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Reflections and Lessons with “Abbot Steve” at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center

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Often when we are in the midst of something special or significant, we don’t take note of the fact as it is happening. Even if we do reflect enough to realize that the moment were are experiencing is of greater than normal importance, it doesn’t have the gravity or true depth that a memory over time creates. Like a stone being pushed down the river, our mind constantly turns these memories over and over again, and as a result the memory becomes more refined, smoother, more eloquent than the original event. Its only through the long lens of time that we are truly able to appreciate the depth of things that have happened in our lives. And so it is with my experience, and my memories of Abbot Steve at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.

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How I came to meet Abbott Steve was completely by chance, but now seems as if it was meant to happen. I had often heard of a mysterious Zen monastery in the mountains of Big Sur. Having gone to college at Cal Poly in nearby San Luis Obispo, and being a surfer, I was very well travelled in the Big Sur area; but I had never seen any physical evidence of the whereabout of this monastery, just that it was “somewhere in the mountains”. Over the years I had dabbled in Zen through what I could teach myself from books, but I knew I wasn’t getting the essence and I was just walking around in the dark. Really the only book that grabbed my attention was “Conversations with Suzuki Roshi”. It is an edited series of lectures given in the 50′s and 60′s by the first Japanes Buddhist monk to teach Zen in the west, Suzuki Roshi. Suzuki Roshi has had a great impact on western views of Buddhism and Zen, without being expressly accredited for his contributions. I read some of his lecture, and meditated from time to time, but that was the extent of my involvement with Zen.

Flash forward ten years or so to my life working as a professional stuntman and living in LA. No longer living life in the quiet, pastoral hills and valleys of upcountry Maui or San Luis Obispo, but now I was in the heat, smog and traffic of LA. I felt very detached, very disconnected from myself. The exhilirating feeling I had as a man living month to month as a martial artist and surfer was gone. A sense of balance and ease that came from constantly being checked in with myself and my actions, and having a quiet spiritual relationship with myself based on meeting simple needs and make moral analysis’ of events and decision in my life. This reflective young man got lost somewhere in the complicated city life working as a stunt man. I had lost scope of these simple things that had once brought me so much pleasure and satisfaction such as a freshly made hot cup of tea, or a good book, stretching, or just sitting in the sun. These simple things had somehow lost a little bit of their appeal to me, and I was very self aware of that fact.

So I decided I was in need of a spiritual boot camp, something that was going to ground me and get me back to my core identity. I remembered this mysterious “Zen Monastery in the Mountains” and did some exploring online. It did’t take long for me to find this mysterious places’ website, the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. Not only was it famous and easy to find, online at least, but I discovered that it also was founded by the famous Suzuki Roshi himself. Apparently the Grateful Dead helped finance the purchase of the remote resort and it’s conversation to a monastery. I was immediately sold on the idea and discovered that there was a week long workshop that taught both Zen and Yoga that fit in my travel window, so I booked it.

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It was slow going down the dirt fire road in the steep mountains of Big Sur. But every turn revealed turn and pass revealed another panorama of unspoiled forests and mountains as far as the eye can see. Truly an inspiring part of the world, hours from cell service, with an hour and a half of winding dirt road ahead. I felt like I was going in the right direction. When I got their I was immediately greeted by the enormous Meditation Hall which sits tall and proud at the entrance, visitors walking on a path well below it’s foundations. A sense of reverence was immediately instilled in me for this quiet place dedicated to self exploration and self improvement. I checked into my shared room, met my roommates who were doing other events at the Monastery, and I set of for the first meeting of my week long workshop in Zen and Yoga.

Abbot Steve was co-leading the retreat with another Zen Monk, Shoguchi. Shoguchi lead the Yoga portion of the retreat while Abbot Steve lead the Zen portion of the retreat. We had three or four activity sessions a day, either just yoga, or zen and yoga. I will admit I didn’t attend all of the sessions because I was very curious about the Monastery and all the monks and lay practitioners who lived and worked there. I also was very enthusiastic about filming video and taking pictures of the monastery; I was very much enamored with the place and it’s people. I made many friends there, and from these Zen practitioners I often heard them say how lucky I was to be having a retreat with Abbot Steve, and how amazing he is. During his discussions and lectures in the retreat I didn’t find him a very engaging public speaker, to be quite honest. He didn’t seem to have that sharp wit and charm that Suzuki Roshi had, at least from a distance, and even though I paid close attention to his talks I didn’t feel I got what everyone was talking about.

