A number of years ago my friend Chris Burkard invited me on a surf trip that ended up changing my life. It was supposed to be your typical surf trip for a magazine: travel somewhere exotic to find waves, get photos, write a story, call it work. But toward the end of our trip my buddy Brad Corrigan got in touch with us and invited us to come check out the ministry he had started in Nicaragua called Love, Light, And Melody. We thought it would be a great way to end the trip so we gladly accepted his offer. I don't think any of us knew what kind of impact Brad's invitation would have on us.
That trip changed my life. I wrote an article for Slide Magazine about the trip which I've posted below. But what the article doesn't say is that as a result of that trip the direction of my life took a decidedly different route. The Lord used that trip to open my eyes to the reality of what some people are facing in life and to stir in me a desire for purposeful living. Pursuing the surf dream suddenly didn't hold the allure that it previously had. I still love to surf, and I still love surf travel. But my desire isn't to just "live the dream" anymore. It might be slow growth at times, but I hope and pray that my life would in some way positively impact at least one person during my short time here on earth.
My Brain Stopped Hurting (Published in Slide Magazine circa 2011)
As we made our decent I peered out through the plane’s window, the lush countryside abruptly ended by the cityscape. It all looked quite serene from above. After landing and gathering our belongings, we exited the terminal and were immediately greeted by the chaotic assembly of taxi drivers and airport workers eagerly soliciting the new arrivals in hopes of securing a day’s wage. Work doesn’t come easy in this part of the world, an average day’s paycheck being a mere five dollars.
We loaded up our rental car in the overbearing humidity with the help of a few zealous airport workers, and after tipping them we were on our way. Kim Diggs, the only one of our crew who had ever been to our destination before, said it was about a 2 or 3 hour drive away. Before we knew it, we had been in the car for 4 hours or so. I asked our driver Mario what time the sun set. He said 4pm. I glanced at my watch, it read 3pm. I looked outside, it sure seemed like there was still plenty of daylight left. I asked Mario if he knew how to get to our destination, “Sure, sure,” he replied “I know the way.” I soon began to realize that no matter what you asked Mario, he felt obligated to give you an assertive answer, even if he had no idea what the correct answer might be. The truth be told, we were lost, but Mario would never admit it. Instead he took us to his friend’s restaurant in a town that he said was on the way. We’d find out later the town was nowhere near where we wanted to be. As we ate our meals we realized his motives for bringing us here. He sat at the owners table talking with him for about twenty minutes, the two hunched over a piece of paper as Mario’s friend drew what looked to be a map with scribbled directions next to it. At first Mario seemed a bit reluctant at his friend’s instructions, but after some convincing the two seemed to come to agreement. By now our crew knew what was happening, and though you could sense the frustration, everyone stayed positive. About a quarter ‘til 5pm I glanced at my watch, we were still driving and the sun had yet to set but my hopes for surf this day were quickly fading.
Mario, though he might not have been the most adept guide, was a very nice man. I asked him about growing up in a war torn land. He told me about the civil war, how he and his family had moved to the U.S. until the war was over, and what it was like to move back to his homeland post war. He said he missed the opportunities the U.S. afforded, but that this was his home. I thought about what it must have been like to see this tranquil land turned into a war zone and how hard it must have been for Mario and his family to leave. But in reality, he was one of the fortunate few. Most people had to struggle through their daily lives amidst constant anxiety and fear of warfare. As it does everywhere it erupts, war left this land in shambles and it has yet to fully recover from it.
We finally arrived at our destination with just enough light left to see a couple fun waves peel off with no one partaking in them. Neither would we this day as the last beams of light faded into darkness by the time we unloaded our gear. I glanced at my watch, 6:20pm. At least I knew now that we could surf past 4 in the afternoon. We thanked Mario for his assistance in getting us to our destination, but as we said goodbye I was a little relieved to no longer be dependant upon him for our transportation.
It’s amazing what you can do with a machete. If given the option of having only one tool the rest of my life, I’d probably choose to have a machete. It doesn’t seem to matter where you go in the developing world, it seems as though everyone has a machete. I can’t remember which one of our crew brought this to my attention, but the statement did seem to have some merit, especially as I watched a group of about 20 men hacking a field of thigh high reeds into oblivion. I admired their work ethic. It was a testament to the spirit of fortitude that saw them through a civil war and generations under a rather obnoxiously corrupt government. As I watched these guys diligently go about their business my mind wandered to the paradoxical debate of surf tourism in third world countries. I’m not going to pretend that my motives for being there were anything other than selfish. I was chasing most every surfer’s dream of finding pristine waves with no one but some friends to share them with. But watching these workers sweat through the 90-degree heat as I sat beachfront on a deck, I felt a little guilty. I tried to justify it by telling myself that by being there I was providing a source of income for the local communities. Or was I just taking advantage of their circumstances? My mind hurt as I pondered this dilemma, but surely there had to be a balance here.
I listened intently to Dan Malloy as he talked about a session he had a few years back at the infamous slab known as Shark Park. Dan was the eldest of the crew and seemed to have a sincere desire to pass along any helpful knowledge he has gained from his successful career as a professional surfer. I noticed him throughout the trip share bits of wisdom and insight that any aspiring pro would be lucky to get. He was a breath of fresh air: no pretense, no ego. The fact that he is one of the best surfers in the world on any given piece of wave riding craft definitely added weight to what he said. On this trip he got barreled on just about everything a surfer can get barreled on; from alaia’s to twin fins, from hand planes to body surfing. Dan’s knowledge of what boards to ride in which ocean condition was inspiring. And for the most part the ocean was more than cooperative during our trip. When the waves are good, it’s easy not to focus on anything else. My quandary about surf travel had all but vanished. My thoughts instead were on the usual things during a surf trip: waves, boards, tides, winds, etc. I was blissfully too tired from surfing to give much thought to anything else. But waves don’t last forever, and as we experienced a few down days my thoughts began to return to my earlier inner debate.
