The End of The Road

“The quest is to be liberated from the negative, which is really our own will to nothingness. And once having said yes to the instant, the affirmation is contagious. It bursts into a chain of affirmations that knows no limit.  To say yes to one instant is to say yes to all of existence.” -Waking Life

It has been a very long time since a blog post, but when it comes to writing, I live by Henry David Thoreau’s quote “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” And I don’t like to write un-inspired. I have certainly lived an amazing past 6 months, but any time inspiration struck, I would sit down to write and find myself buried in a bottomless email inbox. Busy is good, they say, when you own your own business.  Anyways, I’m all caught up on emails (mostly) and inspired, so let’s go…

We’ve made it! We’re here. We’ve officially arrived to the middle of nowhere, the end of the road. If you know me well, it probably baffles you that I’m saying “we” while on the road – I usually travel alone. This time I brought Mr. Alex Linnell along for the ride. It’s time to move into SUP race & touring boards, and I have very little knowledge when it comes to design theory on those.  Ask me anything about surfboard, wakesurf, or surf-style SUP design, but the nuances of race SUPs are vast, and Linnell understands them well, so I took him onboard at iSurf as a shaper.

Alex, quickly becoming known around Bali as “Alex too/two”, “Other Alex” or “Gentleman Alex” (The warung ladies at Serengan call me “Handsome Alex” and him “Gentleman Alex”), has been racing SUPs and designing paddleboards for another brand for several years. He also has an incredible amount of experience with touring SUPs, as he was the first person to ever paddle the entire length of the Mississippi River on a SUP surfboard. He owns a surf shop called The Black Oar on Lake Minnetonka, and quickly became the number-one iSurf dealer during the summer of 2014. I asked Alex to design a series of race and touring boards for the 2015 iSurf line.  And he is accompanying me to Asia to make sure the factory produces the shapes to spec. As soon as we approved our final board designs at the factory, we walked back into the factory office and booked a flight to Bali for some “product testing”. We surfed several of the main spots around Bali for the first week.  Then, a Dutch friend, Robert of Surfschool Karavaan, I met surfing in El Salvador years ago invited us to G-land to catch the next incoming swell. We haggled a good deal for accommodations, and jumped on a boat two days later.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

G-Land is a 9 hour drive, or 2.5 hour fast boat ride from Kuta, Bali. It is truly one of those end-of-the-road destinations: When arriving by land, you enter the Alas Purwo National Park from the city of Grajagan (This is where G-Land gets its name). From there, 4×4 is required for two hours on bumpy jungle track to arrive at one of three surf camps. After the final surfcamp, the ‘road’ becomes a walking path to the “fishing village,” which consists of four or five lean-tos reinforced by some blue tarps. From there, the path turns right and leads out to the reef. That’s it, there is nowhere else to go, except the “Keyhole.” The Keyhole is the channel at the end of the first break, “Kongs,” where they recommend surfers paddle out. So depending on how you count it, the end of the road is somewhere between G-Land Surfcamp, and the Keyhole.

After a busy summer schedule, three weeks of working in china, ten days in Balinese tourist traps, a bad case of “Bali Belly,” and some stressful moments in my personal life, it is an incredible relief to have made it to the end of the road and forget about everything for a few days. I recall walking out the reef to take some photos on my first evening here, still feeling too week to surf from stomach sickness. There was something about this place. I felt like a Catholic man walking into The Vatican, or a Muslim arriving to Mecca, as I walked the jungle path to the point. There was something in the air.  “This is a holy place,” I thought to myself. “I wonder if a non-surfer would feel it?”

I felt revived mentally and spiritually, but physically my body was still weak. Despite this, I told my friends and myself that I would surf the next morning. I was asleep by 8:30pm that night and awoke in cold-sweats at 5:30am from Robert, the Dutchman, knocking on my door. “It looks good. The sets are big. Do you want to surf?”


It was low tide, so we walked out on the reef.  I was weak, aching and incredibly dehydrated. “I’ll feel better when I get in the water,” I thought to myself. Robert and I entered the water, and began paddling to ‘Money Trees’, G-Lands most infamous left point break. We arrived at the peak and I stretched my arms a bit, I still felt miserable.

There were only four of us in the water that morning. I sat there looking up and down the reef, left hand point breaks peeling everywhere I looked. Looking back to the horizon, there, the unmistakable lines of set-waves pushing into the bay. As they approached, the first unloaded on the reef just to my south. Surfers have pretty different standards when it comes to judging a wave as “big”. To me, waves are big when the faces are clearly over my head. This first set wave was MUCH bigger than my definition of “big”. The second set wave reeled in, and I stared down its open throat, as it broke even closer to me. “Today there is no hesitating,” I thought to myself as I analyzed the hollow face of the wave.  The second wave passed under me, and I looked back to the horizon. The third, and biggest, wave of the set was lining up and putting me right at the peak (where the wave breaks initially and leaves a clean shoulder to be surfed). Often times in surfing, the surfer does not choose the wave that will be surfed. Instead, the ocean chooses the surfer who will get the wave. This was my wave. “Today there is no hesitation.” I paddled and made the drop, but what the ocean giveth, the ocean taketh away…








I dove into the wave and tried to make it out the back. It seemed to go well – I penetrated with the dive (but not deep as to avoid the reef). I waited underwater for a few seconds and then ascended thinking I was in the clear.  I wasn’t.  It was like swimming into a giant washing machine. I tumbled and dragged for a few more seconds (when underwater, a few seconds feels like much, much more).  And then surfaced to take one more wave on the head.  The set was over, and I paddled back out feeling like a new person. All the pain, all the soreness, all the grief, every negative of my life was gone.

