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Surf’s Up with Yutu

Surf’s Up with Yutu
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“But bumming around in the South Pacific was bringing out something else in me, something more troubling, from Bryan’s perspective, than facial hair.   I was getting interested in self-transformation.  I was straining to understand the worldview of the islanders whom we moved and lived among – and I had been doing so since before Guam, when I let myself sink deep into the coral-pebble speed-checkers subworld around the sakau bowl in Pohnpei.  I had come here to learn, I figured, and not just a few things about some far-flung places and people.  I wanted to learn new ways to be.  I wanted to change, to feel less existentially alienated, to feel more at home in my skin, as they say, and in the world.  This was a hopelessly New-Age wish, and I would never have mentioned it to Bryan.   But it came out in my quickness to pick up local expressions, local lore, wherever we found ourselves, and in my wholehearted admiration for subsistence farmers and fishermen, and the ease with which I fell into a kind of intimacy with many of the people we met.  I had that facility with strangers, but it had a new intensity now, and I wondered if Bryan sometimes felt abandoned by me, or disgusted.

Then there was the self-disgust, which we each wrestled with differently.  Being rich white Americans in dirt-poor places where many people especially the young, yearned openly for the life, the comforts, the very opportunities that we, at least for the seemingly endless moment, had turned our backs on – well, it would simply never be okay.  In an inescapable way, we sucked, and we knew it, and humility was called for.  But we had different ways of interpreting this obligation.  Bryan’s conservative instincts thrilled, I thought, to the heavy patriarchy of the Samoan chief system.  My romanticism, meanwhile, filled village social interactions with a prelapsarian warmth and physic health.

Surfing, under the circumstances, was a godsend.  It was our project, why we got in the morning.  After we ran across a group of Western backpackers in Apia, I grumbled, according to Bryan, that they “were nothing but goddam sightseers.”  I didn’t remember saying that but it was in fact how I felt.  We did plenty of pelagi looking-looking-looking ourselves, and there was something obscene about that, but at least we had a purpose, an objective, however fleeting, pointless, idle, and silly it might seem to anyone else.”

— Barbarian Days, A Surfing Life,  William Finnegan

This passage stopped me in my tracks as it so perfectly speaks to my current life on Guam and captures how my views about life and traveling have evolved over the last year.   In this part of his memoir, Finnegan is roaming around the South Pacific on a surfing expedition in his late 20’s.  I can completely relate to his search for self discovery by way of living abroad and experiencing different cultures, even as he realizes what he has left behind  back home in America.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Whether it is the pursuit of waves, learning the fishing waters, or discovering amazing local recipes like Gollai Appan Lemmai (breadfruit with coconut milk), Finnegan is spot on with trying to find something that bonds us in our exotic travel destinations.

I traveled a lot this year. And from Guam there is no short flight. This is the west side of Oahu with a nice rain cloud over the mountains.

I’m writing this post as I sit through another Super Typhoon narrowly missing Guam and reflecting on all my travels over the last 3 years.  I’ve now been on Guam for two Typhoons, Yutu and Mangkhut, both of which just so happen to be the strongest storms of 2018 and Yutu being the worst ever to hit a U.S. Territory with 180mph + winds.   Sitting here reminiscing on all my adventures I’ve been questioning  what has been the driving motivation for all my travels.

I figured I’d share my philosophy on traveling – but more so how it’s evolved- and give an update on Guam life while riding through the historic 2018 Pacific Typhoon season.  And of course share some of the good food I’ve been eating!

High surf after Yutu. This is Boat Basin, a popular surf spot. No one was in the water. Waves were probably 12-15ft but the currents were insane.
Beaches when there is not a Typhoon.  You still always have to be careful of the rip currents here.   The beach pictured here, Fai Fai, has a crazy strong rip that runs parallel to shore.  Sometimes I’ll throw a coconut in the water to see how fast it is and where it cuts outs to sea.

Gotta Eat!

Local Maryland Rockfish
I was fortunate enough to go back to my hometown in Annapolis, Maryland, this August.  This is the Rockfish dish with cobb salad at the Boatyard Bar & Grill in Eastport.  My Mom was kind enough to share.  I highly recommend this dish and the restaurant if you are ever in Annapolis.
Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Bisque
Homemade butternut squash and sweet potato bisque.  I was missing fall last week so I whipped this up.  It was pretty good but I think I can tweak it with more carrots and less sweet potato.
Carpaccio
Sharing a Carpaccio app in New York City with my old college roommate.  This was a great Italian spot called Salumeria Rosi tucked away in the Upper West side.  I was able to sneak in an NYC trip and visit some old friends in August while back in the states.
Chamorro Fiesta Plate: Fresh tuna Poki, Pulled Pork, Pancit, rice, and other goodness.
One of my coworkers was nice enough to invite me to a family wedding. The food was amazing! You never would see fresh tuna poki or 2 whole pigs back in the mainland. As you can see I filled the plate up to the brim.
Classic American breakfast in Cleveland, Ohio.
Guam life

Here on Guam my objective is being on the water, whether that’s fishing, diving, riding waves on my SUP, or just swimming with sea turtles or Mantas off the beach.  That’s partly why I chose to come and live out here, because I knew I would be able to do all of these things.   I should also probably mention that I’ve been humbled more than once on the water but I learn from these experiences and try to minimize risks where I can.

Here are a few recent pics that show why I love living on Guam with it’s sunsets, beaches, and the luxury of being able to get out on the water almost everyday of the year.
Jimmy Dee’s Beach Bar.  One of the best places to watch the sunset on Guam.
October Sky.  Evening run at Boat Basin.
Alupang Bay
Sunday sunset on the road back to my house.
Columbus Day sunset and BBQ in Tumon.
Beautiful day on the water. Lost a big wahoo that day on my yak.  Those things have some sharp teeth!