“I’m pretty sure he wants to throw a rock at my head” I told Kim Diggs as I laughed. She just laughed too. “But seriously, I think that’s what he said” I continued. Trevor Gordon, Chad Konig, Kim and I were all out surfing a waist high beach break. One of the local kids was out there as well with a group of his buddies. After going over the falls on one, he surfaced to hear the laughs of his peers. Immediately he sought a scapegoat, and as I was the nearest gringo I would get that honor. Though I hadn’t even paddled for the wave, apparently he felt it was my fault and thus muttered something about a rock and my head meeting. The incident provided us with a few laughs, but it also brought the surf tourism debate back to my mind. Here, seemingly a million miles from the nearest surf shop or strip mall, was a thriving local surf community. But like many third world communities, even ones that enjoy the sport of surfing, they were still living in a state of poverty. Part of me envied them, but only in the sense that the clutches of consumerism hadn’t fully reached them yet and so in that regard they were better off than I. But even if I were to give every bit of everything I owned to this community, it still wouldn’t solve the problem. And so my brain continued to hurt as I went round and round on the subject.
Brad Corrigan is one third of the famed U.S. band Dispatch, and he also loves to surf. But more importantly, Brad is a humanitarian. Several years ago he’d stumbled on a community not too far from where we were staying called La Chureca. La Chureca is a trash dump, but it is also home to a community of several hundred people. The community survives by sifting through others’ trash in order to find anything that will provide enough sustenance to make it through another day. I won’t go into detail about the horrors of what these people go through living in such devastating circumstances, but as you can imagine it is heartbreaking. As a result of his first visit, Brad started a non-profit called Love, Light, and Melody (www.lovelightandmelody.org) in an effort to help the community at La Chureca. LL&M exists to battle the physical, emotional, and spiritual affects of extreme poverty. He and the folks at LL&M have spent countless hours inside the dump, getting to know the families that live there, providing aid, and trying to figure out a way to provide positive, lasting change for the community. LL&M has put on concerts inside the dump, brought in artists to paint murals inside the dump, and have done everything in their power to give the community a sense of purpose and identity despite their horrific living situation. LL&M is committed to a simple concept; Brad states, “When you walk with someone you're saying to them, 'I am with you.' We can walk in hell and not have fear.”
Brad happened to be making a visit to La Chureca at the same time that we were nearby surfing and asked if we wanted to join him for a day in La Chureca. A couple members of our crew had to leave early, but those of us who remained came to the consensus that this would be a good way to end our trip. So we met up with him and a small group from Love, Light, and Melody for a visit to La Chureca.
To be honest I felt like we didn’t do much; we gave away some clothes, met some families, and played soccer with some kids. But on the car ride back to the hotel that night, I had a talk with Brad and LL&M supporter Brian Nevins that seemed to bring the balance I’d been struggling to find in the surf tourism paradigm. I mentioned a little about the inner turmoil I’d been dealing with at witnessing this kind of poverty on surf trips and how I felt guilty for enjoying surfing so much with all this around me. Brad spoke of the concept of identifying with someone else’s plight that LL&M is so committed to and how this simple act of empathy can give someone hope; it can let them know that they aren’t trash.
To all this I responded something like “Yeah, but I don’t know if I can surf tomorrow after seeing this.” Then Brian Nevins stated something that I thought was quite significant. He said in effect, “Oh, but you have to. You have to go out there and enjoy it. We are blessed we get to surf. We are fortunate to be able to, so we should appreciate that gift. Seeing this [La Chureca] reminds me how good we have it. It reminds me not to take anything for granted, including surfing.”
Suddenly my brain stopped hurting.
I was reading in Joshua 5 today about when Joshua met the “the captain of the host of the LORD” (most theologians agree that this was the pre-incarnate Christ) while Joshua was preparing for battle. Joshua immediately asks him if he was for Israel or for their adversaries. Christ’s response was amazing; He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.” Joshua wanted to know what side God was on—a very natural and human response. But God’s answer transcends Joshua’s question. God has no sides when it comes to humanity. He loves all, He pursues all, and He died for all. The only side He takes is the side of truth and righteousness. I feel the more important questions I should be asking is, am I on God’s side? Do I stand for truth? He accepts and blesses all who respond to Him in truth regardless of nationality, as evidenced by Rahab in Joshua 6. Rahab was a harlot living in a nation that opposed God, but when confronted with the truth and righteousness of God she responded appropriately and chose to take her stand with God. As a result God blessed and protected her.
We live in a complicated time, but it is no more complicated than past times. I pray I have the courage like Rahab to respond in similar manner, regardless of the culture that surrounds me.
A number of years ago my friend's Matt List, Daniel Looman, and I ventured to El Salvador together for a humanitarian aid trip. We also found some waves. Looman and I did an article for Surfline about the trip which you can read below.
On A Mission (Published on Surfline.com circa 2007)
It was January, and I was on the North Shore driving through Haleiwa when my phone rang. It was my friend Buck Waters. Buck lives in Florida and I in California, but we’ve spent a lot of time together over the years in various places. Buck was responsible for getting me to El Salvador for my first time a few years ago on a trip he’d coordinated. When he rang me in Hawaii this time, it was to tell me about another trip he was planning to take back to El Salvador.
Buck has a huge heart. He started an organization called “Surfers On Mission” in an effort to get surfers to give back to the places we frequent in our surf travels. So it didn’t surprise me at all when he told me what he wanted to do this time around in El Salvador. On our first trip there, we’d become good friends with the Castellanos family. Salvador Castellanos works for CNN; he has a lovely wife and three great kids. He’s also an avid surfer. His son Marcelo is one of the best pro juniors in Central America, and quite a chef. Like Buck, the Castellanos are some of the warmest and most generous people I’ve come across. Salvador is the national coordinator for Convoy of Hope, an aid-supplying ministry based in the states. He and Buck came up with a plan to raise enough funds to provide Convoy of Hope with the finances to deliver a load of food to a small community in a needy area of El Salvador. Buck would arrange the man-power to distribute all the food and supplies, while the Castellanos’ took care of the logistics.
