Triiibes 2012. What: Is Happiness

Donna and I Tribes 2012 Flow
Donna and I Tribes 2012 Flow

This post is being made from the top floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. As I post it the broad bay view windows overlook the ocean I swim most days. The Coastline is beautiful, waves meander though and a few pods of surfers sit along the lineup on up to the top of Surfer’s Point. A storm approaches.

Much goes on in this retreat. There is a level of emotional connection that has all of us at times finding ourselves tearing up and at others, laughing hilariously. But more that the see saw bridge of emotions, we are building community by plant seeds and simultaneously reaping the rewards of crops sown years ago. It is fantastic and transformative in ways that I cannot explain here.

The following is the transcript of my presentation to my friends and Tribe members. Incredibly grateful to them for coming here, from all over the world. Ventura is showing them what she is, inside and out. These are generous, compassionate, educated, connected, men and women who know how to think, develop and seed the world. This is their Retreat.

Imagine that.

I sent this title to Grant Simmons, our Tribes project coordinator, along with my three words, which are Home, Wonder, and Ocean. The theme for this little chat, actually was never meant to be a question. It is a statement of truth, elemental to my life and work.

My fiancé Donna, is always on me about my creative work being expressed in too cryptic a manner. This title statement, could possibly be another case for that argument. I am a bit cryptic. I truly do not want everyone to get it. I have a reason for that.

People need to want something in order to find value in it, and move forward. There needs to be desire.  If one just throws everything out into the playing field of art and life, it becomes like so much dust in the wind. It never takes root and bears fruit.

I think great benefit lies in harmony , and in the happiness of every one. I truly think that life is better when all understand:

That happiness, is about the what of our lives. Not the why, not even the how, but the what.

Yep. What, matters a lot.

A friend and editor of mine, is the writer Drew Kampion. He always signs his e mails with a statement of Philosophy.  The statement reads this: “Life is a wave, and your attitude is your surfboard.

I used to scratch my head a bit when I would run across that in correspondence, as we worked building magazine projects.


Smart man, DK. Great editor.

Here is a surfboard. One of mine. I began building surfboards at the age of 12. By the time I was done doing that, I had built close to 40 thousand of them. Surfboards are actually very specific craft. Good ones are designed to be sort of a magic carpet for the mind of the rider. My Hawaiian heritage taught me that a surfboard is a sacred and personal thing. A good surfboard builder implements his knowledge of craft and sea into the board design, in order that the person getting the board, is able to approach the ocean in his or her’s, own individual manner. Think of them as magic carpets of the mind. That might help.

I have been in the Ocean all of my life. For me, it’s home. It is where I go to learn, find respite, and recharge. It taught me a lot about the importance of flow, and happiness. It still is a conduit of that. Probably why I see it as so important to connect people to it in my current work as a Creative.

I don’t ride it much any more, or many of the boards I have kept as a result of my life in the sea. But I have them.

You see, one day I saw my flow stop in surfing. I hit a wall so to speak. It was not a bad thing. Simply just a thing. A what. So when that happened I had to get a closer look to see what the what, was.

My introduction to surfing was generated in a specific instant when at the age of 4 at Manhatten Beach, I saw a guy ride a longboard in to the beach one afternoon, backlit by the sun on a Summer day. I remember specifically knowing that this would be my world.

As my life progressed I found myself building surf boards for my friends, and doing all sorts of sports, as I wound through school and what eventually proved to be a career in Surfing and yes, surfboard building. In time that morphed into working and building several companies, including my own, which threshed out as being a retail corporation with a surfboard manufacturing entity in the middle of it all.

My philosophy in surfing was that as a surfer, one should ultimately be able to do, whatever (pause) one could think of, to do on a wave. The idea was to develop an ocean, mind, board connection so I could explore what was possible. You see, surfing for me, only was really exploring What. (Potential)

It was a carrot, which kept me in the water, hour after hour, day after day, for 32 years. Imagine spending 32 years in the ocean. That is what I did, and I managed to do it all over the world in oceans everywhere. Tough job really, figuring out how to commodify, what was really a lifestyle. But I managed to do that.