This is one of the amazing things about surfing – When I surf critical waves with few people around, I think and feel nothing but present and connected. While I’m riding a wave, I hear nothing. Sometimes I’ll come off a wave I rode and not even remember riding it. Something takes over, and I operate in such a present state of mind that I don’t even form memories. This is one of the great beauties of surfing – We operate in such a present state of mind, that everything outside of the here and now is completely eliminated.

I stayed out for a couple hours that morning getting several rides, and no more smashings. It was a great session for me.  Afterwards, I retired to breakfast, took a nap, ate lunch, then went out for another session at a break down the way called “Tiger Tracks” (you can imagine why).  Then it was dinner, a movie, and sleep.

So that’s the routine here at G-Land. Get some great waves. Get some great poundings. Eat good food. Drink heaps of water. We are given two sodas and two beers each day (Though I’ve been mostly opting for water to help my body recover). Bed-time is around 8:30-9pm, and first wave checks happen sometime between 5-5:30am. Not much else to do when your at the end of the road.

Feels good to write again. I’ll be back shortly with some sneak peaks at the 2015 surfboard lineup. I just had to get warmed up with something a little more creative.  Bed time here.  Another day of good waves tomorrow.  Cheers ya’ll.




Into the Mild

The journey home has begun. My flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul departs from Bangkok international Airport next week, and I’ve decided to take a brief tour of SE Asia while en route. The cheapest flight to BKK put me overnight in Singapore, which was a welcome stay-over since I made a good friend in Bali who is from here.


Ash, like me, is not the typical native of his homeland. He is not career focused, planning a retirement, or bent on establishing ‘security’ so he can have a ‘good life’. He is a dreamer, a connector, an adventurer, and a lover of people and life – a traveler.
Last night we spent our evening doing what most travelers do when they are, or are soon to be, arriving to home port. We charted courses of action over the next few months to put ourselves back on the road as soon as possible. But like most dreamers, our plans were frequently interrupted by recalling fond memories of the good people we met along the road.
The travelers agenda at home is simple: work, but avoid a career. Love, but avoid a constraining relationship. Save money for the next adventure, but enjoy time with friends and family. And stay connected to the thing that sets you free while traveling, despite the conditioning of the traditional lifestyle and surroundings of home.
The thing that sets you free… We’re sure it’s not the places you go, but rather it’s the people you meet and the connections you make… The holy communion of the travelers’ bond. Why is this feeling so prevalent on the road, yet it is so difficult to attain in our natural habitats?
(Impossible to embed music with WordPress iPhone app, but I recommend listening to “Sets Me Free” by The Apache Relay before reading the rest of this post.)

Today, I write this blog post while sitting in a Singapore subway train during morning rush hour. I keep looking up with my fresh-off-the-boat adventurer’s grin, but every time I make eye contact, I am met with stern face and sad eyes. I have passed by at least 1,000 people this morning, and have met only one smile (It was a young man in casual clothes holding hands with a pretty girl).
This comes in stark contrast to my last little islands of Nusa Lembongan/Ceningan, where most locals smiled and said hello as I passed to the point my face would hurt from smiling after a scooter ride to or from the farthest surf break. Why were these ‘poor’ seaweed farmers so much more happy with so much ‘less’?

Like my home country (USA), The small island country of Singapore rewards hard work, loyalty, and dedication to a career with ‘security’. Ash and I tried to figure out what the benefit of ‘security’ is last night, but we’re lost to its purpose. The reason, I believe, is that Ash & I seek to act out of love, and never fear, and the drive for security is most likely rooted in the fear of insecurity.
In my opinion, fear-based-action is the most dangerous thing in this world to the human spirit, while love-based-action is the most essential thing to the development and sustainability of the human race. If you ask me what the meaning of life is, at this point in life I see it as this: “love based action, and appreciation/gratitude.” Simple and easy…
I’m currently reading Into The Wild, and last night on the flight to Singapore, I read the perfect quote the self-named Alexander Supertramp (McCandles) wrote in a letter to a good friend and admirer, encouraging him to leave his comfort-zone and pursue some adventure:
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit than a secure future. The very basic core of man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
-Alexander Supertramp

That’s all from this Alexander for now. Time to find my gate and make my way to Koh Phagnan, Thailand via Bankok and Koh Samui. I’m logging some serious miles this week. I’ll be home on Wednesday. Ciao~

There was once a man who became unstuck in the world

“There was once a man who became unstuck in the world – he realized that he was not his car, he realized that he was not his job, he was not his phone, his desk or his shoes. Like a boat cut from its anchor, he’d begin to drift.

“There was once a man who became unstuck in the world – he took the wind for a map, he took the sky for a clock, and he set off with no destination. He was never lost.

“There once was a man who became unstuck in the world – instead of hooks or a net, he threw himself into the sea. He was never thirsty.

“There was once a man who became unstuck in the world – with a Polaroid camera he made pictures of all the people he met, and then he gave all the pictures away. He would never forget their faces.

“There was once a man who became unstuck in the world – and each person he met became a little less stuck themselves. He traveled only with himself and he was never alone.

“There was once a man who’d become unstuck in the world – and he traveled around like a leaf in the wind until he reached the place where he started out. His car, his job, his phone, his shoes – everything was right where he’d left it. Nothing had changed, and yet he felt excited to have arrived here – as if this were the place he’d been going all along.”

