A Life Around the Ocean: Why I’m an Ocean Guardian

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Discovering the big blue

At the mere age of 6, I discovered my interest in Mother Ocean while riding the white wash waves of the Silver Strand on Coronado Island in San Diego atop a Morey boogie board. From then until I was 12, I rode my boogie board on my knees with fierce passion, summer or winter — it didn’t matter to me. Eventually, riding on my knees wasn’t enough and I started making the transition from knees to feet, aka surfing. I believe it was the Christmas of 92’ when Santa Claus brought me a 6’3” Rusty. WOW! I thought I was going to shred, but the reality was that I was a kook surfer (aka someone posing very hard as a surfer without actually knowing what they are doing).

Nobody told me I should take surf lessons. I didn’t have a surf mentor nor did I have relatives that surfed. I was the typical four-sport athlete, baseball being my forte. When I wasn’t at practice, tournaments, or traveling the country playing ball, my next closest home to the diamond was Mother Ocean. Typically baseball season would end around June and that meant summers at the beach for me. Of course, my coaches didn’t like it and they couldn’t understand why I’d much rather spend my summer days splashing in big blue than getting dirty on ball field. Looking back, I’m not sure I even knew why! It just was what it was, a strong pull, a strong attraction, and something I couldn’t explain very well.

Boogie boarding in the 1990s in San Diego

My first written account of surf travel

In 1996 my freshman English class teacher made us write autobiographical essays. The following essay was my first written account of surf travel and an attempt to explain the strong attraction I had for the ocean.

It was the night of August 13, 1995. Tomorrow morning my friend Ryan, his dad Ken, and myself would be on our way north, up the west coast searching for the perfect wave. We would pass Point Conception on this trip of wonder. That night I dreamt of endless barrels.

4:00 a.m. the alarm sounds and I awake not remembering I’m still in South Mission Beach, San Diego, California. When I stood up, I wiped the crusted sleep from my eyes. I opened my eyes only to remember that I had a big day ahead. It took two long-boring hours to pack. By 7:30 a.m. we had lost all of our patience. We threw the rest of the stuff in the Bronco and strapped on our surfboards. We were destined to Hollister Ranch, Santa Barbara County.

On the road I had endless thoughts of barreling lefts. The seven-hour ‘endless’ drive was amazing. Sometimes I could look east and see the coastal ranges; to the west big blue endless Pacific Ocean. We drove for miles on the two-lane road and finally arrived at the security gates.

I have seen Hollister ranch waves in magazines and books, but it was nothing compared to seeing it in person. All the surf spots had a southerly exposure and I was so confused when the sun didn’t set in front of me. We drove north along the shoreline of the beaches until we hit a spot named, Lefts and Rights. This break was off a point. The tide had come up and the swell rose to four feet and was still building. The wave was forming a peak right off the reef. Watching those waves I remember feeling very grateful for my life.

The next morning Ryan, Ken, and I put on our winter suits and threw our surfboards in the back of the truck. We arrived to Lefts & Rights, 3-4 feet with incredible rides. Ryan surfed a 9-foot south coast long board, Ken took his 10-footer, and I surfed my 6’ 3” Rusty. Ryan, Ken, and I were the only ones surfing. The three of us shared waves for three amazing hours. The rest of the day was spent reflecting.

Morning had come quickly. It would be the last day at the ranch and so we surfed seven hours knowing there most likely we would never return to surf this magical place. All three of us felt the beauty and power of Mother Ocean pulling us into her wonderful world.

California boys in the 1990s surfing

An attempt to explain my feelings for Mother Ocean

Then again, in 1997 in descriptive essay I make an attempt my feelings for Mother Ocean:

My imagined thoughts are focused on the epic waves. An Island, secluded to only village people and the occasional tourist, surfers life myself, respecting the beautiful Mother Ocean.

The village people live a connected life hunting and gathering. Huts are their homes and they live in peace with nature. Families are big and united, loving, caring, and depending on each other.

Offshore reefs refine the swell into long lined waves. These waves build over a shallow reef creating unbelievable rides. Surfers enjoy the link to nature and can only believe it is all a dream.