In process, my wife and I had two sons, my company grew and I developed a plan to exit the surf industry at the terminus of a very detailed business plan’s fulfillment.

But surfing, and the Ocean were always there. I was always hungry for my next ocean experience. It NEVER stopped, that yearning to achieve: what.

I could not have known that one day, at 42 years of age, I would be paddling out on this board, which really was something I made for riding large waves, and not for the sort of small to medium size day at Rincon point, just North of here, that I would run smack into: what.

As a professional surfer, I had made my career riding shortboards. In the world of professional surfing, those are the craft of choice, the journeyman’s tool so to speak. Out of all the boards I built, probably 30000 of them were shortboards. Maybe 1000 were big wave boards, sort of built along the lines of this one.

I have a crystal clear memory of the moment I ran into what. The interesting thing however, is that the actual details of my moment of clarity, of revelation, which were contained in what was to be a defining wave in my life, are a little bit blurry. There is a reason for that. But I am going to let you figure out what it is. There is a little bit of cryptic me for you.

Now Rincon is a rather long wave. We call the place Queen of the Coast.  This day was maybe ceiling high. The swell had been pretty big for a few weeks and I had been riding this board a lot. The waves were dropping off a bit, and I probably normally would have chosen a shortboard to ride, which would have been better suited to what I would normally do on a wave.  For some reason I grabbed the 7’8 gun.

It was an innocuous wave that I caught.  Nothing special about it on the surface of things. Stroking into it, I recall a keen sense of drive inside of me, and for a period of what was only probably a minute and a half, all those years in the water, exhibited themselves in a very complex series of maneuvers on that wave. At the end as I accelerated out of it and into the flat water off the back of the wave, it hit me.

I had just surfed a wave not perfectly for my sport, peers, judge or anyone else but perfectly for me.

I was not really thinking per se, I was doing. I had just done it. I had discovered my what. That what, was flow between the energy contained in the sea, and me. And in that instant, I recognized that I was done with my growth in surfing.  I had finally caught up and run against the answer to my what. It was a strange but very rewarding feeling. I cannot say it was happiness, it was more a sense of mastery, a knowing, that okay I can DO that at last, I get it!

I did not realize it at the time, but that incredibly rewarding moment, was the harbinger of great change in my life. Because I had located my what. My goal. Which I had inwardly assumed would be unreachable.

That is how man is wired.  We all need to find our what, because in that we create motion and movement-flow, which in a essential linchpin to happiness.

In this same time frame as that epiphany laden moment, my company was at a crossroads of growth, going from factory and two stores to my business plan of five locations where which point, I had planned to sell the entity off and move into something else. I have never really enjoyed being a CEO or a leader. I tend to be happiest pushing others along to succeed. Just how I am wired I guess.

In the middle of all of this, for a number of reasons I had made the decision to divorce my wife and change  few things in my life, but was torn on what to do regarding all of the business sprawl which I had created as well as how the impact of all the change would impact everyone in my life.  We had amassed quite a bit of stuff, and along with that came a debt of responsibility to both family, employees, surfboard craftsmen, Community and more.

I think of my process in discovering what to do about all of this, sort of like me spazzing out. In many ways I had run into a wall. That wave  which was such a defining moment in my life, really had seeded the need for change. What I was experiencing was a cessation of flow in my life. I needed to again find my what. One thing for sure that I was certain of: happiness was far from my cluttered little world.

One evening, a fire started in the hills here. It was during a clearing wind event and I was watching from down here by the beach as the wind fanned the blaze, and it began to sort of rocket through the town. I was a personality on a morning radio show at the time, where I did a surf report, and a few other things occasionally. One of those other things, was live reporting on events like large swells and fires etc. So I rang in to the station and we began a public service type live report on the fire. Since my Ventura retail store was front row center on the fire, I drove over, hung up my cel, telling the on air guy, Rick, that I would call back from the shop landline in a moment.

I unlocked the back door of the shop, and in the light of the fire coming through the display windows, I saw a guy dressed in black, wearing a ski mask. LOL. I still see all of this in slow motion by the way. Today it sort of cracks me up. I remember thinking “Here we go. Hope he does not have a gun” And then the guy charged me. He was holding a backpack.