Castles In The Sky

A Taylor Steele Film



The true destination of any successful adventure is ultimately home.  After a long trip, one usually arrives back with changed perspectives and priorities in life.  There is a great mental evolution that occurs when someone, of great enough fortune to travel the world, sees the stark contrast of the developing world.  There is no better way to realize ones own great fortune than to leave the resorts, walk the streets of the incredibly impoverished, speak to the 5th generation fisherman who was forced to sell his boat to buy a taxi, or refuse the drunk aboriginal beggar 50 cents towards his next pint.

(Press the play button for sound)

For a while, acculturation to the simple life of the locals is a welcome personal development experience.  However, this lifestyle begins to take its toll to the modern westerner.  For me, it is beginning to be too much.  Heat rashes, infected wounds, mosquitos, and other things that bite me in the night are becoming too much.  The daily ritual of waking up with unknown itches, trying to control infections, and avoiding mid-day heat at all costs is making this feel less and less like the dream holiday everyone imagines.

Anyone who has traveled long enough knows that a trip will end in one of two feelings: 1)  A feeling that there is much more to learn on this road and it’s too soon to leave or 2) A content ego and a longing for the people and places which create “home”.  Travel for long enough, and you’re bound to eventually make it to stage two.  I crossed that line this week.

Not to say that I am not enjoying myself.  The Indian Ocean is producing good swells this week, and the waves are pumping.  I am currently in Kuta, Bali sending off some friends and collecting my visa extension, but tomorrow I go back to the paradise island of Nusa Lembongan for more waves and good vibes.  Surf’s up and I am called to the sea.  But home is merely two weeks away, and right now that is a very welcome thought.



stars at night

copyright: Alex Brost

…. And then I walked into the darkness until all I could see above was the light of a billion stars burning billions of miles away.  Across the sea, I see the twinkling lights of “civilization.”  My perspective: civilization is proportionately the same size & brightness as the stars above, but in reality, it is exponentially smaller.

If I approach “civilization,” the city lights will down out the stars, planets, and all great things above.  What a perfect metaphor when gauging what is really important in life!

My feet, thoughts, and soul grounded on crumbling sand below and infinity above – We are truly this small when we look above and to the horizon, but all that is easily lost when we leave the darkness and step back into the artificial light of “civilization.”

(a moment of inspired thought from the beach)


Shanghai Lights (Shang Highlights)


(Note: all images can be expanded by clicking on them)

Like a retro Eiffel Tower

Like a retro Eiffel Tower

Shanghai is known as “the Paris of the east.” This is a wild understatement. Shanghai has more people, more diversity, more culture, more lights, and more fun just to name a few things. The only thing it may not have more of is cheese, Champaign, and Eifel Towers (but it does have a pretty cool TV tower).

The city is easy to navigate by subway and walking (A GPS phone is great to help you find your way), and Taxis are cheap (But don’t expect your driver to speak a word of English or understand what you’re trying to say in Chinese).

In short, Shanghai is most westerner’s favorite city in china, and it is definitely a good place to spend a few days to decompress from the oddities the rest China offers to western foreigners.

My Experience


There are three main reasons I travel the world:

  1. Surf
  2. Meet new people and experience new cultures
  3. See and experience new landscapes

You’ll notice that visiting museums, galleries, archeological sites, and other man-made edifices are not on the list. There are plenty of things to see in Shanghai, but I don’t do a lot of sight seeing. Hence, this is short list. (This statement is slightly contradictory because I did go to Beijing specifically to see the forbidden city and great wall, but that is the next post).



The first thing I wanted to do in Shanghai was visit the Shanghai Financial Center and view the city from their 101st floor observation deck. So this was my first mission. According to my guidebook, on a clear day you can actually observe the curvature of the earth from up there. Unfortunately, the air pollution in Shanghai was so bad that I could only see a few miles in any direction from the observation deck. It was still a really cool experience to look down on the city form 474 meters up.

View from the SWFC observation deck

View from the SWFC observation deck

IMG_1294I spent a lot of time walking around shanghai’s old European grotto, “The Bund,” which has made a big comeback in the last decades as China has reopened to foreign investment.

I also checked out a few Malls in China (They are loaded with good restaurants). I am from Minnesota, where the Mall of America is, and I found the size and number of malls in Shanghai absolutely staggering!

Jing'an Temple

Jing’an Temple

On my last full day, I went to visit the Jing’an Buddhist Temple. It was only a couple miles away so I decided to walk. I got a bit lost, and it was closed when I arrived. However, I found a nice park across the way to snap some photos as the sun went down. On the way home, I could feel liquid pooling in my lungs like I was getting pneumonia – the air pollution is really that bad in China!

Maglev Train

Maglev Train

On my way out of town, I rode the Maglev (Magnetic Levitation) train to the airport. Instead of wheels, this train uses electromagnets to hover above its tracks. There is virtually no friction, and the train can go incredibly fast. My train zipped to the airport at 301 km/hr (187 mph). A friend told me they used to run it at 440 km/hr (273 mph), but they have toned it back, probably over safety concerns.



View out the back of the Rock & Wood hostel

View out the back of the Rock & Wood hostel

I stayed at the Rock & Wood International Hostel. This was the most modern, clean, and organized hostel I have ever stayed in (I’ve stayed in hostels in 15 countries across Europe, Central/South America, Africa, and Asia). It has everything a good hostel has – comfortable mattresses, bunks that don’t squeak, A/C & heat, wifi throughout, clean bathrooms, hot water, social space, bar, movie projector, outdoor lounge, helpful staff, and a couple of guitars to boot (I think all hostels should have at least one guitar).