Every soul enjoys and I imagine a peaceful bliss on this remarkable island. The awe creates a good-hearted feeling and all feel connected to the stoke that is delivered from the first moment you step on this Island.

Surfers respect and learn from village people knowing they have the knowledge and skills to sustain themselves in cooperation with Mother Nature. Village people respect the surfers, understanding their enjoyment comes from their interaction with Mother Ocean. I imagine this place with no stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination or scapegoating. I imagine it like this because there is simply too much to enjoy!

Baseball diamond vs. Mother Ocean

San Diego baseball diamond overlooking surf

I continued playing baseball until the summer of 1999 and trained on a daily basis in order to prepare for college baseball at the University of San Diego (USD). However, in July of 99’ while playing a baseball at Point Loma Nazarene, I decided baseball was unlikely going to be in my future. I was playing the outfield and couldn’t stop listening and turning my head to observe the waves breaking at Sunset Cliffs. It was an odd moment in my life, a sort of tipping point, where I realized that I truly wanted to invest my time and energy surfing Mother Ocean. That fall I started USD with the notion of playing college baseball – I even roomed with my high school buddy who was a right-handed pitcher – but when the moment came to make my final decision, baseball or Mother Ocean, I went with Mother Ocean. I can remember each minute of that day in great detail. It was a life changing decision. The decision brought me closer to a special source of happiness that was, and still is, hard to describe.

Worlds Religions: Sessions with Mother Ocean

In the essay Sessions with Mother Ocean – which I wrote for a Worlds Religions class in 2002 – I attempt to give an account in words how surfing and Mother Ocean is my religion and church, respectively.

The sun has reached the top of the local mountains. It is Sunday 6:30 a.m. I don’t shower or put on my Sundays best. Actually, I’m still wearing my jeans and plain white tee shirt from the night before. Quickly, quietly but very carefully I load my surfboard into its protective case. I then place it inside the truck within arms reach. As I breathe deep and slow the fresh morning air penetrates my lungs. I am relaxed and excited. The beach is a 15-minute drive.

My drive is accompanied with the guitar of Santana. The tunes serve two purposes: 1) to keep me awake. 2) To help spark my creative surfing style. The music and my personal attitude blend together during the morning drive and therefore bring into being an aggressive, smooth, or mellow approach for the days surf session. It’s been ten minutes. I roll down my window and inhale through my nose. An overwhelming calmness overrides my senses. The Pacific Ocean is near I can smell her scent that ocean lovers crave. I place my hand on my surfboard and quietly whisper, “I will be with you soon.”

The beach parking lot is empty. Mother Ocean is engaged with the company of two older men. I begin to shed my clothes until I stand bare. I then re-clothe with my wetsuit or board shorts depending on the temperature of Mother Ocean and all other weather conditions that compose the day. My surfboard remains inside, wrapped and protected. Soon it will be exposed to the sun, water, and my skin. Before I remove my board I find the surf wax that will coat my precious tool. After my board escapes it’s covering I begin to rub a layer (in circular motion) of the sweet smelling wax. The smell of saltwater, the heat of the rising sun, the sound of the crashing of the waves and my board are all combining to create my Sunday service.

My church for the day is made of sand, water, sun, wind, animals (terrestrial and marine), and a source of energy that are called waves. My Sunday, whether sun shines, rains fall, lightning strikes is spent outside where no scriptures from a book will be read. The day will be shared with the company of other but on this day I will not speak of Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Yahweh, or Brahman.

Surfing is church

Let me explain…

Surfing begins with a storm. This storm could be thousands of miles out in a lonely sea or 10 miles off a busy coastal city. The storm is a combination of elements that scientist have been able to define but not control. Storms or any natural events (earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, forest fires, etc.) have existed and shaped planet earths land formations. For a surfer a storm off the coast is a source of extraordinary energy. A storm produces pulses in the ocean. These pulses, depending on the size of the storm, combine and create ocean swells. These swells are labeled wind swells or ground swells. After traveling miles the swells are able to release their energy when they come in contact with shallow waters, sand bars, reefs, rocks, etc. Once these swells hit shallow waters they become a sensational source of pleasure for surfers. Surfers call this energy waves.