I recall him swinging it at me and thinking “why is he swinging a backpack?” as I braced myself in a martial arts stance. (The guy was pretty big) I figured I would just use his momentum and my elbow to whip him and knock him out. The brick in the backpack hit my skull at about a millisecond before he smacked into my elbow and we rolled out the back door.

Our little scuffle went on awhile and I was talking to the guy the entire time. In the course of trying to figure out what was going on I realized that this guy was not going to let me go. I was a witness. He was a criminal.  Eventually in one of our on the ground, then back up exchanges, he came back with a pipe and I made a choice after fending off a couple times. I decided to just go with it and let him connect. He did that a few times and I let myself go limp, feigning unconsciousness. To this day, I think he thought that he had killed me.

He dragged my body into a pile of boxes by the back door of the shop and went back inside. By the light of the fire as I held my breath I saw him turn back and look at me and thought “Shit he knows I am alive” then he turned away, and went back to finish robbing the shop.

I got up and ran to the Karate dojo located in a building round the corner. To this day I am not sure why exactly. I think maybe it was instinct. The street in front of the shop, was a madhouse with people and cars everywhere. At the glass door of the karate studio, which was locked I could see two students inside sparring. I banged on the door. My bleeders were spraying everywhere. The two students ran into the back of the studio and I thought, “oh shit, they are not going to help me”. But in a moment, the Master of the studio came out.

“Who did this to you?” He did not know who I was. I was too badly beaten. Through shredded lips, I managed to communicate that it was me, the guy next door, and that someone was in the store robbing it.

A couple hours later I was lying in a hospital bed ready to be stitched up. A few people had come by to look at me. One of them had a mirror and gave it to me.  As I looked in the mirror, I finally saw why everyone was so upset. I was a bloody mess. It looked like I had just taken a bath in blood. Scalp wounds kind of do that.

Beatings can be a psychologically traumatic. As I came out of this, in process, and began the work of running my company, managing the divorce and all that attendant mess, I did something very familiar. I jumped back in the Ocean. But this time I brought a camera. It was my therapy.

So each day before work, I would rise before dawn, load my gear, pull on wetsuit and fins, and swim out alone. In time I began to find my what again, that curiousity and challenge, which for so long had propelled me in surfing.

Funny that how my what, and flow were in the Ocean. I was not surprised by this.

I decided to liquidate the company. My wife and I got through our divorce, and what transpired over the course of the next ten years became health to myself and family, and developed into my career in Creativity. I am simplifying it of course. There is not a lot of time for me to communicate the entire tale. Nor could you manage to stay awake for it, I am guessing.

And truthfully, in my line of work it really is NEVER supposed to be about me, so I remain a little bit uncomfortable with discussing me and my experiences.  In fact after all those years it looked very attractive to finally be able to become: anonymous. Ironic I know, as I stand here today having done so much in such a  relatively short career time frame.

But I hope that in doing so, in baring some of this, that you may avoid needing the enlightenment of your own lead pipe smackdown. You see, what that guy did not know, is that Hawaiians have really dense cranial bone structure . If you look up hard headed in a dictionary you will likely see a picture of a Hawaiian.  Hell, I am probably the poster boy for it: hard headedness.

What I would hope that some of you take away from this time together, is the importance of happiness in our communities, families and especially in our selves. Your future ought to contain happiness!

Man is, at his essence, really just an energy signature. We come into this world via our Mother’s womb as such. We go out of this world in much the same manner: an energy signature, moving, somewhere.

If we look for our what, well in that, is flow. In flow is happiness, and a sense of fulfillment. If you want the benefit of happiness, pursue your what. You will find your future there.  Maybe it will come find you.

Here is a wonderful little film from a colleague on the East Coast. I hope that you enjoy the storytelling of Dana Saint.

dana saint


3 Responses to Triiibes 2012. What: Is Happiness

  1. Thanks for sharing this David. Somewhere I read about the pursuit of happiness being part of the pursuit of a virtuous life. Your flow with water and engaging people in worthwhile matters are a pleasure to witness.

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