I enlisted the help of my two good friends Matt List and Daniel Looman. Both were keen on the trip, so the three of us rendezvoused in El Salvador. Buck had put together a crew from Florida and we met them a few days before the shipment of food arrived to get acquainted. Kenny Griffin, Mike Burns, and Mark Anderson headed them up. So with everyone together, we set out for our destination town. On our way, it had been arranged for us to stop by a couple of orphanages. We had some toys and other items to give away. The Florida guys had brought dozens of toy binoculars that the kids absolutely loved. Most of the kids literally only possessed the clothes on their backs, so to get a toy to call their own was an exciting event. One of the things I noticed about these children was how much they looked out for their siblings; growing up without parents had bonded these kids in a deeper way than the average pair of siblings’ experience. It was a sad and sobering occasion to see such beautiful children who for one reason or another found themselves without families to take care of them. Yet they still had the most amazing smiles you can imagine. Getting to meet those beautiful children was easily one of the highlights of the trip. As we drove away, I couldn’t help but feel sorry that we weren’t able to spend more time with them.
The food arrived the night before we were scheduled to distribute it. Part of our job was to divide the food into individual family portions. We did the same with the household supplies. So the next day we loaded up our vehicles with all the goods and Salvador Castellanos guided us into a little village out in the countryside. We separated into a couple of different groups and began approaching homes. Most houses were nothing more than a tin roof and some logs acting as walls. With the help of our translators, we’d explain that the food was for them. Everyone was grateful for the gifts, even if it was only a day or two of food for some of the families. One man was especially thankful, as he explained to us how he and his family were going through a hard time. He told us, on the verge of tears, how they hardly had food and the gift came at the perfect time. It was one of the most humbling experiences in my life to shake this man’s hand knowing that there was no difference between us. I’ve never known the kind of poverty he has simply because of the land I was born in. His circumstances could just as easily have been mine. Yet I did not see any resentment in this man’s eyes, only gratefulness.
Later that night we made our way back to the main town, where we were able to set up and distribute supplies in the town’s soccer field. We had passed out flyers earlier in the week to let the locals know what we were up to. It seemed like the whole town turned out for the event. After passing out the rest of our supplies, we set up some piñatas for the kids to play with. Luckily no one got hurt in the mayhem of trying to score some candy. Afterwards we cleaned up and headed back to our lodging. It was an amazing day to say the least.
The Florida guys left two days later while Matt, Daniel, and I stayed a little longer in order to hang out with the Castellanos family. We surfed some fun waves and met some great people. But all too soon our trip was over. Every trip is special in its own way, but this trip was amazing in every aspect. I’m grateful to Buck and the rest of the crew for including me in the trip and showing me how surfing doesn’t have to be a selfish pursuit. As I think back on the trip and all we experienced, I can’t help but be a little more thankful for the grace I’ve been shown in life.
I’ve never been inclined to making New Year’s resolutions. I don’t have anything against them; I’ve just never felt compelled to make them. But this year I’m making one. Just one. This year my resolution is to respond. I want to respond to Jesus when He speaks. I want to live my life in an appropriate response to what He says and does. I don’t want to ignore His voice or be too distracted by other things to notice Him. His presence deserves a response, and for me I want 2018 to be a year that is marked by a heartfelt response to His presence.
When I look at all the people throughout history that God has used, they all share one thing in common. They all responded. Some have responded wholeheartedly and some reluctantly, but all made a conscious decision that God deserves a response. Apathy has no place in the kingdom of Heaven. One of man’s greatest temptations throughout the ages has been apathy—a lulling to sleep spiritually. Christ’s kingdom is founded on pillars such as love, truth, grace, and righteousness. It’s far too easy for me to nod my head in agreement with these pillars…as long as they don’t interfere with my personal plans in life. So in 2018 my resolution is to respond to Christ appropriately regardless of how inconvenient it might seem to my own personal plans. The cross was anything but convenient for Jesus, and when viewed in light of that my simple resolution to respond seems like the very least I can do.
Here’s to hoping 2018 is a year in which we all respond.
“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them…”
What was the purpose of creation? Why did God create this universe and us? Notice in the account of the creation of man, the first thing God did was to bless man and converse with him. His first order of business with us upon our creation was not only to bless us, but also to start a dialogue with us. This should immediately tell us two things. The first is that God desires to bless us; His intentions toward us are good ones. He wants what’s best for us (Jeremiah 29:11). The second thing it tells us is that God has always intended for us to have a personal relationship with Him. In Romans 1:20 it says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” God made creation in such a way so that we can understand it, and He did this in order to draw us to Himself. His creation stands as a testament to us, declaring His existence in order that we might enter a relationship with Him.
As a surfer, I have often considered the source of my playground. For instance, if earth had no atmosphere the oceans would evaporate. Yet our planet has an atmosphere that allows for life to flourish as well as for our oceans to flourish. Or did you know that waves are actually a restoring force to calm the surface of the ocean when it has been disturbed? The very waves we ride, the activity that brings so much joy and peace to so many, is a result of God’s intricate handiwork designed to restore and calm the oceans. Is it any wonder that waves have a similar affect in a surfer’s life?
Tides play an important role in my daily surfing life since each wave breaks differently depending upon the tide. Science has allowed for us to understand how tides work and thus predict them, so I monitor the tides and determine where I'm going to surf based on that information. But the very fact that we are created in a world that we can understand, the fact that the universe exists in a way so that we have the ability to understand it through reason and logic and natural laws is one of the most astonishing facts about creation. God made His creation in an intricate yet understandable way so as to draw us to Himself. It is as though He left us a road map to Himself, a road map that the human mind has the capacity to read and understand.
Fall in California is one of the best times to be a surfer. The coastline enjoys swells from both the northern and southern hemispheres and the wind has a tendency to shift offshore more than normal. I remember a few years ago on one particular day all these factors came together as they often do in fall and I decided to head to one of my favorite waves. The spot has a fairly grumpy crew of local surfers that are quite competitive when the wave turns on, so I always try to be extra polite when I surf there. The wave really only has one take off spot when it gets good, which makes proper line-up rotation vital in maintaining order.
