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
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
Local Surf Products for the Coming Season


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