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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cuban Dreams Realized // A Surf Trip to Find My Roots

My Grandmother's nickname for me is "Gitanita." In Spanish that means, "little gypsy." As a surfer, I've always loved to travel in search of waves, but three years ago, I quit my job, sold all my belongings, and said goodbye to my closest friends and family for a chance to live my dream life filled with adventure instead of things. At 89, this was hard for my Grandma to swallow. But over time the lectures faded as she saw how I thrived in the unexpected, sought out different cultures and rituals, and craved immersion in the unfamiliar.  She's never been one to sugar-coat, so my chats with her after a long stint away are some of my favorites. She loves to hear whether or not the trip was what I expected, what went wrong, how I fixed it…the tough stuff. Because if anyone knew the struggles and sacrifices it takes to make a dream a reality, it's my Grandmother. Or as I call her, my Ita.

In 1961 my Grandparents performed what I honor as an outrageous act of faith and courage; sending their four eldest children on a plane to the U.S. with nothing more than a kiss and a blessing. Three years were spent making innumerable attempts to leave the country by every means of transportation possible. Finally, in 1964, they were able to legally and safely travel abroad where they reunited with the children who had been split across America. When they finally arrived, my 7-year old mother didn't even recognize her siblings. The thought of going back, for her, has been unimaginable. For me, it has been a lifelong obsession.

And so 50 years later, I arrived solo with a ten ft. board bag and childhood stories held sacred, both hesitant and hungry for the adventure alongside 6 guys for Surfer Magazine. My taxi drive through Havana set the stage for a beautifully dilapidated city scene, with tropical foliage, congregations on corners, and music pouring from rustic apartment windows. Challenges presented themselves rapidly, however, from victory-at-sea surf breaking over jagged rock and fire coral, to a 36 hour, exhaust-filled road trip on rugged Cuban highways, to sleepless nights in search of waves we could not find. This was far from my romanticized vision of surfing in my mother's home country, but an opportunity to overcome adversity is one I have learned to accept with the grace of my ancestors. And so we thrived in our moments of sacrifice, while sleeping in the sand, dancing late into the night, or sneaking atop the bus to ride beneath the stars. Without chaos there is no passion, and without passion there is no dream. We were swimming in it all.

Cuba, for me, was more than just manifesting a lifelong vision. It meant realizing myself as my own "dream girl," a woman who can hang with the boys, surf in challenging conditions, embrace a culture regardless of my wounded ties or the divides and pain in its history, endure, be brave, laugh, get angry, stand my ground, empathize, bounce back, let go, love, forgive and move beyond my comfort zone. But it is with an overwhelming sense of gratitude that echoes through me that I reflect on the sacrifices of my trip, and that is for my Grandmother. Because without her dreams, struggles, and will to prevail, I would never be her "Gitanita

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Bright Side of Morocco

Wetsuits/ Kassia Surf + Amuse Society

Top / Free People | Pants / Amuse Society | Hat / Brixton

As I stood in the arrivals terminal at Agadir airport, I was asked a question that abruptly interrupted my contemplative daze, soaking in the elements, absorbing this unfamiliar desert landscape. “Would you like a cigarette?” A tall, thin, dark-skinned man peered at me inquisitively. Normally I would answer with disgust, but with a strange excitement I politely declined. Finally I had arrived to one of my life-long dream destinations and deep down, the lonestar, no-rules approach to living was exactly what I envisioned of the people in this rugged territory. We chatted briefly and after we bid farewell, I walked towards my taxi and whispered to myself, “Welcome to Morocco.”
Time in the desert moves at a different pace than the rest of the world, a blessing and a curse depending on which side of the coin you choose to hold against your palm. Traffic zips past at frightening speeds while the midday sun burns through the sky at a snail’s pace. My first encounter with this challenge was when the airline lost my luggage — 3 days without surfboards while the waves were pumping; head high swell, no wind, sun shining bright. Each hour I went without felt like an eternity, and I struggled with seeing the bright side of this misfortune. But Morocco has this incredible way of giving you a second chance to make the right move or find another path, and so I decided to use it as an opportunity to enjoy the other aspects of my surroundings. Amouage Surf + Yoga Hotel kept me plenty busy — their guides took me on afternoon excursions to exotic markets and ancient cities. We hiked at sunset, practicing yoga while brilliant colors set the sky on fire as the sun tucked behind the horizon. From every postcard corner you turn, there’s something to discover — from the warm, inner blanket of the local mint tea to the brilliant colored tile and architecture at every glance. 
Wetsuits/ Kassia Surf

Pants + Top / Free People

Swim / Free People
Board + Tee / Bing Surfboards

When my boards finally arrived, an unexpected bump in swell had me in the water until the stars came out. The taste of my first sunset surf was sweeter than I could have ever imagined, leaving me with the question every traveller asks themselves — would I have had as much fun if everything had gone right? In Morocco the answer is simple: the lonestar, no rules approach must be embraced at full accord, and if you find the patience to look at the bright side in a Moroccan desert, the rewards are that of a dream. Below are my Morocco musts for anyone looking to take on this dream destination:

Top + Jeans / Amuse Society

Pants + Top / Free People

Where to: 

