Liz Clark is a California surfer who travels the Pacific on a boat named Swell. Choosing a life on the ocean allows Liz to discover new cultures and to be able to find and ride that perfect wave. After corresponding for months, we finally caught up with her.
What was it like growing up in California?
I was lucky to grow up in some nice areas of San Diego, usually near the beach or open space. My favorite spot was in Del Mar, where we lived during most of my high school years. My parents rented a place one house back from the beach on 24th St and I had a pack of super fun friends and neighbors. That house became our ‘hub’ because my parents were so relaxed and easy-going. I remember lots of beach break beatings learning to surf, hot sand, riding bikes, summer high tide body surfs, sneaking into local jacuzzis, harassing the poor lifeguards, food in the fridge, lots of freedom…not too much to complain about.
When did you get your first surfboard?
I was 14 at the time. I’d saved up money in a little green box in my bedroom at our house in Point Loma where we lived then. One day, I got my big brother, James, to drive me to South Coast Surfboards in Ocean Beach. I went in and told the guy I wanted to learn to surf. He pointed me to a yellow 8’4” Encinitas Surfboards egg, and I handed him a wad of assorted cash from the green box. I don’t remember exactly why I felt so strongly about becoming a surfer, as no one in my family or close friend group surfed at the time. It all of a sudden just grabbed me after meeting this girl, Renee, at school, who surfed. I was a competitive gymnast for many years, but by that time, I was getting bored with it and ready for something new.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I took a taxi to the beach from our house in Point Loma to the jetties in Ocean Beach shortly after buying that board. I had no idea what I was doing, I just walked out into the waves, looking at all the surfers out on the outside, and tried to catch the whitewash. I remember feeling elated after finally getting to my feet and going ‘straight’ in until the fin hit the sand.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young girl?
My father was always my biggest hero. I also really looked up to my gymnastics coach, Darryl Davis, and many of my schoolteachers, Mrs. Gibbs, Mr. Freeze, Mrs. Arn, Mrs. Castruita… and after reading Dove and Maiden Voyage, both books about sailing around the world when I was 12 or 13, I was in love with Robin Lee Graham, and totally admired Tania Aebi. I was never one of those girls that had posters of the Backstreet Boys on their walls.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
I’ve loved them all, but Kiribati probably, the most. It was like going back in time, true subsistence living and culturally very much in tact, homes built all out of palm and pandanus, hardly any contact to the outside world, amazingly resourceful and friendly people, healthy reef ecosystems, and some incredible waves too.
Who/what inspires you?
The natural world is probably my most constant source of inspiration. As far as people who inspire me, there’s way too many to name…but to start: my Mom, Audrey Sutherland, St. Mother Teresa, Pema Chodron, Amma, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, H.D. Thoreau, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Bernard Motesseir, Joshua Slocum, Yvon Chouinard, Tom Curren, Keoni Cuccia, Taylor Knox, Greg Long, Bethany Hamilton, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thor Heyerdahl, Jesus, Buddha, Allah, and Jah, and any person who follows their heart with good intentions for the world…
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Our lives are a reflection of our thoughts–focus on love, gratitude, and the positive side…
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
There was this one wave at Jalama last year that I pulled back on…no, kidding, I made a heck of a lot of mistakes, but no, I don’t have any big regrets, all of them were just part of the learning process.
What are you most proud of?
My cut biceps… no, kidding… my love for my family and friends, and the planet.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing is a sacred space for me. It has brought me unfathomable joy, self-confidence, independence, and a fantastic reason to sail around the world. My passion for it almost gets unbearable at times, but I feel so lucky to love something so strongly. And even luckier to be living my dream of surfing around the world on my own boat!
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Being with my family when everyone’s in a good mood and perfectly barreling rights without a crowd.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
The surfing ‘path’ that I like most is being shaped by Dane Reynolds, Dan Malloy, Greg Long, Bethany Hamilton, Carissa Moore, Julian Wilson, Brian Conley, Dave Rastovich, Belinda Baggs…
Tell us about your relationship with Patagonia.
Patagonia has helped support my voyage since 2005. I feel great knowing that my biggest sponsor is one of the most environmentally active and aware companies on the planet. I only see our relationship getting stronger as my own voice as an adventurer, environmental activist, and nature conservationist gets louder. It’s run by a collection of amazing people and Yvon Chouinard, himself, is a true living legend – a pioneer in thought, business, and conservation (not to mention how he changed the world of climbing). A radical guy with a great sense of humor. I’m proud to be part of the Patagonia family.
What is in your current quiver? What is your favorite board? Your favorite surfspot?
Being in the South Pacific for the last few years– mostly steep, heavy waves. It seems I’m always on my thrusters. Jason Feist, of J7 Surfboards, in Santa Barbara has been my main shaper since 2001. I’ve got my essential J7 thrusters—a 5’9”, 5’11’, 6’4”, 6’8”, and 6’10”. Then I’ve got two quads, a 5’4” fish and a 5’9” heavier glass pintail quad both shaped by my friend in Nexpa, Paul Lyle. And a fat twinnie that another long-time friend and shaper, Sean Tully made. Fletcher at FC Designs recently made me a magical 5’9” epoxy round tail and a beautiful 9’6” longboard, too. I’d love to get an alaia after having a go on Crystal Thornburg’s alaia in Hawaii last year. Lately I’ve been into bodysurfing a lot, too.
Soooooo many waves great waves out there, but my favorite’s a secret…
What’s your favorite meal?
I love spinach, blueberries, walnuts, curry, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, coconut milk, honey, ginger, and tea. Top any meal off with chocolate lava cake and it’s my favorite.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Althea and Donna, Gentlemen, M.I.A., Herb Alpert, Hooverphonic, Alpha Blondy, Arcade Fire, Hank Williams, Paul Simon, Bonnie Tyler, Beethoven, Beirut, Blue King Brown, Marcia Griffiths, Brigitte Bardot, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Jackson Browne, Deep Forest, Dezarie, Diana Ross, Dr, Alimentado, Lutan Fyah, Horace Andy, Jimmy Buffett, Joan Jett, Le Tigre, Todd Hannigan, Michael Franti, Midnite, Quantic, Scissor Sisters, Sean Hayes, Sigur Ros, Stevie Wonder just to start… music is my lifeline out here.
What are you most grateful for?
The love of my family and friends, and the people who believed in me.
What’s next for Liz Clark?
Now that I finally fixed the leak in Swell’s hull, I’ll be continuing west on my voyage, through the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Kiribati, New Zealand…?? Wherever the wind blows me, I guess, and keep sharing my love for the planet with the world. I’m working on a book that will be published next year, so that’s been quite a learning process and helped greatly to improve my writing skills. I feel very inspired to continue my yoga and meditation practice, keep encouraging people to live out their passions, and look beyond the hype to seek peace, truth, and more sustainable ways of living.