The transfer of energy from the storm to the surfer is incredible. From the storm, a powerful, uncontrollable event comes a source of energy that is then transferred to the surfer. This transfer begins when the surfer makes eye contact with a particular wave. He then proceeds to turn in the direction the wave is traveling. He paddles, building enough speed so that he can become one and the same with the flowing wave. Once he has enough speed he stands relaxed, knees bent, and at this particular point the surfer becomes a part of the energy that was born from a storm miles away in the ocean. The surfers ride may last 20 seconds. The 20 seconds are when the surfer feels most connected to life. He dances on a liquid stage and his style is said to display his chosen ways in life. He feels moksha, nirvana, and liberation. The surfer is traveling on a source of energy, a changing medium of energy. The surfer takes the energy from the storm and fulfills his body and soul with the pleasure that the action generates. Generally a surfer then connects the transfer of energy through his positive attitude to other human beings throughout his day or life. Throughout a surfers life his decisions revolve around Mother Ocean, from his choice of a spouse to his employment and from his decision where to reside to how his money is spent. The Mother Ocean teaches him about life, she preaches through actions, through unspoken truths, and a surfer’s life becomes a lifelong service to protecting her. For some, Mother Ocean is the like the holy book, the church, and the sacred. While sitting patiently for the energy (waves) Mother Ocean serves as the Bodhi tree. This is where the surfer sits, ponders, meditates and finds enlightenment. A surfer practices with drawl and return, wherein the same day he will with drawl from mundane duties of the day to view the mystic blue once or twice. It is frequently said of a surfer, “it is always summer on the inside.”

Bodhi Surf Instructor 15 years ago

Back in the day…

There are many things surfing and Mother Ocean teaches me:

1) Be respectful – This is learned through feeling the power of Mother Nature.

2) Be generous – Mother Ocean unconditionally shares her power and energy therefore we should unconditional givers, not takers.

3) Be gentle – Mother Ocean is a provider and source of life. Be kind to her.

4) Be humble – Mother Ocean can take lives. We humans are not as powerful as we believe ourselves to be. We can build nuclear weapons, shuttles, and hand held gadgets, but we still cannot correctly predict natural events such as storms.

5) Be patient – Surfers must wait for storms and waves. Often times we spend more time waiting for waves than surfing.

6) Be tolerant – Have tolerance for all life forms. We are all connected somehow. Surfers understand that the ocean is the basis for all life’s survival.

Mother Ocean is my Bible, Koran, Torah, and Veda. She is my Mosque, Cathedral, and Synagogue. She is place where magical workings transpire!

After all these years…

Ocean Guardian family

It has been nearly 13 years since I wrote that last essay. Since then I have completed university and a three year Peace Corps service in Costa Rica. I’ve gotten married, had a daughter, built my first home, and started my own business. Yet after all of this time, and all of these milestones, Mother Ocean still has her pull on me. In fact, I have built my life around the ocean, and I do not foresee a day when she will not be a part of my life.

BE an Ocean Guardian

New generation of Ocean Guardians

And since I feel a strong connection to Mother Ocean and want my little Maya Paz (and those in her generation) to have those same opportunities and experiences that I have had, I am taking my journey towards Ocean Guardianship by focusing my efforts on:

  • Using less and reusing what I have, applying that to Bodhi Surf
  • Investing time in organizations that facilitate community-based programs for the development of increased prosperity for the inhabitants, their local cultures, and biodiversity of the region
  • Being an ocean spokesperson at conferences, workshops, and when hosting guests, university and student groups
  • Affecting change in my circle & community by using Bodhi Surf programs as examples for positive change; travelers philanthropy program, ocean guardian pledge and contest

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About the author


Travis is a head surf instructor and social entrepreneur at Bodhi Surf + Yoga. When Travis is not at the beach getting guests stoked on surfing, he is probably at a community meeting, on a Skype call, or spending time with his lovely daughters, Maya and Clea!

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