People back home are always a little weary when I tell them that I prefer to stay in hostels when I travel. Most Americans’ entire perception of hostels comes from the horror movie Hostel, where American tourists are abducted and sold to murder-fetish houses in Eastern Europe. If you think this is what hostelling is like, you’re probably ignorant enough to stop reading here, and continue believing that story. I wouldn’t want you to stay in a hostel and pollute the incredibly positive, tolerant, international atmosphere with your ignorance.

In my 10 years’ experience hostelling, I have never been attacked or robbed of anything except a little sleep – Sometimes the beds move and squeak every time your bunkmate shifts, and I’ve encountered some incredible snorers along the line. These issues can usually be resolved by using earplugs and having one more drink before bed.


My bunkmate Mehdi

My bunkmate Mehdi

The first person I met upon my arrival to Shanghai was my Iranian bunkmate, Mehdi. As I approached our tiny 4-bed room, he was just walking through the door himself. I smiled and said, “Hello, how are you?” to find out if he also spoke English.

He replied with a handshake and a smile from ear-to-ear, “Hello! I am happy because you are smiling!”

We began with the usual “What is your name? Where are you from?” How long are you here?” questions, but we digressed quickly into deep philosophical dialogues concerning greater meanings in life. I quickly realized that we came from very different places and backgrounds, but somehow, for that week in Shanghai, we were operating in the same place physically and mentally. On one occasion, our differences in background and culture led to intense disagreement and some arguing, but it always returned to friendship, trust, and understanding.

Mehdi and I are of the same god – Our opinion what, exactly, that means may be very different, but we are both peaceful souls and students of the earth and this life. Through this perspective, we forged a great bond and walked a similar path for several days and nights. Needless to say, we learned a lot from eachother.

In the hostel I stayed in previously, I met an 88-year-old retired heart surgeon from Sweden. He had spent a great deal of his life volunteering with Doctors Without Borders, and had incredible experience to draw upon. I recall the first conversation I had with him:

The Chinese language barrier had me starved for good conversation in English. I was thrilled to hear some people speaking English in the common area in the hostel when I arrived. I walked into the room and said awkwardly, “Hi, I’m Alex!”

Rolf returned with, “Hey Alex, where do you come from?”

“USA,” I replied.

“USA? Get the hell out of here! We don’t want talk to you!” He it said in a tone that I wouldn’t realize was a joke if he didn’t smile and start laughing immediately after.

I told him to “Bugger off!” in an attempt to prove my international travel proficiency and asked him where he was from.

“Sweden,” he told me. Excellent – I had him right in my crosshairs.

“Hjavla Svenskor!” I shouted at him. “Fan med dig!” That translates to, “Damn Swedes… Fuck you!”

I was born in Sweden and spent my younger years speaking Swedish and English at home. This leaves me with the unlikely ability to call out Swedish jerks and hit on Swedish girls in their native tongue – A huge benefit on both ends while traveling internationally.

My conversation with Rolf moved quickly to hugs and admissions that we were both a bit on edge because we’ve been unable to speak and joke in our native languages for so long. He had spent a great deal of time in New Zealand, and missed “taking the piss” out of his friends. He welcomed the opportunity to joke back and forth with somebody who understood kiwi humor.

I went on quite the tangent there… The point I was trying to make was that he said something incredibly simple, but gloriously intelligent in our first conversation there. I sat in the hostel common space with two Chinese people, a fellow Swede, and a student from Bangladesh. Rolf expressed seriously and with great empathy,

“I can’t stand it that people in this world try to solve their differences by killing each other. The more different people are from you, the more potential there is to learn something from them, and if you kill them, you can’t learn anymore from them.” The Chinese people didn’t speak much English and didn’t quite understand, so Rolf clarified to them. “You and I are very different. That means we can learn a lot from each other, but if I kill you, I can no longer learn anything from you.”

While Rolf clarified, I looked across to my new Muslim/Bangladeshi friend. Our eyes met as we nodded in agreement to Rolf’s words. Our eyes spoke a silent understanding – Yes, we are from cultures that have been at odds for hundreds of years, but we are beyond that. We lead lives of peace and hope for a better world.

I’ve been around. I’ve met people from Kansas to Kazakhstan, but I have never met someone I wished violence upon. Nor do I think I have met someone who wished violence upon me. Rolf’s simple words of genius can only be backed up by the words of another old wise man: “Peace cannot be kept by force, but it can only be achieved by understanding” –Albert Einstein.

Wow… I really lost myself there. This is going to be a long post. Back to Shanghai:

Through the hostel and a few choice oases, I made some great friends. It’s probably easier to just list the ones that I want to remember. I like to make a list of people and occurrences after each city I visit, so I won’t ever forget my friends and experiences around the world.

• Nathan: A Hawaiian living and working in shanghai as a distributor for Santa Cruz surfboards, skateboards, and snowboards across Asian Markets. I met him at a Reggae show that Mehdi and I stumbled across my first night in Shanghai. His wife was the backup singer – it was a great show!

• Mike and Luke: Brothers from Ohio. One in China working for an international acquisitions firm from Brazil. The other in Shanghai teaching coaches basketball coaching strategy (NBA is huge in China, and china has more youth basket ball players than the rest of the world combined).

• Alex and Sebastian (Seabass): Danish dancing dudes. These guys were taking a break from studying Kung Fu elsewhere in China. Alex, Sebastian, Mehdi, and I went out dancing at several of the best clubs around Shanghai almost every night. We made a good team. Usually we would arrive back at the hostel between 6-8am the following morning.

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Eva & Anuli

• Eva and Anuli: East coast American girls teaching English in China. We met via dance-off while closing down a club at 5am with Mehdi, Alex & Seabass. They joined our crew afterwards at the convenience store for some snacks and dancing (Yes, in the supermarket). They joined Rina’s family and I for Christmas mass at a Chinese church, and we had a Christmas dinner and drinks together afterwards.