My travel philosophy: just like Finnegan, I am trying to learn as much as I can about the culture and the people here.  And this is something that I try to do everywhere I go now, from Guam to Indonesia. I want to learn how the locals live, their customs, a few words of the language, their FOOD.  I have other pursuits and objectives as I mentioned, but I think the difference for me now is going places with the intention of immersing and not just being all about take, take, take. Or as Finnegan calls it, looking, looking, looking.

We all go places to take pictures, post on Instagram, write a blog 🙂 ;), and try to hit the bucket list sights and activities.  And that is completely fine and good.  I definitely do it.   But I think it’s important to take a step back and realize when that is all we are doing.  It’s when we are only about looking, taking pictures, and rushing to the next place on the travel itinerary, that we miss the great opportunity to learn about the local cultures or heaven forbid, go out of our way and talk to the people about their home, both the good and the bad.  I think it all comes down to respect for the people and the land.

This is something that living on Guam has really taught me, to slow down and try to see what you can give instead of always going places and just taking.  This could be something as simple as sitting down and sharing a meal with someone,  giving a clueless tourist or fellow traveler some tips (happens a lot on Guam), cleaning up a beach, or maybe it’s listening to a local with an open mind about the issues and problems facing their hometown or country.

When you do this, I’ve found your travel experience is exponentially enriched and, by way of karma perhaps, the locals are super open, friendly, and might even teach you a thing or two!

Typhoon update

We got very lucky with the latest Typhoon, Yutu, seeing only mild winds from the outerbands of the storm.   Saipan and Tinian, the islands to the North,  got rocked with unprecedented winds and saw catastrophic damages.

Rough conditions after Yutu.

 Typhoon Mangkhut, which sideswiped Guam back in September, was much more destructive as a Category 4 typhoon and we saw wind gusts up to 130mph.  Shortly after passing Guam it strengthened to a Super Typhoon that crushed the Northern Philippines, Hong Kong, and China.

Pretty much everyone here lost power for at least a couple days with Mangkhut.  Some for over a week.   I ended up hunkering down and felt fortunate to only see about 100+mph gusts at my condo.   That was enough rattling for me.  I don’t need to ever experience any winds more than 150mph.

Surf after Mangkhut.  Looks surfable, right?  Don’t let this pic fool you, I’m about a quarter mile away and those are 15ft swells breaking on sharp reef.

Let’s go surfing

Now, I’m not really much of a surfer but I was recently given a board by friend who was leaving the island.   I’ve surfed it now a handful of times over the last month on some 3-4ft days.  A few days after Yutu the surf was pumping at 8-10ft and so me and a buddy, a hardcore surfer from Cali, decided to catch some waves.  I would’ve much rather SUP’d the waves but it was too windy.  Figured the only way to get better on this board is to practice.

We wanted to avoid the more crowded spots like Boat Basin, featured above, because on big days it’s not really a good spot for a beginner, like me, and plus the locals can be territorial as it’s their home turf, which is totally understandable.   We ended up seeking out a spot down south and hiked down about a 2 mile trek to a bay that we saw from the road.  When we got down to the beach it turned out to be a shallow reef break – which means you have ZERO margin for error with inches of water between you and the razor sharp coral.  This kind of break and closeout spells almost certain death.   Not even my buddy would attempt it, and we both knew it was suicide.  Further out in the bay there was a jetskier towing what looked to be a surfer in the bigger ocean swells as they crested in a seemingly shallower spot.  This place looked like it could possibly have potential in high tide but I don’t think it’s worth coming back.

The next morning we decided to head out to boat basin figuring it would be less crowded.   Not the case with 10 surfers already in the water and pumping 5-7ft waves that looked pristine.  About head high, as they say, in surfing lingo for wave height.  After some encouragement from my friend, I paddled out.  When I finally got out there, the waves looked much bigger than from shore.  I think I was more intimidated by the experienced surfers in the lineup more than the actual waves.  I’ve been in large surf before in Bali and Brazil on a longboard and bodysurfing so I know how to keep calm in the break zone; however, I was airing more caution at this spot  with all the hazards like rocks, protruding coral heads, and strong rip current.

I lined up my first wave and I pulled up short after looking down the steep 5 foot drop.  I hesitated, which is a big no-no in surfing.  You have to go all-in and be fearless.  For one reason or another,  I wasn’t feeling it.   After one more wipeout and paddling back through the surf I figured I’d come back on a slightly smaller day with some more confidence and a few more 3-4ft days under my belt.  I still had fun and as always it’s just nice to be out in the water.   And the next time I go I’ll come back with in right state of mind ready to just embrace the action, take the waves full on, and not give a flying hoot about what anyone thinks about how I surf or how I look out there.  And that’s applies to life as well 🙂

I think surfing, like fishing, is an amazing metaphor for life as it’s a constant education and lifelong journey of humility.   You learn that the first rule is to have the utmost respect for the ocean and the people around you.   You also learn a great deal of patience in studying your technique, what the water and waves are doing, the tides, your equipment, and knowing your surroundings at all times.

No matter what kind of a day I have: good, bad, stressful, when I come home and there is a rainbow beaming outside my window I remember that I am truly blessed to be living in paradise.

I can’t really say what draws me to the water, but whether it’s catching a wave or catching a fish, knowing that I can jump into the ocean everyday is “why I get up in the morning” as Finnegan would say.

The mountains are also calling… but until then… surf’s up!

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