I have long believed our greatest challenges can often become our greatest opportunities, if we allow them to be… This idea of consciously stepping outside our low-level pains and personal frictions to ask the higher question, “what am I supposed to learn from this struggle” is at the core of my constitution as well as my recovery from paralysis. A few decades ago, I remember standing in an airport, picking up a surf magazine and seeing “it” for the first time – that teal, hollow, overhead barreling diamond of a wave clapping down on a Fijian reef named after a meat skewering device. The cover shot (probably a Tom Servais image & probably Kelly Slater surfing) was an image of a stand up CloudBreak barrel, and it flipped a neuro switch deep inside my head.
I am a mountain adventure kid by environment, who grew up on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe pursing myriad adventure sports in the snow, dirt, rock and air. As an expedition whitewater kayaker and professional back country snowmobile rider, athletic experiences in the ocean were yet to land on my shores. Moments before picking up that fabled surf magazine, I was not a surfer…and, after seeing CloudBreak for the first time, I wanted to be.
Now, back to my belief that our greatest challenges can often become our greatest opportunities. As much as my spirit desired the experience of standing in the shade of that iconic wave off the island of Tavarua, the likelihood of me becoming a surfer capable of respectfully surfing that wave was minimal. And, after sustaining a life-altering 2010 spinal cord injury while filming for a snowmobile project in the Sierra back country, that likelihood became infinitely further away. Although the distance to this dream wave was now light years away, the goal never changed within my heart.
A few years into all-day physical therapy and workouts, my greatest challenge had now landed my wife Shawna and I on the shores of Maui to push my miraculous recovery beyond its limit, along side dear friend and Olympic gold medalist Alpine skier, Julia Mancuso. It was her Dad, Ciro that put me on a board for the first time. Ciro piggy backed me into the water and set me on a giant all red Laird SUP for my first session at Kihei Cove – with a kid sized stand up paddle. I would scratch myself into small waves, grab an outside rail to initiate a turn, hold on for dear life and ultimately get annihilated into the white chaos. With time, those small waves got bigger and bigger. Eventually I met a shaper named Tyler Lausten who worked with me to create custom prototype boards , which featured cuts outs for my feet, a pad for my butt, a seat belt to hold me in, and a leash to secure my old kayak paddle. The prototype process led us to an 8.0 tri-fin design that allowed me to explore waves which kept getting bigger and faster. With time, surfing doors continued to open and I found myself in heavier and heavier line ups all over Maui, Kauai, Santa Cruz, Ventura, Todos Santos, and then…a heartfelt email showed up in our inboxes.
Opening the message, my smile extended a mile-wide. Julia is getting married, and the location is spectacular! Jules is marrying one of the greatest guys on the planet – a waterman legend named Dyan Fish with a heart the size of the south pacific and a surfing talent capable of competing with the world’s best. Dylan, lives in Fiji on Tavarua island many months out of the year. As this infamous “heart-shaped island” is one of Dylan’s homes, the soon to be married couple chose this slice of paradise to tie their proverbial knot. Within moments of reading the invite, Shawna and I realized that CloudBreak – that teal, hollow, overhead barreling diamond of a water wall – would be right off shore…and, if conditions, talent, safety and courage all perfectly aligned, that multi-decade goal might be within reach.
Our greatest challenges can often become our greatest opportunities, if we let them. On a brilliant June evening in 2017, a man who dreamed about surfing a far a way distant wave, who laid in a hospital bed years prior with zero feeling or movement below his belly button, loaded up into a Fijian boat with friends, family and stoke higher than the moon. The boat hummed its way from the island, pulled into the CloudBreak channel and with all the safety boxes checked, the man jumped into the water fulfilling a life dream. Just being in the water with those world-class ocean athletes was the full realization of his goal. And, riding the soul-filling waves that ensued, gave way to a freedom and bliss equaling an experience which left an indelible smile on his soul…