After several months of bumming around the Nevada, Arizona, and California, sleeping in the back of my '97 Ford Explorer and living on mostly whiskey and beans, Adam and I were in dire need of financial gain. As March approached, we had just enough money to get one, final epic adventure in: driving the US-1 from San Francisco to San Diego, where we could take refuge at my stepbrother Paul's house until we found a solution to our monetary plight.
Being from Florida, the Western landscapes are especially striking, and the jarring, jagged coast of California is no exception. I remember driving feet from cliff edges with drop offs several hundred feet high and almost having a panic attack. I remember being in awe of the lush mountains seemingly backing up to the coastline of Santa Barbara and Big Sur. I remember asking myself why it took me so long to find this place.
When we arrived in San Diego, we immediately began looking for jobs everywhere we could, Craigslist, LinkedIn, CareerBuilder.com... All with no luck. Then it hit me, "I used to work for the YMCA in Florida, maybe a YMCA here would be more likely to hire me? It's worth a shot!"
So I found the YMCA of San Diego website and began searching for lifeguard jobs. YMCA Camp Surf popped up and I thought the name sounded like fun... A lot of fun. They just so happened to be hiring an Ocean Lifeguard/Surf Instructor. I had done neither, but then again I also had never driven across the country and lived in my car for three months after dropping out of college. I filled out the application.
10 days later Adam and I were standing on the South San Diego shoreline, our first time wearing wet suits, about to perform our first test swim to determine if we were even capable of being considered to go through ocean guard training. It was a chilly, cloudy March San Diego morning, the air temperature barely above 60, water temperature about the same. If you've ever swam in 60 degree water, you may be able to empathize with the situation we had placed ourselves in: an 800 yard swim where every dip of your head after a breath would breed a small ice cream headache.
Adam decided the water was too cold and opted to just teach surfing and perform Camp Counselor duties for the upcoming season. I felt that being an Ocean Lifeguard was a cool enough job to push myself through the suffering and completed the swim. Then it was on to 8 days of training; in and out of freezing cold water, hours upon hours in classroom, learning about ocean rescue tactics and practicing CPR. Then, suddenly, I was an Ocean Lifeguard. The confidence and spirit that instilled in me were light years away from where I had been upon leaving Florida only months prior.
Spring quickly came, and I soon learned that Camp Surf, while employing its own staff of Ocean Lifeguards, was in fact a real camp -- Spring was full of middle school groups and outdoor education during the weeks, weekends were YMCA Indian Guides groups -- I was quickly reminded of the some of the greatest days of my youth... The summer escape of sleep away camp will always be one of my most cherished childhood memories. Now I was privileged to provide opportunity for so many kids.
The thing about being a camp counselor is it forces you to push your limits. Often as adults, we are guarded, overly serious... Protective of ourselves and who we really are. Being forced to sing camp songs, act goofy, and interact with children all day, every day, pushes one to let go of these "adult" reservations. It encourages you take your adult knowledge and responsibilities and meld them with the free, loving spirit of the young humans you're surrounding yourself with. There is true beauty in the unconditional, effortless love children let shine.
Freedom from my former life. Surfing, sun, and sand all day every day. Singing songs. Telling jokes and stories. Campfires on the beach. Being surrounded by world travelers, free thinkers, progressives, deep thinkers who all shared a common goal of helping a few kids conquer fears, make friends, and discover themselves. This was now my life, and I grew more in that 9 months at Camp Surf than I had the previous three years of my life combined. I was more confident, alive, and ready to explore than ever before.
While at camp I had heard many people talk about Hawai'i and Costa Rica and vacationing to both places. I decided a good excuse to move to Hawai'i would be attending school there, so I applied to the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and was accepted for Spring of 2010. I decided to, once our season ended in November, to spend the rest of that month and up until Christmas in Costa Rica. It scared the hell out of me, the idea of going to a foreign country completely alone, but I knew that if I succumbed to the fear I would never grow. We are only fully able to realize what we are capable of if we push ourselves beyond the limits of our wildest dreams.
Stay tuned for Part 3: Surfing in Costa Rica, Living in a Cave in Hawai'i, and Other Fun Stuff.
The entire summer 2009 camp counselor staff
We dressed up regularly. This was a 12 year old female campers purple vneck shirt.
Staff Surf Sesh to Begin the Weekend
Playing the OREO Song at skit night
Winning the C.O.W. (Counselor of the Week) Award and posing with all the other C.O.W.s
Dressing Up for a Camp Dance
I had to fill pitchers and cups with water as my campers instructed me on where to place them...
A few co-counselors and I up to no good.