Stay — Taghazout is a small but buzzing little surf town on the southwestern coast of Morocco, with everything you want to experience from North Africa with a full coastal vibe. Surf Maroc is a one-stop shop offering an array of accommodations based on the experience you crave. Between Taghazout Villa (an upscale hostel experience), Villa Mandala (a week long yoga/surf retreat house) or Amouage (a surf + yoga boutique hotel) you can experience the best of surf, yoga and ambiance that this quaint Moroccan town has to offer, at any budget. 
Surf — The best part of Surf Maroc? The surf guides and group tours offered with your stay. Based on your skill level, you can join a group or get a private guide to take you to any kind of wave you want, from longboard peelers at Imessouane to overhead barrels at Anchor Point. There’s a huge variety along this stretch of coast so I recommend getting a guide to show you the in’s and out’s.
Shop — Taghazout hosts an epic little market on Wednesdays, but the Agadir Market occurs every day and has a ton to offer as well. Also, do NOT leave Morocco without checking out Essaouria, a town adored by Jimi Hendrix when he visited in the 1970’s with a cafe created in his honor. Winding cobblestone streets and back alleys are lined with the most incredible clothes, bags, lanterns, leather crafts, crystals, homegoods….the list goes on. Worth the couple hour drive from Tag, for sure! ;)
See — Go to Paradise Valley and hike into a gorgeous, palm tree-lined canyon and have tajine by the river. Wander around Tag and drink local mint tea by the water, watching the fisherman go out on their colorful boats. Go to happy hour on Moroccan Night at Amouage and watch authentic drumming and dance as the sun sets in the most beautiful ombre of fiery hues you’ll ever see. Then take yoga at sunrise on the rooftop of the hotel or get a traditional Hammam massage to fight off the jet lag. There’s really no wrong way to experience Morocco, so just get there (with patience) and the rest will unfold in imperfect perfection! 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tread Lightly // Teva Spring Escape Sweepstakes

"Abroad" -- a simple word with many interpretations. A term synonymous with mystery, it draws up images of faraway lands, exotic customs, and diverse populations. Now more than ever the issues of travel, immigration and international relations are on the minds and hearts of many. For some, travel is not a choice but a necessity. For others, it is a chance to gain insight and broaden horizons. Spring is an incredible time to escape the cold months of winter and take a much needed holiday. But it's also important we acknowledge that this type of travel is a luxury, and the impact we make on the communities and environments we visit depends entirely on the intention we carry and the actions we take while abroad.

No matter where I travel, I always strive to tread lightly and engage the community. Whether you're a seasoned globetrotter or about to take your first trip, here's a few tips for how to be a conscious traveler and make the most of your trip abroad: 

  • Pack light - Someone once gave me that simple advice before my first trip and I'll never forget it. If everything we carry is an extension of ourselves, what does your pack say about you? I say bringing only the essentials keeps life simple, always including a warm layer (my Woolrich flannel comes with me everywhere!) music, a great book, and comfy shoes. A camera is key, and reusable water bottle/cutlery always comes in handy and reduces waste. Besides that, all you really need is a smile and heart full of gratitude and you'll be prepared for anything. 

  • Keep it in the Community - Treat where you go like where you're from. If you can't stay with a local, act like one. Is there a boutique hotel or eco lodge you can book rather than falling into a tourist trap? Can you shop at a farmer's market and use harvested ingredients rather than eating out every meal? Strive to get a local's perspective on a new destination and your impact will reflect the authenticity of your experience.

  • Disconnect from Social Media and Connect with the Elements - When traveling abroad, it all comes down to intention and presence. Before your trip, ask yourself one question: What is the purpose? If it's to explore and experience, then being present in each moment is a must. Slow down, turn off devices, look around and immerse yourself in nature. Surfing, hiking, and camping are some of my favorite ways to discover a new place. Through studying and absorbing the swell patterns and geographic details of an area, I feel a sense of responsibility to preserve and care for my temporary home. I also develop a strong sense of independence and self sufficiency. Follow this tip and you'll come out a stronger, more competent traveller and THAT is something to take pride in.  

  • Leave It Better Than You Found It -  I live and travel by the mentality "give more than you take." This can be accomplished in a number of ways from simple to serious commitments. Need some inspiration? How about smiling at strangers, practicing patience, sharing with the community, donating to a local cause, picking up trash when you see it, volunteering on a farm, or offering your skill sets to a local in need. There's countless ways to give back and no effort is too small. I love traveling with my polaroid for example, giving someone a physical photo as a memory to cherish has brought more smiles than I ever expected, and connections with strangers I'll never forget!

  • Be an Ambassador of Love - Acknowledge your power. We are walking representatives of our beliefs and our culture. Now more than ever it is imperative that we take responsibility for our actions and cross borders with love, compassion, humility and understanding. Be kind, use manners, respect elders and local customs, make an effort to learn "please" and "thank you" in the local language; take the small steps that make a huge difference. It's these actions that make travel a tool for healing misunderstanding, creating authentic connections, and sharing fresh perspectives with those back home. Take this tip seriously and you will find the rewards are limitless!

That sweet spring breeze have you dreaming of far-flung adventures? Hurry & enter Teva’s Spring sweeps! You could win $1K cash toward a trip to foreign shores, a $150 Teva shopping spree & essential jet-setter gear from rad brands including Parks Project, Yoobi Headphones, Woolrich, Richer Poorer, Mizu, Sunski, The Beach People, and Teva. It’s your last chance. Click here to enter. Must enter by 3/7!