Photographs by Shannon Switzer
A year has passed since Swell and I set forth from the Santa Barbara Harbor and began our southern migration in search of surf, adventure, and a different way of life. Traveling 3,900 nautical miles at a slow and steady six knots, my perspectives have evolved as gradually as the landscapes passing by. Southern California’s busy blacktop transformed into the dry, desolate dunes of Baja and then into Central America’s steamy, green jungles. The changes came slowly—a new smell in the air, a different bird in the sky, or a slight climb in the water temperature. Instead of seals and kelp, I now wave to sea turtles and get tangled in jellyfish. My once-cherished 4/3 Wetsuit lies buried and mildewed below a pile of spare line. At times it seems as though Swell and I are umbilically connected, like two symbiotic beings performing their duties for each other in a graceful dance from place to place, situation to situation. I’m acutely sensitive to this 40-foot-by-11-foot space—a chafe in the rigging sends a chill down my spine. Aside from the slightly abnormal bond I’ve developed with this hunk of fiberglass, this surf “trip” thus far has seen me stumbling into places and spaces I never knew existed. So here it is—a few photos and a few reflections after my first year of sailing away.
Taking the step, but the limb breaks: As often as life coughs up rewards for courage, there equally are as many times when I’m left wondering, “What could have possibly made me think I could do this?” It seems you can’t have one without the other. I’ve decided I would rather experience both than neither. It took many frustrating hours and multiple attempts to fix a broken windlass motor and four straight days battling headwinds and thunderstorms to complete this rushed passage to get south of latitude 11 ahead of hurricane season.
Behind door number 3 … foraging into the unknown: An anxious lump still rises in my chest each time I leave the safety of a port and head out to sea. Not knowing is scary. Generally, I put off fixing the things I don’t know how to fix, or decide against trying a different item on the menu when there’s one I already know I like. It’s the risk involved in going out on that limb that often keeps us choosing to stay on the thick part of the branch again and again. Despite enduring the initial fear, the rewards of venturing beyond the familiar so far have been many. Here, the ocean delivers a few solid returns.
Relationships … too busy for you, adding color to your palette: In the ever-spinning, minute-mattering world of Southern California, I found it difficult to make quality time for the people I care about. Bouncing amid endless mandatory duties between caffeine fixes and rumors of waves at Jalama made for a life about as stable as gasoline prices. Thanks to the people who have come aboard to share in my dream on Swell, I’ve been able to throw those relationships from first to fifth gear in no time at all. Try coexisting in a small space with someone you love, and you’ll undoubtedly end up learning more about them.
Not only does being away from friends and family make me realize how much I appreciate them, but being stripped of the people I know forces me to connect with new ones. I was lucky enough to meet Shannon Switzer before I left, who spent the first five months of the trip with me as first mate and photographer. The people have been the best part of the trip so far. Observing how other people and cultures view life and the world around them broadens the buffet of options from which I may choose to refine my approach to existence. Here, my dad and I celebrate some quality time working on Swell in this Costa Rican boatyard.
New connections with my cuisine: In the land of choices it’s often difficult to know where your food comes from and what it affects in the process. When was the last time you had to kill your dinner? An easy way to eat with less environmental impact is to choose what comes from your immediate surroundings. Here in the cabin of Swell I’m forced to make an unwanted bond with a bunch of rotten canned goods. Contamination of my emergency food supply leads to a frightening extraction process.
Making time: I often find myself rushing things that can’t be rushed — whether it’s in the pocket looking for the barrel, tying a knot, or just hurrying through my day. I’m trying hard to hit the brakes, look around, and bear witness to the moment. Sometimes people laugh when I tell them it takes me 14 hours to go 80 miles, but I’ve decided I like moving at six knots. Actually, I think the more I slow down, the faster I grow. A Puerto gem, above.
Filleting the tuna: In my new lifestyle, I find it’s much easier to know how fresh the catch of the day is and which fruits and veggies are in season and grown locally.
A new definition of home: Leaving the comforts of usual routines and habitat makes anyone feel a little vulnerable, lost, and awkward. New lineups, languages, and laws can have a hometown hero begging to be back on her block. Redefining home has been part of making my endless relocations less intimidating. Rather than a place I can find on a map, home is now something I feel instead. I’m always at home on my board, with Swell, or in the water.
For more of Liz Clark’s adventures, be sure to tune into
for her new weekly online column Girl Surfs World, which will be updated with fresh stories and photos every Monday.
Also in this issue, don’t forget to check out the
New Local Surf Products for the Coming Season