I kind of talk a lot, so I’ll try and stay focused. You may need to help me.
Haha, ok. Take us to the beginning. You grew up on boards. How’d it all start?
It all started with a boogie board, with my dad over there. He used to take me way out at Carlsbad State Beach and in front of the offshore little surf shop there. That was our spot. I grew up in a little tiny town east of Oceanside where all your avocados come from.
My mom would freak out because he’d take me way on the outside and I’d lay underneath him and I basically got a bloody nose every weekend. My dad wasn’t the best in staying in the pocket, so he’d freakin’ … bomb down the face. Then I’d smack my face and always come in with a bloody nose. So that’s how I started. Then when I was too big to fit under dad, I started standing up on the boogie board.
Eventually I got fins then my first O’Neill wetsuit when I was eight or so. Then, when I was nine, I saved up my allowance and bought a surfboard from Surfride that was $35. It has this rainbow Flojos sticker on the top — you know, the Flojose sandals you don’t see anymore – so it was a total 80s board. 6’7”, three-inches thick, glass-on fins – I loved that board. It had the stupid little noseguard on it — I was like, I’m so lame with this noseguard and I know it.
I really wish I could find that board. I let a friend borrow it in high school and it just got lost in the shuffle. I never got it back – but I had a dream recently that I rediscovered it randomly on the beach.
Sad story! What boards do you have now?
If you haven’t tried the Occy ’84 model by Rusty, you should. It’s my magic board. And I think I like it so much because it’s similar to that 80s outline, but this time it’s actually my size. That board has nice downturned rails but hidden volume on the deck. The they call it a very user-friendly board which is probably good because my turns stuck. I stick my butt out and do something weird with my back arm instead of actually following through.
I don’t really believe you.
I really don’t have good turns!
I also have the chola sled – she’s AWESOME. She’s my hand-made board. When I caught the first wave on her at Crystal Pier (and it was somehow good), I was like – HOLY SHIT IT WORKS AND I MADE IT — this is like the coolest thing ever. That was a totally new experience for me. I just recently shaped another one — a longboard, too.
You have a longboard?
I know it’s weird! I try to channel my inner Mele.
Now we really do have to go surfing together.
If it gets over like, shoulder-high though, I’m wearing a leash. Sorry.
Tell me about surfing and traveling – because you have been more places because of surfing than a lot of people I know.
My news years resolution this year was to travel more in the US. I haven’t even been to New York City – but I’m going!
So I was really fortunate to travel a lot with my parents, but more roadtrips and Baja trips. My dad wasn’t really a surfer — he has a Dewey Weber and used to surf in his twenties.
We should ask him.
[Heather turns over her left shoulder]
Yo Dad — when’s the last time you went surfing?
[Pause. She turns back.]
About two years ago for a little bit he says.
Anyway, I didn’t travel much internationally with my parents. We were like, the OG van crew before vans were the hipster cool thing to have. We had this Chevy conversion van and we’d do Tahoe and Mammoth and my brother and I would fight over the back seat to be away from our parents so we could play our Sega and read Harry Potter. Since then, I’ve always loved camping and planning for trips and the excitement of going to the store and buying every snack you possibly can. Twizzlers? Yes.
My first real international experience was when I studied abroad in Costa Rica. I chose Costa Rica because I was reading Surfer Magazine or Transworld or something and I specifically remember this article about Costa Rica. I was like, I have to go there. Done. I have to.
I started learning more and more about it and loved that it seemed like it had the aloha vibe but infused with latin. And you know I have a weakness for Latino men.
Anyway, Costa rica just opened my eyes to traveling internationally –and to surfing while traveling. Now, when I plan trips, even if they’re not surf trips, I figure out how to make them into surf trips. For example, Peru wasn’t supposed to be a surf trip for me. I was there working but I talked to my company and pulled a few extra weeks so I could fly down early to surf Chicama — which is an unreal, completely magical experience. Seriously, I cried on my last wave. I’m not joking. I don’t know if you’ve ever cried in salt water, but its a weird feeling because you can’t tell if tears are coming down.
The reason why I’m so fortunate to travel all the time is because I’m a teacher at University of California, San Diego, and they’re on the quarter system. So instead of having to teach two semesters, the quarter system means every ten weeks I essentially have a vacation.
Since travel is expensive and I’m still working on my debt situation, I researched camp counselor jobs in Costa Rica. After I came back from studying abroad, I was so obsessed with the lifestyle there and all I wanted to do was go back.
Costa Rica will always have a place in my heart, but I think it’s a little too saturated now for me. I’m selfish when I travel, and now I’m not the only blonde gringa running around. There’s too many yogis and surfers everywhere. It’s still amazing and I love going, it’s just different.
Ok, back to your story. You were researching camp counselor jobs in Costa Rica…
Yes, and I found this company called West Coast Connection which is a travel company that specializes in meaningful travel experiences for teenagers. I’ve worked in camps before and have been teaching surf lessons since I was 15 or so, also working at Surf Diva and doing their trips to Costa Rica as well. They’ve helped me keep Costa Rica in my heart and I’m so thankful t o Izzy and Coco for that.
West Coast Connections has been something that has incredibly impacted my life because before, when I went to Costa Rica, I had done some volunteer work. They have sent me there multiple times because they run community service trips. in 2009, my first year out of college, I found them and loved that they are very open about who they are – they are very premiere trips. They’re definitely not cheap, but the kids that get to go- it changes them in a way that makes a kid realize that I could’ve ended up one way and remove themselves and get perspective. Most of them are affluent families from mostly the East Coast and Canada.
And you still do these trips, right? Coming up on seven years with West Coast?
Yep — I take the summer quarters off and still do these trips. Financially, it’s a little tough because although you get the whole travel experience, it’s not like I make as much money as if I were to teach at UCSD year round. But the experience is above and beyond any paycheck they could ever give me.
But you’re living such an adventurous life. I would prefer that over financial security in the big picture.
And that’s what I’ve had to realize. I know that being a teacher isn’t for everyone, and a lot of people say — Why would you choose to do that? You’re not going to be able to pay your bills and you’ll need a rich husband. And I’m like, no, but it would be nice to have a rich husband and then maybe I could go to more than one yoga class a week.
The thing is, I’ve been so lucky because I’ve gone to Costa Rica more times than I can count and the Costa Rican trips are just so good. The service they do there is just incredible, and I get to be part of that. And that, in the end, is most important.
Last question. What do you say to your students who struggle with surfing?
A lot of people say to me, “I can’t surf,” or “I had a lesson and I only stood up once,” and I’m like, “Yeah, but you STOOD UP.” If you have me as a teacher, unless you’re like 500 lbs, you’re standing up on your first day. And if you are 500 lbs, I’ll put your ass on a SUP, and you. are. standing. up.
For some of my students from China and Korea and Japan have a really hard time pushing themselves up on the board, so to see them catch a wave is especially awesome. I always just say — if you tell yourself you can’t do something, you’re not going to do it. You have to tell yourself you’re going to stand up, or else you’re not going to.
For someone who’s just starting off surfing or struggling with it, I think Surf Diva’s motto is pretty on point — “The best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun.”
That’s why I always have so much fun when I go surfing with my girl posse. My “Pineapple Posse,” as I call them. I started coaching these little girls and they-re like fifth or sixth grade – 12-years old or so. They’re super cute and that’s one of my favorite parts is being a teacher – imparting a little of myself and my wisdom into them. I have to remind these little shredders that it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the most perfect cutback or if you fell on the floater that you thought you had or you didn’t make the section or whatever. You have to keep it in perspective for them.