Interview by Glenn Sakamoto
Photography by Sarah Lee and Vivian Kim
Anna Ehrgott is a Southern California-based surfer/entrepreneur raised by forward-thinking parents and spent much of her childhood outdoors in her local hills. Today, Anna travels the world for her sponsors in search of waves and when she is home, creates one-of-a-kind surfboard bags. We spoke with Anna to learn more.
Where are you from and what was your childhood like?
I grew up with very well-traveled parents. My dad was a mountaineer, backpacker and rocket scientist (literally) and my mom was a professional dancer from Wales. She has lived in more places than I have fingers to count. They met in California and raised my sister and me in the hills and on the ideals and lessons they had learned from traveling. We spent most summers abroad, everywhere from Tanzania to Borneo. I always wanted to be outside. I was obsessed with the ideals of homesteading and found just about everything else to be irrelevant. I was painfully shy, but always opinionated and hard-set on the paths I wanted to take and the person I wanted to be. I went vegetarian at 6, decided to be a surfer at 9, an environmental activist at 11 and pretty much stuck to everything I set out to do as a kid.
When did you get your first surfboard?
I was 14 when I got my first board, this light blue mid-length that I held onto for YEARS until finally selling it only just recently. Kinda hurt a little to see it go. I got into short boarding after that, then upon buying a Craigslist beater of a log, got totally hooked and gave up my shortboarding until only recently. Now I’m loving riding everything.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I can’t remember my first wave, but remember being addicted from the get-go. Just wanting to spend every moment in the ocean. I’d stay out for hours completely oblivious to the fact that people were waiting on me or that I had stuff to do – or even that the surf had gone to crap.
You’re a brand ambassador for such brands as prAna and MANDA. How do these relationships work for you?
prAna is an organic/fair trade clothing brand that I back wholeheartedly. It feels good to work with brands I truly support and want to see do well and continue to positively affect the way all clothing is manufactured. They’re brought me in as a freesurfer and have taken me on several surf trips, but more importantly I’ve gotten the chance to see what Fair Trade factories look like and a gotten to see in person how recycled and eco products can be produced. I’m constantly in awe of how much they do for the environment behind the scenes. My gig with them doesn’t include the pressure of competing in surf contests, but is more geared around shoots, travel and wearing their clothing.
MANDA also fits the role of changing the marketplace. They make reef-safe sunblock with none of the toxins that’s in the regular drug-store stuff. I shoot some photos for them and have sent a couple surf edits their way in exchange for the goodies and some help supporting my smoothie addition.
Both companies go the extra mile to do good and have truly epic people involved.
You also have your own company, Sagebrush Board Bags. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Yeah! I worked a million and a half part time jobs to get experience and an understanding of what I liked, stuff like sewing scarves, assisting photographers, working at a surf shop etc. I always knew I wanted to start my own company, but nothing I tried to force worked out. This was the one thing I was doing for fun anyway – just making board bags for friends. Somehow it grew thanks to the good word of friends and hopefully in part to the functionality of the product. All I can say is I am so stoked I get to do what I love; build things, be creative, work with friends, nerd out on textiles and make something I’m proud of. My board bags are now carried at over a dozen surf shops and in my online store, sagebrushbags.com.
You travel to a lot of places to surf. Of all the places you have been, what places are your favorites?
Sri Lanka is my number one. I’ve gone twice now and still haven’t tired of the food, waves or the people. I’d recommend this place wholeheartedly. The reefs, fishermen, sweet old ladies, temples, curry, trains and mountains will steal your heart. It feels like home as soon as you arrive.
Who do you look up to or consider your heroes?
Jane Goodall for her tireless work towards conservation and closing the barriers between humans and animals. Yvon Chouinard for his political no-bullshit statements. And my dad for somehow being the smartest person I’ve ever met while simultaneously pushing his limits climbing mountains, and being a present and kind dad. I lost him this year, and every single day I find another reason to appreciate him.
What meaning does surfing hold for you?
Falling in love with anything seems to give purpose to living. I’ve heard so many similar stories along the lines of: “Yoga saved my life” or mountaineering, dogs, cooking, etc. I was such a weirdo as a kid, unsure of how to express myself or be creative, but surfing gave me an outlet and way to grow into myself. All those lessons rolled over into the other fields of my life, but surfing is still incredibly meaningful. Whenever I’m lost I look to nature to answer my questions, and surfing is like a daily meditation that puts things back in order, keeps me active, and gives me a chance to meet strangers and catch up with friends( as I ordinarily tend to keep more to myself). I start to feel restless and irritable without surfing. It’s something I hope I’ll have to keep me in line as long as I live.
Can you tell us a bit about your move to a plant-based diet and what effect it has had on you and your surfing?
Every day you notice small things. I have more sustained energy, my senses aren't dulled – meaning I can be more sensitive to benefits or elsewise of everything else I consume. I don't have to clear my throat nor endure the common cold. The list goes on, but it's the long term benefits that really get me. Having heart disease, Alzheimer's, and cancer all in my family, I rely on proven clinical studies and my personal experiences that eating a plant-based diet dramatically decreases my chances of going down those paths. It's no coincidence that what's good for us – is also good for the planet. Things like lowering carbon emissions, making sure people get fed rather than livestock, saving water, and not paying someone else to do my dirty work ( AKA killing an animal for my dinner).
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Relaxing times with good friends, being in uncrowded surf, being productive, my dog, good hugs… lots of things!
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
I think surfboard design is going in some interesting directions. I’m fascinated seeing everyone’s approach of coming to terms with the fact that waves in Southern California aren’t like those in Indo, and a Thruster isn’t always the right call. I think women’s longboarding is at an all-time high and the big wave surfing is totally out of my realm of understanding – it blows my mind. Humans are capable of incredible feats. Spacing on names, but there are a lot of people worthy of admiration in surfing! And not only for wave-riding.
What is your favorite board(s)? Your favorite surf spot?
A 9’6” from Josh Oldenburg is my go-to. I have a California Fish from Furrow Surfcraft and bring that thing wherever I go. I like to switch it up a lot and try new boards and different wave setups. California has a lot of good waves. Malibu and Trestles are my favorites on those rare and magic windows with waves and no crowds. But for the most part little mysto reefs up around Malibu and the Central Coast.
What's your favorite meal?
Hmmmm a three-way tie between smoothie bowls, pumpkin pie, and roast root vegetables.
What music are you currently listening to?
Tinariwen, Monster Rally, Futurebirds, Colter Wall, Damien Jurado… Lots of African Blues, folky stuff, cowboy songs, and a little bit of just about everything else.
What are you most grateful for?
Lots of little things, but right now? Hearing my sweet dog breathing as she sleeps on my bed.
What's next for Anna Ehrgott?
Home for the rest of the year, catching up with friends and board bags and hopefully getting my feet back attached to the ground before another year of travel starting with Hawaii in January.
Follow Anna Ehrgott and photographers Sarah Lee and Vivian Kim on Instagram: @annaehrgott, @hisarahlee, @viviankim1