I paddled out with the intention of waiting my turn at the back of the line for a wave. But right as I got to the line-up a set approached. As the surfers scrambled around to get in position, I suddenly found myself sitting the deepest. I didn’t intend on catching the wave, but I heard one of the older locals yell, “GO!” and acting purely on instinct I turned and went. As I made my way off the bottom I could hear a surfer on the shoulder yell an obscenity at me. When I kicked out on the inside I could still hear this surfer yelling obscenities at me from all the way outside. I realized I had a couple choices. I could paddle in and call it a one wave session. Or I could paddle back out and take the verbal lashing this guy wanted to give me. Even though technically I was in priority position for the wave, I knew I had essentially cut to the front of the line and taken the angry surfers wave. I knew I had made a mistake.
So I paddled back out and took some heated words from the upset local. I apologized to him and told him what happened, while also explaining to him I knew I was in the wrong. Thankfully this settled the matter and the man was quite cordial after that.
The reality is that all of us have at some point in life made mistakes. We have all “snaked” someone, if you will. Whether our intentions have always been good or not, the Bible tells us that we have all sinned and fallen short. So we are left with this issue of sin and what to do about it. It’s not a new dilemma; it’s been an issue since Adam and Eve.
Most of us know the story of Adam and Eve. They ate the fruit they were instructed not to and one of the results of this was that they realized they were naked, which made them ashamed to be seen by God. When they heard God walking through the Garden of Eden they hid from Him. It says in Genesis 3:8-9, “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?””
Imagine this scene from God’s perspective. He is walking through His creation; a creation unmarred by the affects of sin at this point. It was creation at it’s most glorious, a world of incomparable beauty. But He is not concerned with any of it. His only concern is that He can’t find those for whom He made such a magnificent creation. And when He doesn’t find them He calls for them. His primary concern is that He gets to go for a walk in the cool of the day with the ones He loves. Imagine the one who created all of this, the one who walks in the recesses of the deep, the one who set the boundaries for the oceans, the one who set the stars in motion, the one who determined habitats and seasons, the one who made the mysteries of deep space and the one who holds all of it together with His word. All of it seems almost irrelevant to Him when He can’t find the ones He loves.
The story goes on to tell of the results of Adam and Eve’s sin and what it means for them, the world, and the fate of all creation. When Adam and Eve realized they were naked they became ashamed and tried to cover their shame themselves with leaves. Then in 3:21 we get a picture of God’s heart for us. It says, “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” This might not seem like much, but it speaks volumes of God’s love for us and His plan of redemption. At this point in time the Old Testament Law with it’s sacrifices for sin had not been given yet, so animal sacrifice had not been instituted yet either. So where did God get the material to make “garments of skin” for them? Even in this act of clothing Adam and Eve He is declaring to us that He is the one who covers our shame and provides the means by which we are forgiven. God had to perform the first sacrifice in order to get the skin that He used to make the clothing. The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, The Sacrifice, performed the first sacrifice in order to cover our shame. He did this because He so deeply desires our presence. Imagine the eternal God, creator of everything, desiring our presence to such an extent that He goes to unimaginable lengths to secure it. His greatest pleasure was to walk through the garden in the cool of the day with the ones He loves. And He stops at nothing to provide a way for that to be possible.
Imagine how sweet those days before “the fall” must have been to God. All those times of walking in the cool of the day with those He loved, knowing full well that at some point things would change and He would have to start a heart-wrenching process of redemption. In providing the clothing for Adam and Eve He declared that only He could provide the sacrifice that was sufficient to take away our shame. He was prophetically declaring how He would ultimately sacrifice Himself so that we could live. He willingly chose death in order to give us life.
Jesus is referred to as the First and the Last; it is much more than a reference to His eternal existence. He performed the first sacrifice knowing full well that He Himself would be the last sacrifice. He initiated our redemption and He finished it.
God knew where Adam and Eve were when He called, “Where are you?” in the garden. But He gives us the choice on how we want to respond to His calling.
Recently I had an article published on The Inertia about growing up surfing Pismo Beach. There's a link below if you'd like to read about it. Thanks to Jonathon Reis for providing the photos.
Grace certainly is amazing, isn’t it? I’ve grown up in church so I’ve heard the word “grace” more times than I can count. I’ve always known I needed God’s grace, that thanks to His grace there is hope for my life and for mankind as a whole. But it’s only been in the last couple of years that I have found a much deeper and much more genuine appreciation for His grace. If I’m being totally transparent, I think it’s in large part due to the humbling realization of how far I fall short so often in life. It’s one thing to feign humility and say, “oh I know I need grace, I’m only human.” I’ve had that attitude most of my life. But it’s an entirely different thing altogether to come to terms with the reality of the corruption that, apart from God’s grace, would dwell within me. There dwells within even the best of us a level of selfish ambition and vain conceit that is unpardonable apart from God’s grace. And as humbling as it is to admit, I’ve been forced to come to terms with this reality in myself the last couple years. And even though it’s been a humbling and often times uncomfortable process, I’m forever grateful for it. It’s been one of the most freeing experiences of my life.
We often think of grace as an elementary principle. It’s often viewed as though it were a doctrine we learn and then move on from to deeper things. But grace is not something to be graduated from. Grace and the reality of what Jesus went through on the cross cannot become comfortable for us. It must never lose it’s wonder, awe, and value. Grace has to be consumed daily. It has to permeate every fiber of our being. We have to take up residence within the city limits of grace. We must become citizens of grace. We have to reside in grace. Life is not sustainable apart from it. We have to deal with each other with grace. Our relationships ought to leave a residue of grace in them.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
The original language of this verse in Ephesians makes it a definite article, meaning it actually says, “For by the grace you have been saved…” There is something unique and altogether different about God’s grace. It is the grace, the only grace that has the power to forgive sin, the only grace that has the ability to save, and the only grace that is capable of making us stand.
