Swell – A surfer’s voyage of awakening
Captain Liz Clark has done what many imagine but few follow-through on. She has also done it solo. One the world’s most committed surfers and an ambassador for Patagonia, her book, Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening so eloquently written, shares the highs and deepest challenges on an aquatic life of 12 years at sea.
Read this book if: you have an insatiable appetite for new experiences and an ever-increasing bucket list.
Buy this book for friends who: value the search for something that just can’t be put into words.
There are two types of people in this world, people that say they’ll do shit and people that actually do shit. Liz Clark is the latter. From a young age, she found something she loved. Through small decisions, an array of choices, and a beautiful twisting of the universe to point her in the direction of her wildest dreams, she was able to wake up in those dreams. Every. Single. Day.
Her memoir Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening is a raw, eloquent, and captivating read. It will grip your own thirst for adventure and make you question your purpose on this endangered planet. I guarantee it will also inspire you to be a kinder, more sustainable human, grateful human.
What could be better than waking up on the ocean, travelling the world, exploring the perfect waves with no crowds, and sailing away from this short-sighted society that’s ruining the earth?
If you dream about opting-out of the mundane. To nourish your soul with new experiences. Sitting in the discomfort of a challenge, and tackling the introverted path of personal growth, this is a book for you. Swell is a book for anyone that loves a good travel story. Its author is relatable, passionate and vulnerable, a girl that could easily be your best friend. Amongst the surf and tropical silhouettes, it is a story overflowing in the endless chase for what sets your heart of fire.
Our unspoken agenda is simple: surf hard, learn hard, laugh hard, and seize each day.
In 2006, aged 22, Liz Clark set sail from Santa Barbara, California. She made her way south towards Baja Mexico, then west to the Galapagos Islands, crossing over 3,300+ nautical miles to French Polynesia. Her home for the last 12+ years has been a 40-foot sailboat, a 1966 Cal 40. The boat was kindly gifted to her by a retired environmental professor Barry. Barry’s one wish was that she followed her heart and sailed the world, so he could live vicariously through her letters, stories and photographs. The book is dedicated to him, her mentor and the offerer of poignant advice that frequents many moments when she thinks she is in over her head, ‘Don’t give up the ship!’. Barry sadly passed away but we know he would be incredibly proud of her.
Watch the trailer about her book Swell.
Throughout the book, Liz is never in a hurry. There was nowhere she was trying to get to, and no one she was trying to be. She pays astute attention to the yearning of her heart in her quest to ‘chose love over fear, again and again’. It is a refreshing read but not without a sense of sadness. It bears a foreboding message of environmental degradation, over-fishing, inequality, and the realisation that our species has lost that connection with nature. The low-lying islands of the South Pacific will be some of the first to experience the windfall of climate change. “When the coconuts go, we go” – an island lady tells her. That deep connection to nature sits deep within the heart, soul, and bones, of the island cultures that she now finds herself living amongst. The stark contrast to the single-use plastic and wasteful, consumerist society that most find themselves living amongst, is not lost on Liz, or the reader.
I’ve come to believe that pursuing our dreams is as important to fulfilling our souls as it is to creating a better world.
Introspective and enlightening, Swell is not shy of recollections of idyllic days at sea. Peppered, sandwiched, and smothered with the stark reality of living and travelling on a small boat, solo for extended periods of time. The escapades are aplenty. From Central American drug traffickers closing in on the boat, to submarine rides with wealthy cruisers, to culture shocks that lead to a deeper understanding of the people around her. She even shared the same stage and sung with her musical idol Jimmy Buffet in Tahiti! Her recollection of specific locations and the sailing itself is, however, somewhat but intentionally, underwhelming. Instead, she lets the beautiful photographs in the book come to life, stoking your imagination and igniting your own sense of adventure at what is possible. Sharing locations isn’t what it’s all about anyway and Liz knows that. She’d rather inspire you to find your own flow, pay attention to the nuances of the planet, and create a life where you also wake every day, in your wildest dreams. What ever those dreams are.
Life’s hard by the yard but a cinch by the inch
As a fellow woman that often travels solo, there is so much to relate to in Liz’s book: Her fierce independence, to her unwavering belief in herself, and drive to succeed. Her self-doubt and love trepidations. To the open discussion of her body insecurities that most women can emphasise with. It turns out even in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, under the company of the stars, no one is free from insecurity… Even one of the seemingly strongest and most determined women out there. How she described these reoccurring thoughts and her own journey of self-discovery and working through bad habits, was cathartic even for the reader. With each chapter as her thoughts expand with each layer of new experience, you were on that same journey with her.
As a tomboy growing up in a culture that values women mostly for their physical appearance, I have never felt beautiful enough or comfortable with my unique feminity. In fact, I associate femininity with weakness, so I have fostered only the traditionally masculine aspects of myself – the ones that make me a good surfer, a capable captain, a problem-solver, a go-getter.
One of the most striking lessons I took from the book was how Liz battles with societal expectations. What the traditional roles of women are, in contrast to her own values and what she perceives as an injustice. “But where is your husband?” is a common theme when naval officers float alongside her boat and see only her small frame. Her endless drive to lead by example and show the world that woman are as capable, strong, and courageous as men, is just one of the undertones of the book that struck a chord with me. She spoke about how wonderful it was, to watch the shift in other island women when they witness what she was up to.
Sailing is often suffering, but I like that the discomfort and unpredictability put me in touch with something primal, real, human.
My god, must Liz have surfed some incredible waves. From the Galapagos, to the Marquesas islands, Kiribati, to the endless options that fall on and in-between, the 118 islands and atolls of French Polynesia. The only wave she describes in detail is Tahiti’s Teahupoo, a barreling, heavy left-hander that is as perfect as it is scary. With luck and a true legend of surfing, local Tahitian Ramona on her side, she was coached her into a wave. One that you know she was destined to surf and one that will be etched in her memory forever. As a fellow surfer, we can only dream of being in a situation like that. But as we said before, you either do shit or you don’t. And Liz Clark does shit. Really cool shit. Indeed, we agree with Surfer Magazine, she is one of the world’s most committed surfers. Liz is a true gem of a human, and having sailed over 20,000 nautical miles to date, she is still out there doing her thing, living up to her truest potential.
Seriously, read this book!
Not one to ignore whispering of the universe, on receiving this book from Patagonia, I (Alexa) who coincidentally (?), had two goods friends sailing around the world from Croatia to Australia, found out that they would be crossing the Pacific in April, conveniently right after snowboard season. With a few other serendipitous events nudging me towards this inevitable future, and massively inspired by Liz’s book and the endless waves that could be in my future, I will be doing very similar voyage from Panama to Tahiti next year. So thank you Liz for your courage in writing this memoir, and for Patagonia for supporting her & gifting the book to us at Still Stoked.
You both have ‘ignited the imagination to what’s possible’.