Land-Lubbing, Do-Gooding, & Dirt-Dabbling
It’s been a while since I wrote a personal update. It’s taken me a long time to process all my feelings surrounding this big life transition from more than a decade as a permanently nomadic sailor, to a land-lubber living on a small island in the South Pacific …
It’s no surprise that after 14 years with Swell as my only home, 3 of them writing my book aboard, I was ready to try something a little different when, Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening, came out in 2018. At the end of the book tour I felt a sense of closure of this first part of my voyage, a longing for something different, and a serious need for rest, comfort, and replenishment. I was out of balance after working so hard on all that went into finishing the book, while also living aboard and keeping up with the normal daily life chores like hauling water, cooking meals, and scrubbing the hull. Managing a 9-5 workload while nautically “glamping” had worn me to a frazzle.
My partner Tahui and I were going strong and we’d been saving every penny for a down payment to buy a piece of land for ourselves (although the idea of land “ownership” is still something I find strange, it’s how it works for the moment…) I yearned for a land adventure: Growing food, growing roots, joining a community. A series of magical events and some loans from generous friends and family helped Tahui and I acquire a special place to call home at the end of 2018.
Moving to land was strange and wonderful all at once. My heart was a bit lost not sleeping aboard Swell, but luckily she could be moored in front of our spot. I often spent clear nights camped out in the cockpit, or would putt out to Swell in the afternoon, to enjoy the familiarity of my little floating world (and fight the termite infestation that had taken hold while the Swell was hauled out during my book tour). Meanwhile ashore I was enjoying the newness of sweeping standing up, showering standing up (with more water than usual!), a refrigerator that opens vertically, a bed with an actual mattress, a drawer for my underwear, and most thrilling … a WASHING MACHINE! The simple luxuries of land life made me feel grateful at every turn! The owner even sold the house with all the furniture in it, plus there were mature avocado, mango, and guavas trees!? It really seemed too good to be true… I think I waited this long to tell you, because I was afraid if I wrote about it, it might just dissolve into a dream.
I got a thrill from unfamiliar land things like watching the trees change through the seasons, learning how to compost, hearing the birds outside and the rustle of leaves, seeing the sand shift along the shoreline, planting an herb garden and eventually growing some veggies. I learned the names of the local plants. I ran around the yard in the evening to stretch my legs, bathed a bit more than usual, and hung my clothes out on the line in the sun–not worried about them blowing off into the sea. While spending more time on land was different, I was still in a remote place that demanded an appreciation of simplicity and simple joys–it felt just right.
There was a clear feeling of responsibility to be the best stewards possible of this new place. I had so much to learn. Little by little I got to know each of the trees, the flowers, the contours, the bad weeds, where the sun hit and different times of day. At the same time I was observing the community, listening, and trying to figure out where I could be of help. Ever since Amelia’s passing, I’d been helping animals, but had to find a way to host a mass sterilization event on the island. There is a serious overpopulation of dogs and cats. Puppies and kittens are constantly found abandoned, most people have more animals than they would like, because they can’t afford to sterilize them. Little by little Tahui and I collected more and more animals too… (currently at 6 dogs and 2 cats!)
The animal welfare issues were glaring. The environmental issues numerous. The need for youth empowerment and cultural valuation great. I’d been waiting for the book project to be over to dive into more hands-on activism work; it was finally time. A few my island friends also wanted to do more for their community. So we got together and started a non-profit organization to focus on solving local issues relating to animal welfare, environment, and youth. We called it, A Ti’a Matairea, which basically means “Stand up for your island” in Tahitian language. Our small but dedicated group of “Island Protectors” was born.
There has been so much newness all at once. It’s weird not to be constantly thinking about bad weather, broken boat equipment, caulking, or chaffed ropes. Swell gets frequent visits, but my new life is grounding and satisfying me in such an obvious way that I know this is the right path for me for now. Plus with most of the Pacific closed to travel due to COVID, it’s a good time to be growing roots. I know I will sail again, when the time it right…
So while enjoying the novelties of land life, I’m working hard on bringing the dog sterilization project to fruition. We also started an overseas adoption program for stray and rescued animals (temporarily on hold with boarders closed…). We organize beach cleanups and speak in schools about single-use plastic. We’ve been working with the local municipality to create anchorage zones that would help prevent yachts from damaging the live coral with their anchors. And I also work remotely on the board of directors with my sea sisters at Changing Tides Foundation on an array of projects aimed at empowering women to protect the planet.
