaq monkeys the size of small dogs. I’m not sure if macaqs steal things, if they like to finger smooth ballpoint pens in their hands, imagining what they could do with their thumbs, but I’m pretty sure they took most of my pens.

“You should write about my husband.” We are sitting at the bar, drinking our who-knows-how-many-th Bintang Beer (my new favorite saying: “its Bingtang Time!”). I can still hear the faint keening sound of the afternoon call to prayer. Lombok, unlike its busy neighbor to the west, is Muslim.

“He’s a risk taker.” The new couple hadn’t event checked into their room yet. After only a few days at Heaven on the Planet (that’s the actual name of the resort) my husband and I were part of the welcoming committee. This new couple would join us for dinner around the communal table that night. I had just told the wife about my new book project on risk taking. She asked me if I was getting much work done while on vacation.

“No,” I smiled. “Not at all.” That wasn’t entirely true. Writing a book is like searching through the cushions of a very frilly sofa, fingering the piping and reaching way down behind for stray coins. It doesn’t all happen on the page. There’s an investigation that goes along with it. Call it research. I want to examine why people take risks–namely in the thrill seeking realm–and try to figure out my own fascination with risk taking. You could call this trip research. I’m not a good surfer, and yet here we are halfway across the world to surf this break that most people have never heard of. 

We talked about the coming swell. How it was supposed to rise; rumors of big surf circled around the open bar/restaurant/library like sharks. Now that the waves were coming, more surfers arrived. Not that the waves weren’t already plentiful. But the really big ones, the pushy barrels, those would arrive tomorrow. Everyone was sure of it.

The next morning, I arose early and sat in front of the bungalow, watching the swell wrap around the headland onto the beach. I couldn’t find a pen. Hadn’t I brought, like, ten pens? I wanted to write about taking risks and how I was about to do just that in a few hours when I went surfing. Surfing was risky, no question about it. I’m not really a water person, that is unless the water is in the form of snow. Still, we were here, and I planned to surf.

Monkeys surrounded the bungalow. One, a large male, climbed a nearby tree and tried to stare me down. The hotel staff recommended that you avoid eye contact with the macaqs, especially the large males. But I couldn’t help it. This one lifted his eyebrows to make his eyes look bigger. It was creepy. I wondered if he had my pens.

There is a point at which you realize the futility of your actions. A point at which you just give up looking for a pen. Pick up your surfboard and test out your theories. Before my husband and I left for this surfing-and-diving-and-dipping-my-toe-back-into-risk-taking trip in Indonesia, I was cranking on my book. He was cranking at the ski area. Getting pre-season projects finished. Making sure all the details were in place before the snow started to fall. My plan was to finish a book proposal before ski patrol duties took most of my time.

Heaven on the planet

October wouldn’t have seemed an ideal time to get off the grid and chill. But it never is. Not until you are there, sitting on a porch overlooking Ekas Bay, a long, shallow bay, known to some of the locals for its fishing, surrounded by monkeys and a rising swell, that you truly appreciate the importance of it. For your soul.

The boat deposited us in the water, a few paddle strokes from Outside Ekas. The swell was rising, but still small by local standards. That was fine enough with me. A few other surfers bobbed in the water, raising their hands in hello. In just a few short days, I’d already met everyone here: we’d drank Bintangs together and swapped stories of how we’d found out about this place. John and I waited our turn, watching the swell rise and break. The waves were inconsistent.

Am I a risk taker? I paddled into the lineup and watched a wave rise behind me. I turned and swam. This was a big wave, and I was in the prime spot to catch it. I hardly had to paddle and I was up, riding the glassy curve, my surfboard firm and solid beneath me. I was surfing. I was really surfing. In the water, Jason, one of the really great surfers at the break, smiled. He raised his fist in solidarity. That was another strange thing about this place: everyone cheered each other on.

This would be the wave by which all others were judged. I knew this before it was even over. I was on it, cutting back and forth, working the wave like a ski slope. My smile cracked my face, and the wave petered out below me. A rush of adrenaline flowed out of me and the dopamine flowed in. I was high on brain chemicals: blissed out and happy. I’m not sure if I’d call myself a risk taker. Sure, I take calculated risks, but the true thrill seekers never consider their actions risky. Paddling into a big wave is not a gamble; they know they can surf it. The trick is to tamp down the adrenaline while in the moment. Give into it and you might panic or choke. People think thrill seekers are adrenaline junkies. But that isn’t true. Most thrill seekers I’ve known work hard to keep the adrenaline in check. It’s the after-effect, the dopamine, that offers the big rewards.

As I paddled back to the waiting boat a few hours later, I had to remember to stop smiling to keep myself from swallowing water. Bliss still coursed through my veins. I caught several more waves, but none quite as good or as long or as glassy as that first. My arms and shoulders felt heavy as I pulled myself into the boat. Being off the grid in Indonesia was certainly heaven on the planet. It was Bintang time.