• Ivon: An Australian/Chinese guy who invited me over for his “Orphan Christmas Party” he hosted for people who were away from their families for the holidays. Unfortunately, I missed the party because I went to church & dinner with other friends, but I met up with him at Perry’s (everybody’s favorite college bar) afterwards for a beer and some games.

• Ana: Uruguaya muy linda sourcing textiles for a Uruguayan clothing company. I met her when Mehdi left me alone at a bar late on Christmas night. She has been working in Shanghai for 8 months, and was able to teach me a lot about sourcing in china. Ana was super easy going, showed me incredible hospitality, and there was something very familiar about her, which was welcome in this strange land on Christmas. She even let me do laundry at her apartment before I left, which is one of the nicest things you can offer a backpacker.



• Rina, Ralph, and James: Rina is my classmate from the University of Malta. She invited me to spend Christmas with her family. Her husband, Ralph, and son, James, were an absolute treat to spend time with. They invited me for dinner and church on Christmas Eve, and lunch on Christmas Day. I learned a great deal from them all. Surprisingly, one of my favorite lessons of the trip came from four-year-old James. When Ralph asked James if he and I were friends, James replied with, “No.”

“Why not James?” Ralph asked his son.

“Because Alex is Mommy’s friend.”

My feelings were a little hurt at first, but I realized his confusion and said to him, “You know, James, we can all be friends. You, me, mommy, and daddy!” It was in this moment I realized that the Keynesian economic principle of scarcity cannot be applied to love and friendship. Unfortunately, keynesians run the world, and I fear that, like James, they might be applying the “law” of scarcity to love and friendship. This might explain why there is so much suffering in the world.


Happy Merry Christmas

I wrote the following post on Christmas Day, but I never go around to proof reading or posting it.  Chinese people know the phrase Merry Christmas from marketing promotions.  However, many of them think the name of the holiday is “Merry Christmas.”  This led to a lot of people saying things like “Merry Christmas is tomorrow!”  or “Happy Merry Christmas!”  I thought it was hilarious.  Anyways, here is a belated Christmas post:

25 December 2013, 11:01pm – Shanghai, China

Today is Christmas, and I am in China. This is the first time in my life that I am away from my family for Christmas, and I am definitely missing our tradition. Instead of swedish meatballs, ham, and potatoes at my mother’s house, my christmas this year consisted of friendship, nightclubs, untraditional holiday food, and lack of sleep at my hostel in Shanghai.

I am fortunate to have an old classmate who lives in Shanghai with her family, and they were kind enough to invite me to join them for their Christmas celebrations. I am incredibly grateful to have so many friends around the world who are always happy to invite me into their homes, and Rina’s family has been exceptionally wonderful and welcoming. Last night, I had Christmas dinner with them, and we attended Christmas mass at St. Peter’s Church in Shanghai. I also had Christmas lunch with them today at their apartment in Shanghai.

After lunch today, I took a short siesta because I have spent the past two nights out dancing until the wee hours of the morning with my hostel bunk-mate, Mehdi, an Iranian man of mystery who I could write a whole book about, but in short: He is unlike anyone I have ever met, he dances more uniquely and frequently than anyone I have ever met, and he always says what he thinks and seems to be having continuous revelations that reveal deep lessons in regards to the meaning of life.

Anyways… after my nap, I decided to treat myself to pizza at Shanghai’s best pizza place, Pizza Marzano. I LOVE pizza, and there is not pizza place in the town where my surfboard factory is. While I was waiting for my food, I was reading through Christmas messages from my friends and family, and I was hit by a wave of Melancholy. “What am I doing here?” I thought to myself as I sat on a cold patio eating Pizza alone for Christmas dinner. I’m thousands of miles away from the people I love most on a holiday that, to me, is purely about the blessings of friends and family.

Luckily, technology allows us to communicate across the world. I was reminded by a wise friend via Whatsapp message that this is part of a dream I have dreamt for a long time – “You sleep in the bed you make.” This made me feel a little better, but I was still pretty bummed and decided to walk it off.

I strolled through “The Bund,” Shanghai’s most westernized district, with a grande soy hot chocolate from Starbucks in hand. I was surrounded by about 24 million people, yet I felt incredibly alone. I simply could not shake a feeling of misery.

About halfway through my walk, I finally got the reality kick-to-the-face that I needed. As I was about to ascend the stairs of a sidewalk overpass, I saw a man lying at the base of the stairs, face to the ground, shivering, begging, praying for change. I was emotionally frozen, but continued past not knowing how to respond. When I reached the other side of the overpass, there was another man in a similar position begging for change. Shortly thereafter, another homeless man with white hair down past his shoulders and no shoes on. “How dare I be cold in my thermal hoodie and Northface Jacket,” I thought to myself.  I continued on and found myself walking through a subway tunnel.  I noticed a man looking over my shoulder with a look of sympathy on his face like nothing I have ever seen before.  I looked to where his eyes gazed, and saw a mag that was either a severe burn victim or an Agent Orange child.  He was also begging for change, but with the most hollow eyes I have ever seen.

This is when it all came together for me. I am among the most fortunate people in the world in terms of friends, family, health, and opportunity. I am not with my family and friends this Christmas, but I am blessed with the choice and ability to pursue my dreams to the most distant shores. And I have done so under my own will. Instantly, my melancholy turned to gratitude and appreciation for the gifts I have been given.

