Well it has been quite a year. My mind spins and my heart whirs as I think back on everything that happened. The adventures, the dancing, the helping, the hurting, the healing, the empathy, the perspectives, the sweat, the smiles, the wisdom; the world certainly returned my embrace and challenged me at the same time. With a few countries visited twice this year included Iceland, Ghana, the Dominican Republic, The DRC, South Africa, Panama, Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Paraguay, and Guatemala.
In some ways I don’t even feel worthy of everything that has happened and in others I know how much heart and soul I pour into everything. I’m quite in love with my life even if I can certainly improve certain things and grow in other areas. Truthfully it was a bit of a stretch financially this year but with such a rich return on things that matter more I have no choice but to call this year a huge success.
I’m going to allude to some stories here and hopefully I’ll leave you wanting more. I really can’t stress how thankful I am for the beginning of this year. I was a part of my father’s childhood dream coming true as we held an impromptu dance party in the middle of a highway in Iceland as the northern lights danced along with us in the sky. It was such a wonderful adventure and one I wouldn’t trade.
Next thing I knew it was still January and we were in the middle of nowhere dancing to “Happy” surrounded by little kids who lived in mud huts. That is after the elders gave us permission to take in the village. Momentum gained from their and as I slipped away from the cold to the Congo dance videos became a part of Operation Smile this year. The Congo stopped me in my tracks and confronted me with life so vulnerable that it changed me yet again. See the Rhythm of Africa story from earlier in the year.
It was then time to fulfill one of my childhood dreams and I set off road tripping through South Africa. I met some unexpected old friends along the way and made some new ones. Lots of smiles and adventures were had with some long lines racing down the reef at J-bay being the icing on the cake. One evening five us sat on the peak starting supertubes as the sunset lit up the sky with a thunderstorm in the background. We all traded waves with the dolphins and although it wasn’t huge I finally slipped under the green lip and kept racing down the line. It was magic.
It was then time to practice my Spanish with so many Latin trips coming one after another. We danced our way into a new hospital in the DR and the city was so nice to explore. I scored great waves on the north coast and watched a master work crafting single fins and other creations. But it was time to get into wedding season and work with some fantastic couples. I love the celebration and unity that I see at weddings and think of it as an honor to document such a special day. They are such challenging events to shoot and I love them! I hope that people continue to appreciate my emotional style.
Operation Smile did something I never imagined and honored me as one of their outstanding volunteers. I’m still in shock because of how amazing everyone else involved with the organization is! There are so many people who pour everything they have into the organization. Truly they all change the world for the better. It makes me feel very good to be recognized among such a crowd.
Panama stole a part of my heart and gave me artistic inspiration that I’m still feeding off of. And then it was time to meet another muse by the name of Cuba. I’ll write more about the people and culture of the country, but it is certainly one of the most fascinating places I’ve visited. But I had to get home for more shoots and then pull a surprise trip to Mexico to see a team that is like family to me. On their home turf they solidified this feeling.
Before I knew it I was gearing up to work with some of my favorite people in Costa Rica and before we knew it the summer was done and our sweaty backs had successfully changed many lives. I need to revisit this in a blog of its own but with a group of teens we built a school building, a playground, parts of multiple houses, and bunk beds. We painted homes and clinics, worked with indigenous, played with locals, offered reading and art classes, painted murals, and learned a lot about ourselves. Oh yeah we also shredded the gnar.
Then it was time to relax with more of my favorite people and we had an amazing week in Costa Rica. I will not soon forget the smiles and laughs that we shared. But it wasn’t long until I was off to Honduras and wander around ancient ruins and swim with fish after a mission with yet another amazing team. I stuck a pupusa in my carry on and jumped back into some lovely weddings.
Next thing I knew I was in the heart of South America chasing stories down never ending dirt roads with terere as a source of never ending energy. The ever diversifying patient perspective would aid me in my return trip to the Congo. Everyone was scared of Ebola and yet there were more active cases in my home country. But the mission proved to be a moving one and seeing the same faces and making new friends is not something I will soon forget.
With a few more weddings to still shoot before the end of the year it was amazing that Guatemala fit into my schedule even if the mega mission in Vietnam had to go on without me. But what a fitting return to the end of the year culminating with a thunderstorm over a volcano lake and a dance party with a bunch of indigenous people.
I thought the year was in the bag and I would get things organized for the New Year but Cuba came calling again and my interest in the country just grows. Whew! It was time to spend some time with my family for the holidays. What an amazing year! This doesn’t even begin to do it justice. There were so many old and new friends throughout the journey. New experiments with night skies and some classic days of surf at home in between. I am grateful to each of you that played a part of this and hope that the year to come will bring more wonderful adventures. Now it is time to go surfing again to wrap up the year right!