How Chasing the Perfect Wave Led to My Dream Life

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There have been moments in my life where I have stood at crossroads so tangible I could see the metaphorical pathways stretch out before me into the potential futures. But what do you do when one path is obscured by the unknown, a heavy fog of unseeable possibility.

In these moments, the temptation of what feels “safe” can keep us from pursuing what we truly desire. But there is a sweetness in the uncertainty, an acquired taste that I’ve learned to love. Even when the “safer” more conventional choice had lined itself up for me, the pursuit of surfing has taught me to leap into the fog with both feet.

The Ocean Was Calling…All the Way to Wisconsin

The song in my heart has always been the ocean, the way a shell echoes the waves when you lift it to your ear. But despite there always being salt water in my veins, I was born in a landlocked state. I often like to joke I was born into the right family, just the wrong location and growing up in Wisconsin left little opportunity for pursuing my childhood dream. To describe it as merely a dream though, feels like a disservice, I mean a sort of unexplainable pull by your own thread of destiny. There is the beautifully romantic notion in Chinese mythology, the “red thread of fate” which leads you toward your destined true love. I have always felt mine pull me to the ocean. Aside from the odd surf lesson here and there over my formative years, after many setbacks and putting my dream on hold “until the right time,” at 26 I finally answered that call.

Moving to Hawaii

I had my belongings packed up and in a shipping container. It felt like, at last, I was ready. Then covid hit. There has been a generalized amnesia in the collective consciousness of society to blur the trauma of the past 3 years, but I remember this moment clearly. The path I had foreseen was now shrouded in fog. I, like everyone else, had no idea what was going to happen. What would be the most sensible move here?

Should I put my plans on hold again? The security of choosing home felt intoxicating, this seductively eden-esq choice presented itself – the proverbial snake, tempting me to take the apple of the easier choice. But that call to the ocean was stronger so I took a leap of faith.

Hawaii was the nurturing ground which turned my surfing dream into a realized passion. I threw myself wholeheartedly into the surf culture and lifestyle. I learned to read the waves, and blossomed from an enthusiastic beginner into someone who knew a little more about what they were doing on their board.

Hawaii is the dream surf paradise for a reason. The waves are perfect, the ocean is clean and beautiful, there is a wave break to suit every style of surfer – to this day it remains my favorite place to surf.

This first taste of adventure is what opened up the world to me, and for that I am forever grateful to those magical volcanic islands. Hawaii nourished my heart and soul and prepared me for all that was to come. If I could move somewhere new in the most uncertain of times, completely on my own, then I knew I could do it again in a new destination and the rest of the world beckoned.

Pitstop in Puerto Rico

I’d caught the taste for island life in Hawaii, and that was what I loved most about Puerto Rico. Still part of the US, but with its own unique culture, I was able to throw myself into the surfing lifestyle and find my feet in a new location.

The only issue? The surf breaks here cater to shortboarders. So I began looking into where I should head next. I’d heard incredible things about Bali, it’s hailed as South East Asia’s surf paradise and my best friend Eleni used to live there. So once again, I packed up my life, and this time made my way further afield.

From Bali to Barcelona and Morocco

Bali was everything I had hoped for. Nestled at the heart of Indonesia’s islands, its stunning landscapes and thriving hindu culture and holidays make it a paradise like no other.

Adapting to life here was not without its challenges. From learning to maneuver my bike in Bali traffic with longboard attached, to navigating the new surf breaks, to finding which surf community was the one I fit into, to balancing work life whilst building my social circle again entirely from scratch – I was thrown in the deep end, but felt secure in the knowledge I had done it before and could do it again.

It was a while before the metaphorical serpent returned with a temptation of another life. I had unexpectedly returned to Europe, post-breakup, feeling very lost. I was built up again by my friends who showered me with love and nurtured my soul. Eleni welcomed me into her home in Barcelona. It’s often said home isn’t a place but the people you’re with, and here was mine.

I began to get settled, my friends formed an incredible life up around me, full of love. The one thing missing was the ocean, but the beauty of Europe is how connected it is. Perhaps I could be based here, taking trips out on the weekends to different surf spots.

Each country in Europe is so culturally distinct and that is reflected in each surfing subculture too. Portugal is well known for its breaks; Biarritz, France intrigued me; but in the end, I settled on Morocco for its warmer winter surf and famed longest wave in Africa.

I adored Morocco, the explorers itch left me as I took my board to Tamraght and then Taghazout. Imsouane in particular, with its excellent longboarding, and surfing microcosm reminded me of Lombok.

Maybe that’s what prompted the crossroads to appear again, but this time it was harder to resist.

I had to confront the reality – I missed Bali, I missed my life there. I missed the food, the culture, the people, I missed the sense of freedom and I missed the community. Bali, by its nature as a tourist destination, is very transient, but has a long standing surf community who, like myself, have fallen in love with the island.

I loved my life in Barcelona, but as I stood on the precipice of choosing what many would consider a “dream city life,” my childhood self was beating her fists against my chest telling me it was all wrong.

Much like Plath’s analogy, I saw the possible lives I could lead as figs on a fruiting tree before me. As I had settled into life in Barcelona, the others had begun to blacken. But this life in Bali has been one fig I cannot bear to see wither before me. I clasped it with both hands and haven’t let go since.

Indonesia’s Islands

Indonesia is a country famed for its eclectic and numerous different cultures. There’s over 700 languages spoken across its 18,000 islands, and the wave breaks are just as varied and numerous. It’s an explorers paradise.

With Bali as my base, I have been fortunate to travel to Lombok, Sumba, and Batu Karas.

I relish the unknown of each new place.  People have said to me “you’re so brave traveling to all these places alone – I could never do that”. But the truth is, you could!

The fear of the unknown is what stops us, but what I’ve found is that people are much more alike than our differences would like us to believe.

What used to intimidate me was having no point of reference, no picture in my head of what it would be like. But the things I’ve learnt from my previous travels have been better preparation than any LonelyPlanet guide.

My greatest joy from island hopping has been exploring the new coastline, taking my bike out to check the surf each morning, seeking out the hidden beaches for the best post-surf sunset, or finding less known gems for dinner (word to the wise, ask the locals).

Indonesia is blessed not only with choice waves, but also delectable cuisine – each place having its own variation on Nasi Campur. My latest late night sweet tooth fix is martabak, a comfort food my surfing gals put me on to.

Surfing has given me the confidence to say yes to new things, to take risks and lean into my discomfort.

Just this year alone, I tried short boarding for the first time (fully affirming that I am a longboarder), opened my own store, and discovered Pilates and yoga for my cross training. A whole new world has been opened to me, with pathways I’d never imagined. 

Where to Next?

With each passing year, my list of surf destinations grows. The next big adventure for me is Australia, the Bondi beach girl in me is saying it’s time.

Surfing has also made me think further ahead – I want to be able to surf my whole life. I want my kids to grow up on the board, I want to share this passion with them. I want them to have a relationship with the ocean and connection to nature. I want the adventure to continue with them.

All of us find our way of getting where we’re meant to be – as my mom reminded me recently “it is a challenge and a gift to break boundaries.”

Much like the Robert Frost poem, I took the road less traveled and that has made all the difference. And although the path before me isn’t always clear, I’ve grown to love the unknown.

I’m still the girl who made that choice to jump into the fog, but this time my feet move a little quicker, and I know they’ll find the ground as they have done each time before.

Written by Emma Bukowski, Founder + Designer Noserider Surf Club