It’s recorded for us that a woman named Mary came to Jesus while He was dining one night. She took a pound of perfume and anointed Jesus with it, and the fragrance of the perfume filled the entire house. It’s estimated that the cost of that much perfume would have been roughly a years worth of wages. It might seem extravagant or wasteful to pour out a years worth of wages at Jesus’ feet. But the reality is that Mary had a profound understanding of the value of the grace she experienced in Jesus. How much is grace worth to us? Mary had experienced life apart from grace and when she finally experienced life in the reality of grace it changed everything for her. She understood that grace had an identity, and His name was Jesus. Mary’s adoration for Jesus, her desperation for grace caused a fragrance that permeated all those around her, it filled the house.
God’s grace is an altogether different grace. It quite literally changes everything. It offers hope in a hopeless world, it offers redemption in seemingly unredeemable circumstances, and it offers purpose where there once was none. I hope and pray that I will value grace the way Mary did, that my life would have a fragrance of grace that permeates those around me. And I’m thankful that for all the times I fall short God’s grace is sufficient to cover it and lovingly draw me back to the source. It certainly is an amazing grace.
Having just returned from the North Shore I was reminded of my first time visiting there. Years ago I wrote an article for a surf magazine about my first trip to the North Shore of Oahu. Hope you enjoy...
Getting the Poops Scared Out of Me
Ever since I started reading surf magazines I wanted to go to the North Shore. It began as simply a desire to see the waves that filled so many pages of those magazines. I wanted to watch Pipe, Sunset, and Rocky Point, to see first hand the spots that had gained international fame in the surf world. I didn’t really think about the reality of seeing those waves up close and personal. I didn’t take into consideration what it actually takes to paddle out and catch a wave on the North Shore. But the lore of the most famous stretch of coastline in the world had taken a hold of me. And eventually I made my way across the Pacific to that seven-mile miracle.
As I waited for my boards in the baggage claim of the Honolulu International Airport, I remember thinking about all the legends of the sport that had done the very thing I was doing, and wondered if they were as nervous as I was their first time on the North Shore. I leaned against the wall, looked around at all the people coming and going, all the people who wore floral print shirts, all the tourist group coordinators who greeted their guests with a very insincere “Aloha” and proceeded to place lei’s around their necks. I also realized that a large number of those around the baggage claim were surfers, and apparently headed to the same seven-mile stretch of coastline I was headed to. I began to wonder if this relatively small stretch of coast could handle all these surfers. The reality of Oahu began to slowly sink in.
My first North Shore surf took place at the not so world famous wave of Pupukea. Pupukea (“Poops” for short) is a sand bar wave, and relatively soft by North Shore standards, so I figured it would be a good place to ease into my first North Shore experience. If you ever paddle out at Pupukea, you will probably notice a couple things. First, that there are a lot of girls in the line-up and it seems almost all of them surf better than the average surfer. And secondly, that even though Pupukea is a “soft wave” it can still ring your bell if it so desires. There is nothing more humbling to the male ego than getting worked on the inside of “Poops”, while watching a girl five years younger than you absolutely rip a wave to shore. But male ego aside, everyone gets worked on the North Shore.
When the first real swell during my trip arrived, I went straight to Pipe…to watch. I thought about surfing; that is until I walked down onto the sand and saw the beastly wave up close. “Real Pipe” is quite a scene, but for good reason. Every wave out there is quite literally a life or death situation, and I realized very quickly that the shots I’d drooled over for years in the magazines looked a lot different when seen in real life. Those shots of perfect cathedral sized tubes that fill pages of magazines every year, usually require a 20-foot elevator drop to get into them, all while the trade wind sends plumes of spray up the face. So after realizing I wouldn’t be paddling out to get my cover shot, I semi-sheepishly decided to head toward the Haleiwa vicinity where I was able to find a much more user-friendly wave.
My first trip to the North Shore eventually got cut short. I had paddled out to Gas Chambers one morning and was having one of the best surfs I’d had yet on the trip. Then, about an hour into the session, I fell on a wave and bounced off the reef with my foot. I paddled back out thinking the throbbing in my foot was nothing, but on my next wave, as I got to my feet, I realized I wouldn’t be surfing for the rest of my trip. The throbbing was from a nice, deep puncture wound which would require stitches. And that pretty much sums up my first North Shore surfing experience. If I could describe it in one word it would be “humbling.”
I’ve continued to go back to the North Shore for a number of years now. Along with all the punishment it has served me, I’ve also had some great moments there. But no matter how ready I think I am for what I’m going to encounter there, every year it continues to humble me. I continue to get pounded and held down, continue to come up gasping for air, and continue to have the ocean send me home with my tail between my legs. But one thing I’ve realized over the years is that it’s not just me, it humbles everybody that surfs there. I’ve seen the top guys on the WCT get washed in right next to your average blue-collar surfer. It may be for this very reason that the North Shore’s legend never seems to fade. It doesn’t matter if you’re a world champion, WQS warrior, big-wave charger, an average surfer, longboarder, shortboarder, or whatever else you may be; if you surf on the North Shore, eventually you will be humbled. The North Shore is just like that. But if you show respect, and stay within your limits, you just might get the wave of your life…at Pupukea.
(Originally published in Planeta Surf Magazine)
Below is an article I wrote for The Surfers Path about a trip I took with some friends and the benefits of a good pair of hiking shoes...
The Road Less Travelled
A good pair of hiking shoes…I’ve come to realize they’re one of the most important pieces of surf gear that I own. Board, wetsuit, wax, and fins are all essential but a good pair of hiking shoes will take you places they can’t. Want to find your own secret wave? Where I live that’s likely going to require a long trek on foot. A good pair of hiking shoes is akin to the poor man’s Jet Ski, they allow you access to coastline that isn’t paved or well-trod.