My Christmas was really made when I arrived back to the hostel in time to Skype my family while they ate Christmas Breakfast. My sister has a lazy susan/turntable on her dining table, so they placed the iPad on it, and I was rotated around the table to have individual face-to-face conversations with my family as they waited for breakfast to be served. I got to pop into the kitchen and chat with my dad while he made eggs, and my niece, Rhian even showed off her Ice Princess dress for me.

I think the best part was watching my 15-month-old niece dance to my cover of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. I didn’t know what to get for my mother this Christmas, so I recorded the most christmassy song I know and sent it to her. She plugged her iPhone into a stereo and played it for everyone.  Apparently my little niece loved it!  Here is a link to the song if you want to here it:

Merry Christmas everyone.  Thank you for your support and helping me achieve my dreams.  So much love!   -Alex

All Surfboards are Shaped!

Exciting news today – All of my surfboards have been shaped!  That is 208 surfboards shaped in under three weeks!  Most of them are at some point in the glassing process too.  Some nearing completion!  Impressive…  The head shaper wanted to get home and enjoy the holidays (that’s Christmas, New Years, and Chinese New Years), so he’s been working his butt off over-time and left today for a 7 week holiday.  Who would have thought that a Chinese factory worker would get to take so much time off, eh?  I’ve emphasized it enough in previous posts, so I’m not going to drill it in again now but… workers are treated pretty darn fair in my Chinese factory, and I’m proud I can say that.

The last 3 boards to be shaped were a few personal boards I’ll be taking along to Indonesia at the end of January.  I actually got to finish these boards myself because the shaper had to left to catch his train home.  It was so nice to be shaping a bit instead of just supervising production.  I think I gained some street credit from the workers too.  One of the other shapers watched me shape, and I could tell he liked my technique.

My order is projected to be completed by January 20th, when the factory lets out for a the Chinese New Year/Spring Festival, So I will be flying Bali on January 23 with these sweet babies:

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bali fish

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bali hybrid

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The boards aren’t all for me.  Two of them are for Jay from W.E. Surf (seems like a good partner for iSurf right?) and Dominic Holland, Director of Photography for DP Dom Holland.  Check out the website or his Youtube page – He does fantastic work.  Holland is actually going to film a documentary style surf film of our adventures in Indonesia.  (Here is a link to Jay’s blog post about it).  It should be pretty cool – I’m really stoked.

Well, Christmas is right around the corner.  I’m going to celebrate with an old classmate that lives in China.  This will be my first Christmas ever away from home – I’m pretty bummed about it, but I’m also very excited for Rina to show me her stomping grounds.

Since all the boards are shaped, I’m going to take a little time out of the factory and do some sight-seeing.  People always wonder how I afford to travel so much – Well, I use low cost carriers or frequent flyer miles and stay in hostels or couch surf.  It’s really not that expensive at all, and I find hostels to be a much better experience than hotels.  Check out the itinerary I put together for myself.  Prices are for each flight segment or per night in hostel:

  • Saturday 21 Dec: Head to the coast and spend two nights with the factory owner’s friends.  Stay in international youth hostel ($9).
  • Monday 23 Dec:  Fly ($96) to Shanghai and meet up with Rina.  Staying at Rock & Wood International Youth Hostel for five nights ($9).
  • Saturday 28 Dec:  Fly to Beijing ($62) to see Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City & Great Wall.  Staying at King’s Joy Hostel for two nights ($6).
  • Monday 30 December:  Return to Shanghai ($62).  I land at 1:40am on the 31st and will probably sleep in the airport.
  • Tuesday 31 December:  Fly to Shenzhen ($109), near Hong Kong, to meet my factory owner and visit his friend’s surf traction pad factory.  We’ll probably stay one night (NYE) before returning to the factory via High-Speed Train (factory owner usually won’t let me pay for anything if he’s around).

So far, I’m looking at ten days in four cities for only $404 transport and accommodation.  Not too shabby, eh?  I’ve gotten really good at finding the best deals on flights and accommodations.  If you ever want to go on a backpacking trip, contact me – I LOVE to search for deals like this.  In short, the best low cost carrier in China is China Spring Airlines, and my preferred hostel booking site is Hostel Bookers.  I also always use Lonely Planet guide books.

Well that’s it for now.  I’ve got some fun times ahead.  I’ll leave you with this time lapse I shot from the roof of my apartment building the other day.  I love night-photography, and I’ve been experimenting with time lapses a bit in the last year.  I combined the two using a new remote timer I got for my DSLR and this is what came out.  Oh, and of course I cut it to some Huni music.  Enjoy!

Simple Comforts

There are many things you realize about life when you leave the comforts of home and travel to a place where the simple luxuries in life are not always available.  One of the major things I have realized in my journeys is that there is little worry over basic human needs in the USA.  If you are from a developed country, which you probably are if you’re browsing the internet right now, there is almost no chance you are concerned about your basic human needs:  i.e. you don’t have to worry about where you will find shelter tonight, if you can eat tomorrow, and whether you can find suitable clothing and accommodation to keep you warm.

my little friend

my little friend

On monday, I came home from the factory and found my apartment to be no more than 45 degrees fahrenheit (about 7 degrees celsius), and it is not equipped with heaters.  I looked up the weather on my phone and found that, for the next week or so, it should be near freezing temperatures in this town every night.  I immediately walked to Walmart (There are about 400 locations in China), and purchased a small space heater for ¥49.00 ($8.00).  This little heater has become my new best friend and greatest fire hazard.

