Crystal Thornburg is a surfer/artist born and raised in Hawaii. An avid traveler and environmentalist, Crystal has been featured in the film Sliding Liberia, as well as being a surf ambassador for the clothing company Patagonia and a partner in an organic farm. We chatted with Crystal to learn more.
What was your life like growing up?
Growing up in Hawaii, I was surrounded by the sea. With both of my parents having been surfers since the 60’s, you could say I was born into it. We always made trips to the beach, whether it was for surfing, sailing, fishing, or snorkeling.
I started competing at a young age in swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking, outrigger canoe paddling, surfing, bodyboarding, and water polo. Although I spent a lot of time in the water, I also lived in the mountains on the southeast side of Oahu, building forts in the forest with the neighborhood kids. I was an only child growing up, and with my mother working for the airlines we travelled all over the world. The need to travel seems to have been ingrained in me.
When did you get your first surfboard?
My first surfboard was given to me by my dad when I was about eight. It was a previously enjoyed 8’6″ Country Surfboards painted bright green. I remember surfing Waikiki on it all the time. I was young and embarrassed that it was a used board. That is until Auntie Rell (Sunn) complimented me on my board, then I took it everywhere with pride!
What was the feeling you had when you first stood up on a surfboard?
I started surfing so young I don’t really remember my first wave. My mom surfed with me in her stomach on Kauai, and so I guess I fell in love with it then! I do remember when I was about two or three being on my mom’s bodyboard riding waves with her at Waikiki and having the biggest smile.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young girl?
Growing up I was mostly admired my family for being so supportive and loving.
I also admired Rell Sunn whom was a goddess of the sea, and my swim team coach Rowdy Gaines who is a U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame member. He taught me how to train hard and live a healthy life. Growing up paddling canoe for the Outrigger Canoe Club, I was inspired by Duke Kahanamoku for his grace and speed in the ocean.
Who/what inspires you?
I seem to be constantly inspired by nature due to it’s connection with all things.
Which in turn causes me to be inspired by people whom make it their passion to be aware of that connection. I’m also inspired by people who strive to live a non-violent lifestyle.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
The greatest thing I have learned in my life thus far is finding and appreciating the comfort of being in silence. And that compassion and understanding will get me through the challenging times in my life.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my parents and how they have been so supportive, loving, and honest throughout my life. I’m also proud that I was able to follow my dream and stay on the path to graduate with a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science with a minor in fine arts.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
There are two very different places that I have traveled to that are across the globe from each other: Liberia and Myanmar (Burma). These two places stand out for me because they have both seen brutal violence in recent years, only months before I had visited them. The people of these two countries are crying out to places like America for support, but little is being done to help. This has made me even more grateful for our freedoms that we have here in this country. And although the people in Liberia and Myanmar have been heavily challenged, they do have one thing in common – hope.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing has changed my life because it has influenced so many of my choices.
I’ve chosen to live near the sea, travel to other seas, spend many hours learning about the sea, and to experience it daily. My days revolve around the ocean and it’s conditions. It is the one time during the day to really experience true meditation and mindfulness – the ocean helps me to remain in the present moment.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
I love to work in the garden with my fiancée Dave Homcy. We grow salad greens which provides local, organic, and fresh produce to North Shore family and friends. We named our salad operation “Crave Greens,” which combines our first names Crystal and Dave to make Crave. I enjoy reading and creating art of any medium. Bodysurfing during sunset, just absorbing all the colors, and textures of the end of the day, and finishing it off with an outdoor bubble bath in our garden. I also enjoy taking those memories of the colors and textures in nature, turning them into some sort of art project, using clay, photography, painting, sewing, or glass.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
I don’t really follow the surfing tour, but I do know I enjoy watching friends that surf with grace such as Rasta, Belinda Baggs, Travis Reynolds, Megan Abubo, and Joel Tudor.
What is your current favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
I love my orange and yellow five stringer 9’0″ single fin shaped by Santa Cruz shaper, Travis Reynolds. One of my favorite surf shots is Robertsport, Liberia. It is by far on of the longest left point breaks I have ever experienced.
What’s your favorite meal?
My favorite meal is anything cooked by Dave, anything he creates in the kitchen is a masterpiece, but I must say I love it when he cooks Italian! I also enjoy eating Thai food from my friends Opal and Aoy in Haleiwa who have a food truck. I’ve known them for about ten years and still can’t resist their Thai garlic noodles.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I am listening to a few Podcasts such as “Learn Thai”, “Radio Dharma”, and “NPR.” Music on my iPod would include but not limited to: Pink Floyd, Nick Drake, Abyssinians, Beck, Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan, Mason Jennings, Bön Iver, Buena Vista Social Club, Cat Power, David Bowie, Fleet Foxes, Leo Kottke, Paula Fuga, Hepcat, Janes Addiction, Johnny Cash, King Tubby, Jon Swift, M. Ward, Manu Chao, Pearl Jam, White Buffalo, and Radiohead, to name a few.
What are you most grateful for?
I’m grateful for the challenges that has taught me to recognize that obstacles in my life are the very things which shape who I am. And I’m grateful for having the opportunity to travel the world solo, as well as with friends and family, to discover different cultures. But I’m mostly grateful for the freedom to learn and believe what I want.
What’s next for Crystal Thornburg?
My biggest life changing event is getting married to my best friend on August 7th 2010. We have been together five wonderful years, and have been blessed with already seeing much of the world together. He continues to support, inspire and test me throughout life – and I hope to do the same. And we have been lucky enough to work on surf films together such as “Sliding Liberia”, and the soon to be released “El Mar, Mi Alma,” There are also new film projects in the works which will allow us to keep traveling and living our dreams.