I remember as a kid all I ever wanted to do was go to the mountains and hike. I spent hours in school daydreaming about the great outdoors. Then in my late teens I took to surfing and everything else seemed to take a back seat. Hiking trips to the mountains were replaced by surfing trips along the coast. But I eventually realized that the two didn’t have to be mutually exclusive; they actually worked together very symbiotically. Suddenly I could have my cake and eat it too.
Not too long ago I was fortunate enough to take a trip with my good friend Chris Burkard to a remote stretch of coastline that requires a two-hour hike to access. We loaded up our backpacks with food, sleeping bags, tents, water, wetsuits, and some warm clothes. We strapped our boards to our packs and headed off, hoping to find some good waves to ourselves. When we finally made camp I was exhausted. It’s somewhat of a grueling hike due to the soft sand and hills you have to traverse on your way there. But it’s all worth it. Setting up camp overlooking a beautiful golden ocean, the horizon on fire from the sunset, stars beginning to flicker overhead, it all seemed to testify to the fact that we were in a very special place. The kind of place that is hard to get to but is well worth the effort once you’re there; the kind of place you need a good pair of hiking shoes to reach. More importantly, the kind of place you hope is still around for generations after us.
I was hoping to awake to surprisingly good waves, but what I found when I made my way out of the tent in the morning wasn’t the sort of surprise I was expecting. About 30 yards from our tents, making a complete circle around our campsite was a set of cougar tracks. I had heard that there was a cougar spotted in the area not too long ago, but they generally stay up in the hills more, so I wasn’t really thinking about it. In a way, the cougar tracks gave me perspective about why I wanted to take the trip in the first place. It reminded me of why I loved to camp as a child. To get out into the wild, where humans are a part of nature and not pseudo-masters of it is to experience a part of life as it was intended. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I love surfing so much as well. Nature tends to simplify things for me, and out here among miles of untouched beauty all the clutter that accumulates in my mind and blurs what’s important seems to just melt away. We never saw the cougar, but in an odd and respectful way I appreciated its presence.
In a country where cars seem to outnumber people it’s comforting to know that the only way to get to this spot is with a trusty pair of hiking shoes. I find myself more and more grateful for places like this- places that haven’t been “improved” with paved roads and storefronts, places that remain raw and natural, places that evoke inspiration for those who make the effort to experience them. And we quickly learned that we weren’t the first ones to make such an effort. Along our hike Chris found an area full of old Native American chippings that we stopped to take a look at. I suddenly realized that our little secret spot wasn’t really a secret. People have known about it for centuries. The fact that it still remains basically the same after all these years is a testament to the rugged and raw beauty of the area. Hopefully each new generation that “discovers” it appreciates what they’ve found and keeps it as it is.
I suppose surfers take trips like this for many different reasons, the foremost of which is likely waves. But regardless of our motivating factors in such endeavors, excursions like this one wouldn’t be possible without a trusty pair of hiking shoes. I try to keep a pair in my car at all times, just in case. As the late, great Robert Frost stated,
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Who would’ve thought all it takes is a good pair of hiking shoes?
(Originally Published in The Surfers Path)
I had the privilege of getting to share at a ministry on Oahu called Surfers Church for my last stop. Surfers Church is inspiring to say the least. They have planted themselves in the heart of what used to be one of the worst areas for drugs and prostitution in all of Hawaii. Their campus is in the buildings of what used to be a strip club and porn shop but now consists of the church's office buildings, staff housing, coffee shop, and antique store. Among the many outreaches that the staff at Surfers Church participates in is their feeding the hungry program. They essentially went into the heart of one of the darkest areas in Hawaii and reclaimed it for the Light. The church is located in an old strip club, and I can honestly say it was one of my highlights and a great privilege to get to share Jesus in a church that takes place in what used to be a strip club. It’s one of the greatest pictures of God’s redemption that I have seen in a ministry. Tom Bauer, one of the leaders in Surfers Church shared with me an incredible story of the power of prayer and the reality that God’s plan transcends even our own life spans. Tom shared how an elderly lady came by the church campus one day and began to weep when she saw what the Lord has done in that neighborhood and how He had reclaimed that block from the sex and drug industries. She told Tom how she and her now deceased husband had prayed for roughly 60 years for a church to be planted in the exact spot that Surfers Church now sits. She and her husband had walked around that very block praying for the Lord to plant a church there, laying hands on the very buildings that Surfers Church now owns and runs ministry out of. It was a testament to the fact that prayer transcends time and boundaries. What we pray for today can impact lives throughout generations.
The story of the couple praying for years for the Lord to change that neighborhood definitely inspires me to pray more. But not just to pray more, it inspires me to pray for specific change, to pray for the light to invade the darkness. It’s been said that nothing significant happens spiritually without prayer, and I believe that’s true.
My time at Surfers Church was an amazing note to end the trip on and it definitely left me inspired.
It’s been ten years since the last time I visited the North Shore of Oahu. It’s great to be here again and be able to reconnect with old friends. Not much has changed, except there are more people and more food trucks…everywhere. One place where a lot has changed is the small town of Wahiawa, located just a few miles from the North Shore. Wahiawa is where Surfers Church is located. When I was here last, Wahiawa was known for its drugs, prostitution, and pornography. On the main street through town was a large pornography shop for all to see, and where most simply saw hopelessness and depravity the folks at Surfers Church saw an opportunity for God to change a community. Surfers Church bought that strip club and pornography shop, gutted them, and rebuilt in its place their ministry headquarters. They feed the homeless, house missionaries, preach the gospel, and love people. God has used them to literally transform an entire community that many thought was beyond repair. It’s an inspiring story of what can be accomplished through hearts fully committed to Jesus.
I have the incredible privilege to get to share at Surfers Church this weekend. To be honest, it’s a humbling opportunity. I’m inspired by Surfers Church and their steadfast commitment to Jesus. I’ve found much inspiration from the team at Surfers Church over the years. One thing I know Surfers Church does is pray. And I believe with all my heart that nothing spiritually significant happens without prayer. I’ve become even more convinced of this during my time here on Oahu.