This is my second winter living in a cool, damp climate without heat – I experienced a very similar winter in Malta last year.  People from my hometown in Minnesota, where it is currently 18 degrees fahrenheit (-8 C), often express jealousy that I escape the cold Minnesota winters so frequently.  Tonight, I sit here wrapped in down blanked, wool socks, and pajamas.  I’m huddled close to the heater wishing there was a better way to warm my core.

Then I think about the fact that it has rained for three consecutive days here.  All around me people are going about their daily routines, buzzing around on mopeds, carrying buckets of water and supplies on their shoulders, and walking the streets in sandals in this cold damp climate.  I know a lot of these people do not have little space heaters, nor can they afford them or the electricity to operate such a thing.  I realize how fortunate I am to be able to go to the store and buy a heater when I need it and pay for the electricity to operate my little friend to keep me somewhat comfortable.

Its amazing how basic necessities are not even considered by so many people, and to others, finding food and warmth are among their only concerns.

Its Not Easy Being Green

I’ve been in China for two weeks now, and I’m beginning to get a grip on what my reality is and will be here.  One thing is becoming very apparent – I do not fit in.  I’ve never been into conformity.  In fact, I’m quite the individualist.  I’ve always held a strong belief that beauty stems from uniqueness, but my experience in China is beginning to make me realize that too different can be uncomfortable.  Let me explain:

Aside from a 2 day visit to a larger city, I have spent every day in a small town where my surfboard factory is (by the way, a small town in china can have over a million residents).  In my first 2 weeks here, I have not seen another non-asian person.  When I am out and about, I am always the only white person in the room, and the next tallest person might be about chin-height to me if they really stretched their neck.  Also, Aside from 3 people I know with limited english vocabulary, it is impossible for me to verbally communicate with anybody.  Basically, I may as well be a giant green frog croaking his way through life here in China (queue the music).

Now, I have always been one for a good challenge – I even bought a pair of shoes in the market yesterday knowing only how to say “四-四” (“four-four”), as in my european shoe size is 44, but I am beginning to grow tired of constant stares and people randomly saying “Hi” to me without being able to speak another word when I try to converse with them.  I’m in the most populated country in the world, and I’ve never felt so isolated in my life.


"Blending in" - Atacama Desert, Chile

“Blending in” – Atacama Desert, Chile

Now, I have done a lot of traveling in my life, and one of the things that has always made it comfortable it that I’m a bit of a chameleon.  Like most Americans, I am an ethnic mutt.  My mother is a brown haired, brown eyed Swede, and my dad is a dark haired, blue eyed… who really knows, mostly german I think.  This has left me with brown eyes, a big nose, quickly tanning skin, and medium-dark brown hair (what’s left  of it).  The bulk of my travels have been in Latin America and Europe, and in these places, if I speak softly, I look ethnically vague enough that people passing in the street can easily mistake me for a local.  This is a huge advantage when traveling, especially in underdeveloped countries, as I do not worry much about being targeted by criminals, much less solicitors.

This experience in China has offered me a very interesting perspective on life – one that I have not had the chance to entertain before since I can usually fit in.  I am different… really different… so different that nearly everyone I pass in the street stares,calls out to me something that I don’t understand, or even snaps a photo of me walking by.  I’m not shy.  I am incredibly confident in my skin, but this is beginning to become uncomfortable for me.  At first, I would use my peripheral vision to notice the stares, and quickly look at them and “bust them” for staring at me.  Now, I walk around with my head down to avoid the awkward eye contact and looks.

Deep down inside I feel terrible – not because I know they’re judging me based on my looks, but because I know I have looked and judged others in the past.  Today I scorn myself for any time I was looking at somebody because they were different, especially if their eyes met mine while I gazed upon them.  It is not a good feeling to be looked at or pointed out for being different.  Take it from me – the only green person in this village in china.

10 things I learned in my first 24 hours in China

  1. I am a minority:  I’ve only seen one other non-asian person since I got on my last airplane.  It was an Australian guy who was on the flight.  He saved me on #5 & #7 on this list.  Thanks mate.
  2. People observe unique people:  Being the only white person around, people tend to stare.  Children are especially funny and they look at me like something is wrong with me.
  3. I don’t think anyone here knows what peripheral vision is:  In the airport bathroom, the guy at the urinal next to me was looking at me the whole time.  When I looked back, he pretended he wasn’t staring.
  4. Farting, burping, and spitting in public places is normal:  My favorite was the guy who hawked a big one on the floor in the airport.  He proceeded to stomp it out like it was a cigarette.  I guess spitting indoors is cool if you’re the first person to step in it yourself?
  5. Unless single file line is explicitly stated and universally followed, its a free-for all:  When my flight was cancelled and tickets needed to be re-issued, getting to the ticket counter was like trying to get to the front of the stage at a punk concert.  I’m not kidding when I say anything goes.  People were throwing elbows, reaching over shoulders, and one guy was even gently ramming me from behind with a baggage cart.
  6. Everyone has clean/new shoes:   I’m quite sure I have the dirtiest shoes in China.
  7. Assume nothing:  I figured that when my airline ticket was re-issued because my flight was cancelled that my baggage would follow.  This was not the case.  My bag was just randomly dumped in the over-sized baggage area.
  8. Locals will assume they understood you even when they haven’t and give you direction based on their assumptions:   Me and my ‘mate’ ran circles around the airport trying to find out which ticket counter would re-issue our tickets.
  9. The lines on the road mean nothing, and side walks are not just for pedestrians:  I noticed several cars & mopeds driving against traffic in the far right lane.  Also, I went for a walk in the morning and was almost run-over by several mopeds buzzing down the sidewalk to avoid traffic.
  10. Food cooks on the table:  Most meals seem to be served almost done, and the still boiling pot is placed on the table (sometimes on a stove in the table) to cook a bit more before you eat.