I’m learning that perseverance and patience are needed in this kind of work just as much as in sailing. The paths to solutions are often convoluted and confusing. There are no simple answers. It takes teamwork, dedication, and collaboration with an array of people from every walk of life to implement lasting positive change. And being a foreigner adds another layer of challenges. But I love it, it’s really feeding me for the moment. After so much time living out my personal dream, I feel a great need to give back now and make the world a better place. With the ecological crisis mounting and so many suffering–both human and non-human–it helps ease the nagging feeling of despair to lean into hope, into action, into love…
And so little by little, day by day, we do what we can to make a positive difference. Surfing in the clear blue waters of the South Pacific is still my treat at the end of the day, and always reminds me why I must keep up the good fight to protect this amazing planet and all of it’s inhabitants…
If you’d like to learn more about A Ti’a Matairea or make a donation, please check out our website!
To raise funds for our work, I am selling beautiful, signed, 20″ by 16″ finely printed photo posters of iconic Swell Voyage photos by Jianca Lazarus. 100 % of profits go toward our work here in the South Pacific. Great for framing in a kids room, or for inspiration for anyone to follow their dreams. Click here to check them out! (**Posters are on hold until further notice, my mother who does the shipping is moving so check back with us soon!)
chrystal dawFebruary 25, 2021
Dearest Liz, Thank you for sharing so openly about your life, and self. Congratulations on living out your dreams on and off land and helping other earthlings and our mama earth along the way. I got to read your personal update to my son Kainoa, he loves all the photos especially of the dogs your helping. I am amazed by how much energy you have to give back and inspired by your labors of love and perseverance even as a stranger of sorts. Wonderful to hear of you and Tahui’s aina and home, wow what a blessing, to very deserving people- bettering the community-right on! Little man and I are sending our Aloha your ways, praying for the future and expecting miracles, not is back to mumlife, xx
Veronika KonečnáMarch 8, 2021
I loved that article! So inspiring, full of real-life, thank you for sharing your journey with us! I cannot wait to surf, go on a vacation as well. If the current situation gets better, I am waiting to go somewhere as well with https://yachting.com/en-gb.
Your blog gave us a really interesting idea and hacks to think about on our journey as well.
Have a great day!
Kay BennettMarch 10, 2021
Hi, just wanted to say you book really opened my eyes to the power of young women. You went through alot, were honest and I love listening to your audio book (plus I bought the hard copy). You have a strong message that has changed how I use plastic or more importantly don’t and also how I teach my children so thank you.
SabineMay 22, 2021
Dear Liz, thank you so very much for being a constant inspiration to my life!!!
I am far away from living my dream, but I go on step by step. One of the biggest steps has been adopting a little dog from Hungary and make sure she has a happy life with me here in Germany.
My best wishes for you and your loved ones and for your projects!!
Captain LizAugust 7, 2021
So wonderful!! I’m thrilled for you and your new little companion. XO Liz
Bob SteelMay 25, 2021
I have just finished your book, “Swell”. & I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you for being so honest & open about your joys & tribulations, your loves & disappointments, your good & bad luck. you are a truly amazing & resourceful woman. I’m glad you still have “Swell”. She is part of you. She made you the person you are now!
I have done a bit of sailing, though not ocean passages, Reading your words, I felt like I was there with you.
I hope you may continue voyaging in the future, maybe even get to New Zealand & Australia! But it doesn’t matter if you don’t. You have achieved more than most people, who only dream of breaking free.
Captain LizAugust 7, 2021
Thank you Bob. :D Best wishes to you! Liz
Kelvin D. MeeksJuly 1, 2021
The link to the posters shows a 404 return code – not found
Captain LizAugust 7, 2021
Hi Kelvin, I apologize for the inconvenience. My mother was traveling and couldn’t ship the posters, so I put the link on standby for a while. It’s up and running again if you are still interested! https://swellvoyage.com/2021/02/swell-posters-for-a-good-cause/
SCNovember 29, 2021
I came across your book through a womens surf book club on Reddit. Your openness to others and yourself deeply moved me. Your book has become my favorite read of the year. Thank you for writing your story.
PS: I linked our Reddit bookclub thread as my “website” in case you’re curious! :)