I’ve been reading this week in Luke 6 about Jesus choosing His twelve disciples. Prior to choosing them it says He went off to a mountain to spend the entire night in prayer. After praying for the whole night He then chose those who would become His closest companions, those through whom He would plant and build His church. Luke goes on to say that it was after this night of prayer on the mountain that Jesus would deliver the Sermon on the Mount, a sermon that is still changing lives today. Jesus also withdrew to a mountain to pray on the night that He would walk on water. On that occasion we are told by Mark that what followed was what can only be described as one of the greatest times of outpouring and revival the earth has ever seen. There were people being healed by merely touching the fringe of Jesus’ cloak, and an entire country was shook by the power of God.
And words don’t do justice to the significance of what took place after Jesus’ night of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
I’m realizing if prayer was such a vital and pivotal role in Jesus’ life and ministry, then it ought to have the same significance in my life. If prayer was the precursor to Jesus performing the greatest acts of God the earth has ever seen, then I’m foolish not to hold prayer with the same reverence and importance that He did. But unfortunately I too often do. I too often run off to the beach, or to work, or to sleep without spending time in prayer. And even as I write this I’m reminded there is something I need to go do, Someone I need to go talk to.
It’s an interesting time we live in, a time of prophetic fulfillment, but a time of uncertainty as well. There is any number of events happening in our world today that are nothing short of tragic. It’s heartbreaking to watch and infuriating to see people use them to advocate their particular political viewpoint. What ought to be events that bring humanity together in solidarity for those suffering are manipulated to advance a political agenda. If I’m not careful I’m quick to react with my own political views. Everything seems to be political these days. When did it become a crime against humanity to hold a differing political view than someone else? It’s dumbfounding at times.
But then I’m reminded of Jesus. He came to earth at a time of significant political activity, a time of uncertainty and turmoil. Yet He never played politics. He loved unconditionally, spoke truth unwaveringly, and committed to being a living example of truth, grace, and humility. He didn’t take sides, except for the side of righteousness and justice. And for all the preaching and teaching He did, one thing many people forget is that He was someone who listened. He listened to God, and He listened to others. He still listens today.
When I’m tempted to fall into the trap of feeling frustrated because it seems like nobody is listening, I have to remind myself that Jesus is still listening. And He is the only one who has the power to cause lasting change in someone’s life. He still hears our cries, He still advocates for us, and He still executes justice. He is still God.
But I also need to remind myself in these times of heated political climates that Jesus is no respecter of political parties, His concern lies in the salvation and redemption of the entire human race, regardless of what political view one may hold.
Is peace circumstantial? Is it possible to have complete chaos around you and still be at peace? I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of peace lately and what it means to have it. In my own experience I’ve had times when everything around me has been in complete peace and harmony and yet on the inside I’ve felt anything but peaceful. Then there have been times when the world around me seems to be in chaotic turmoil and yet I feel totally at peace. So I’m inclined to believe that peace cannot be circumstantial. True peace in our soul has to come from an outside source. As humans our emotions change hourly so we’d be foolish to try to find our peace from ourselves. We might be successful at obtaining peace for a little while but inevitably our mood will change and with it our sense of peace. Circumstances are an unstable source of peace as well because they are dependent on an infinite number of variables outside of our control.
I find the apostle Paul’s life fascinating because for someone who experienced so much turmoil, so many hardships, so much persecution and so many false accusations, he maintained a level of peace that inspires me. At one point when he was being transported as a prisoner on a boat and the boat was hit by a storm that eventually shipwrecked everyone, it was Paul who stood up in the midst of the storm to encourage the people and provide direction. You don’t do that sort thing unless you have a source of peace that is not shaken by feelings or circumstances.
At the end of Paul’s life while he was in prison he wrote a letter to his good friend Timothy. Paul had mentored Timothy and the two had formed a family-like bond. In one of his last earthly writings Paul discloses to Timothy what I’m convinced was the source of the profound peace he displayed in life. He says to Timothy, “for I know Him whom I have believed, and I am confident He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him…” Paul knew Jesus, and that made all the difference. He didn’t just know about Jesus, He didn’t just believe in the idea of Jesus, he knew Jesus personally and intimately. As a result of this Paul had no doubt about where he placed his confidence, so his peace couldn’t be shaken because it’s source was true. It’s why he could remain confident even while being falsely imprisoned; it’s why he could remain joyful even in the most horrendous circumstances.
Whether I die young or old, I want Paul’s words to echo in the life I lived—“for I know Him whom I have believed, and I am confident in Him…”
I was researching this week some facts about waves for a project I’m working on. One of the most fascinating facts I came across is that waves are actually a restoring force to calm the surface of the ocean when it has been disturbed. I find this extremely fascinating for a couple reasons. The first is obviously a result of my love (or obsession) for surfing. The activity of riding waves has always provided a certain level of peace for me so it makes sense to me that God created waves in order to bring peace to His oceans.
But more intriguing is the parallel to our spiritual lives we can draw from this. Anyone who has been near the ocean during a storm knows that the waves created during storms seem anything but peaceful. Winds wreak havoc on the oceans surface creating a chaotic mess of waves that appear out of control and often terrifying. But underneath the surface these waves are actually designed to restore calm and peace to the ocean. So many times in my life when I am in the midst of a trial (or storm if you will) I am tempted to believe that God is not in control, that the storm’s chaos is destined to rule in my life. But in reality God is at work beneath the surface, restoring calm and peace to my heart in the midst of the storm. Even though storms hit our lives and threaten to terrify us, the reality is that God is greater and is always at work beneath the surface in order to restore peace in our life. And to me that is a God worthy of my worship.
Something most people don’t know about me is that for most of my life I’ve dealt with anxiety; from the time I was a young boy when I didn’t even know what it was, and still to this day. Every so often it will creep up on me and catch me off my guard. It isn’t severe but it is real enough. It’s a rather sickening feeling, something I’d wish on no one. I’m not sharing this information to get people to feel sorry for me or to try to sound as though I’ve had (or have) a tough life. I am extremely grateful for the life I have and the grace I’ve been shown, and I’m very aware of how fortunate I am.