Luckily, I’m a good sport and none of these things really bother me (FYI: the guy in the bathroom’s eyes were gazing above my shoulders).  I’m now about 72 hours into my trip, and believe me, that’s just the beginning of things I’ve learned.


How did I get here?

When I was in high school, I received a piece of advice from my mother.   It is the best advice a mother could ever give a teenager who was almost failing out of high school (this was not due to bad teaching, unintelligence, or learning disabilities – it was merely a result of boredom with course structure and material).  My worried mother casually said to me one day, “Alex, if you want to be successful, find something you love and get really good at it.”  I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but something about it stuck.

My fondest memories of childhood are those in which we were on vacation.  I was fortunate to have a family that traveled often.  My mother, sister, and I were all born in Sweden, so we would go back most summers to visit our friends and family.  At each airport, my parents let me buy a magazine to read on the flight.  Like most young American boys, I was drawn to car and motorcycle magazines, but I almost always opted for surfing magazines.  I found the images of waves in far distant places amazing, and the articles resounded an existentialist belonging to the oneness of the universe that is fleeting in today’s society.  Slowly, airplane seats became my pews, and surfing magazines became my bible in the religion that is the traveling surfers’ lifestyle.   (I should note here that around age 10 my mother was certain I would become a minister of the church when I grew up because of my incredibly strong faith as a child – for my 10th birthday, all I wanted was a crucifix to hang above my bed).

Although the ironing board was good for make-believe, I would not stand up on a real surfboard until I was 12 years old (OK OK I admit was body boarding for several vacations before).  Like most people who have felt the glide, I was in love with the feeling.  Unfortunately, learning to surf at age 12 and being from Minnesota put the odds against me becoming a professional surfer.  Find something you love and get really good at it, but be reasonable.  Nearly every pro surfer grew up on a beach and started surfing between age 3-5.  So pro surfer wasn’t my thing.  I tried to dream up ways to become a professional traveler,  but that job does not exist in the capacity that I like to travel (If I had to follow an agenda, be burdened by a film crew, or write extensively on the things I experience, the fun would be removed).

Then came wake surfing:  a sport so new that few people had the jump on me, and I had access to several inboard boats.   I tried competing a few times.  I even got 2nd place at the World Wake Surfing Championships in amateur division.  But let’s get real, the industry is so small and niche, that you’re not going to make a reasonable living on contest winnings (yet).  My friends and I (Team Idle we called ourselves) started making wake surfboards for fun.  I found myself thrilled by design theory, the build process, and the idea of creating functional pieces of art.  Pretty soon, iDOL SURFBOARS was launched, and life became very busy.  I was able to escape my busy life on a couple of amazing surf trips, but I always had to come home too soon for the spring/summer Minnesota surfboard rush.  Board shaping quickly replaced surfing and socializing with friends.  The past few summers, I have only been able to wake surf a handful of times because I am always busy shaping, glassing, or repairing surfboards.  I haven’t even made myself a wake surfboard since 2010 because I’m always too busy building boards for customers.  I found something I love, and I got really good at it.  However, the temptress of success through surfboard production pulled me from my true loves: surf and travel.  This would not do.

A new plan quickly developed.  This plan would force me to travel to new places, meet new people, and leave me ample time to surf.  This plan is a new brand of surfboards called iSurf.  Instead of working long hours to produce a couple hundred boards each year, I will outsource production to factories abroad which can build my shapes at higher quantities and lower costs.  iSurf will make the most advanced shapes in wake surfing and fresh-water specific paddleboards available to inland surfers at very reasonable prices.  And more importantly to me, it will send me around the world to places I’ve never been, meet people I’d otherwise never get a chance to meet, and experience cultures unknown to me.  Have I found my calling?  I hope so.

I know a lot of you are thinking, “Alex, you sold iDOL out.  You’re going to lose control of the process, and your boards are going to be made by kids in unfair labor conditions in China.”   Let me settle those worries right now:  iDOL SURFBOARDS are, will, and always will be made in the USA.  I have sold a large portion of the company to iDOL’s Head Shaper, Stefan Ronchetti.  He loves building surfboards, and it is his dream to spend all day every day building surfboards.  Under this new venture, he, our team riders, and I will have more time to develop more and more advanced shapes for wake surfing, paddle boarding, great lakes surfing, and other freshwater surfing applications.  And I promise I will not lose control of the process, and all workers building my surfboards will be fairly treated.

Right now, I am sitting in a surfboard factory in China where I will stay until all of my boards are completed.  I will inspect each surfboard along every step of the process, and help in every way I can.  The factory does not employ any children or bonded laborers (which I know some of my competitors can’t accurately state), and pays higher wages than most surfboard factories.  Employees in this factory normally work 8 hour days and have Sundays off.  All of the shapers in this factory have been shaping surfboards longer than me, and the quality of construction and attention to detail is astounding.  I did a lot of research, and I’ve risked nearly every asset I own to get myself to this place.  I know in my head and my heart that I have made the right decision and I am in the right place at the right time.

Now that was a lengthy first post, and probably not very entertaining.  I just wanted to attempt defining what the heck I’m doing over here.  Going forward, this blog should be a somewhat interesting narrative covering the surfboard building process, general travel observations of the existentialist surfer, and hopefully the ultimate goal will be accomplished – we’ll go surfing.  Stop back soon, and I’ll keep posts shorter and develop this blog with the sights and sounds of the world as I explore them.  I’ll warn you now – It might get weird, but as my favorite author, Hunter S. Thompson stated, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”  Cheers friends!  See you down the road.