But to put it bluntly, anxiety sucks. Anyone who has dealt with it knows this. I used to be a little apprehensive about admitting I deal with it. It tends to be one of those topics that are fairly misunderstood. Half the time it feels as though people look at me like I am crazy and wonder if I’m allowed to be outside, the other half it feels like they’re thinking that if my faith were stronger I wouldn’t be dealing with it; that I should just let God heal me of it. I’m sure most of the time it’s simply my own insecurities coming to the surface. And just to be clear I believe medicine works, and I also believe God heals. I’m well aware of the role brain chemistry plays and the help that medicine can provide. I benefit from modern medicine everyday. But I’m also fully convinced God is capable of healing in an instant that which medicine can only treat.
So where does that leave me and why do I divulge this information now? Well for starters I felt Him remind me recently of something He spoke to me when I was 18 while on my first international trip without my parents. I was in Mexico with Christian Surfers on the roof of our house looking at the stars in the night sky. As I stared up at the heavens I began to talk to the Lord. I had been feeling a little alone and anxious on that trip. As I spoke to Him that night I heard Him respond to me. I felt Him say to me, “If I am God, then that means I am God everywhere; not just God when your in the comfort of your own home and land. I am God in Mexico and God everywhere else. I am with you wherever you are and will protect you in foreign lands as well as at home.” It was a moment I won’t forget. In that dialogue the Lord broadened my horizons, He expanded my borders, He taught me the importance of His authority throughout creation, and my necessity to rely on Him. He brought peace to an anxious teenagers heart not because I deserved it or had earned it, but for no other reason than the simple fact that He loves us.
He is the God of peace and He continues to be the source of peace in my life. Whenever anxiety makes its un-welcomed presence felt the only thing that has ever truly brought peace to my soul has been the Lord.
Lately I’ve been feeling like He’s taking me back to that rooftop experience. I’ve felt the need and longing to be closer to Him. To be ever aware of His presence in each moment, to realize no matter what land I am in or if I’m feeling anxious or alone that He is with me and He still sits on the throne. His creation still must heed His word, regardless of what nation or land He speaks it in.
What is Christ’s presence worth to me? That’s what I’ve felt the Lord asking me lately. How much do I value the presence of the Lord in my life? I’ve become convinced that our success in life, our ability to love, and our purpose are all directly related to how much we value God’s presence. I think one could say that our lives are a reflection of what we value most, and I feel the Lord challenging me to evaluate how much His presence is worth in my life. When I first started surfing I dreamed of someday making it into the surf magazines. I thought if I could do that it would somehow validate my surfing and bring some fulfillment to my life. I pursued it with passion. I still remember the first time I saw myself in a major surf publication. I was ecstatic. I thought I had accomplished something significant. It lasted for about two days. I was ultimately left feeling unfulfilled and un-validated.
On the contrary, Jesus has proved to be the source of ultimate fulfillment and continual peace in my life. His presence literally changed everything for me. His presence is worthy of pursuing passionately.
The following is an article I wrote a number of years ago regarding some of my life's less than finer moments. Hope you enjoy...
Don’t Act Like Your Not Impressed
I’m a kook. It’s taken me a while to admit it, but to be honest, now that I have, it’s quite liberating. I’m not talking about skill level here; I’m talking about being an honest to goodness kook. I’m done pretending, and I’m done trying to hide it, I’ve just come to accept that I will never be very cool. I’m okay with that. It’s not a surprise to anyone who knows me. I have a resume listing my credentials as a kook that is quite impressive. I will divulge a few of them for you here. Now just for the record, all of the following instances are true; I didn’t fabricate any of them. Some are associated with surfing, some aren’t. I do not condone or condemn the following behaviors, just in case some readers may happen to practice them.
To start with, when I first started surfing I used to wear a tank-top and swim-trunks under my wetsuit. I also used to walk to the water with my wetsuit half way down, wearing said attire, trying to impress the ladies. When I first started reading surf magazines I used to think Occy was pronounced the same as Aussie; I thought it was a sort of double meaning since he’s Australian. I also used to think that the Beach Boys were core surf music. I’d cruise to the beach listening to “Surfin’ Surfari” thinking about ‘catching a wave and sitting on top of the world.’ A few winters ago on the North Shore I took a BZ longboard out at Chuns Reef to goof around on and proceeded to get sucked over the falls with it, completely burning Bonga Perkins in the process. Luckily I think he was more amused than upset. I went in shortly after that. Further more, I once tried to “shoot” a couple pilings at my local pier, only to wuss out at the last second which resulted in bear-hugging a piling and dinging my board. Luckily a bruised ego was the only injury I incurred.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll continue. I once took a vegetarian on a date to a steakhouse. Another time on a surf trip with some friends, we stayed at my buddies’ parents’ house. Well I don’t know if it was because I was exhausted from all the surf we were scoring, but one night I peed in my pants while sleeping. Did I mention I was 23 years old when that happened? Okay, that one is a little embarrassing.
I could go on and on; the examples seem endless. Like the time I asked a girl on a date to the city “recycling center,” aka the trash dump; or the time I made a joke about losing my job in a room full of teachers who had actually lost their jobs. But I digress. I’ve presented here only a handful of my life’s less than finest moments, so what’s my point? Well, I guess that I’m saying we’ve all been kooks at some point in our lives, for me at many points in life. So if you’re a kook, don’t be embarrassed, you are not alone. For every glamorous poster child out there in the line-up, there are a dozen kooks like me listening to the Beach Boys, talking about how much Mark “Aussielupo” rips. I may not be the coolest guy in the parking lot, but I sure have fun surfing. And some of the most magical days of surfing I’ve ever experienced were those in the beginning, before I knew any better, when I used to walk to the water’s edge with my wetsuit half down and my tank-top on. And all those embarrassing kook moments make for some good stories and better laughs down life’s road. I guess all I’m really saying is let’s not take ourselves too seriously; we all need a little grace.
(Originally published on www.theinertia.com)