One night I decided to attend one of his Dharma Talks at the Meditation Hall, and again I had the same reaction. I liked what he was saying and who he was, but I didn’t get this “amazing” quality that everyone kept talking about. As the Dharma Talk was winding down, he announced that he was going to sing a song, and that everyone could join in. The song was “Relax Your Mind” by Leadbelly. This is a classic folk song recorded in the field by American Anthropologist Alan Lomax, and performed by Huddy Leadbetter, or Leadbelly. Alan Lomax had a huge impact on me as a documentary filmmaker and as a musician because through him I discovered a passion for Anthropology and of recording culture for preservation and posterity. This was exactly why I was documenting my experience at the Monastery with photos and videos, to provide a cultural glimpse into this mysterious world of “the Zen Monastery in the mountains”. With this random and obscure connection, to have Abbot Myogen sing this song that I knew all to well and held near to my heart was like getting hit on the head with a bell. It was such a clear sign to me, and I remember Abbot Steve’s voice in my head, saying a phrase I had heard him use a lot in his talks, the voice in my head said “inquire further’.

The next day I asked him if I could interview him about Zen, the Monastery, and his own personal life. I told Abbot Steve about my love for Alan Lomax and Anthropology and what I intended to do with this interview. As I talked to him and explained my intentions, I saw his reluctant and reticent posture slowly dissolve and turn into a big smile from ear to ear. Abbot Steve is a Mennonite, originally. Mennonites are known for being tolerant and peaceful people, so naturally he became very involved in the civil rights movements of the 60′s, and this is where he became a fan of Leadbelly. Folk music became an important vehicle to get messages across and to inspire people during the 60′s, and may folk classics originally performed by Leadbelly had be used during this movement. Ironically, I discovered Leadbelly on iTunes. As an avid Delta Blues aficionado, I scoured for the rarest most obscure recordings I could find. None were better than the recordings of Alan Lomax, who recorded and discovered Leadbelly. To have this shared connection over such a huge gap of generations was pleasing to both of us, I think. Although we never expressed it, I think this is what really made us instantly comfortable with each other, despite being complete strangers.

Not until you get to sit down one on one with Abbot Steve do you truly get to appreciate him. His Dharma name, Myogen, means “Subtle-Eye”, and it is a well given moniker. He is extremely observant, and lives in the moment, like a true Zen Monk should. When talking with him you really get sucked into this blissful place called the present, and conversations are effortless yet have so much sincerity, lightness, and dpeth. Such is the amazing grace and subtlety of Abbot Steve. In a large crowd talking to a great many of people his subtlety is easy to miss, but one on one you have no choice to be drawn in by it. We went 15 minutes over the short 30 minute block he had set aside for me in his busy schedule, and I do mean BUSY schedule. As the Central Abbot he has many top level duties and obligations, he doesn’t have to lead workshops, he doesn’t have to be taking meetings with anyone and everyone that wants his time, but he does it anyway, and that is why he was Central Abbott. He truly lead by example, it showed in his actions, it showed in his personality, it showed in his smile. After our short time together in the interview I felt like I had made a close friend, someone who in some way I was akin too, in what way I couldn’t tell, but there was something.

This interview happened towards the end of the retreat, and my time at the Monastery was coming to a close. I had been reading a book while I was at the Monastery called “Fire Monks”. It is a story about a small group of monks who stayed behind to defend the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center from wild fires in 2009, after the monastery had been evacuated. I was still in the middle of reading it, and Abbott Steve played a central role in the story line, for he was the Central Abbott in ’09 as well. However, I didn’t know how central his role was until I finished the book a week later. I think it’s best I didn’t know what a legend Abbott Myogen is until after I met him, so that I got to meet him without a filter, and truly get to know him as a person, not as a mythical creature. The story goes that the Monastery had been working with fire department constantly though the Summer of 2009 to prepare for the worst wildfires in California history. California Department of Fire (CDF) and the Sherifs department worked with the monks deep in the mountains to help prepare the monastery for the various wildfires that were basically surrounding them. When it got to the point where the CDF declared it was no longer safe for its personnel to stay at the Monastery, they evacuated the monastery. CDF, the Sheriffs Department and all the Monks left in one big convoy up the mountain, abandoning the Monastery to the oncoming wildfires. At some point on the drive up the mountain Abbot Myogen had a premonition of some sort, his subtle eye caught something that everyone else missed; he he pulled over on the side of the road and waved all the monks, fire men, and deputies by. After a short conversation with the authorities who expressly told him not to do so, Abbot Myogen returned to the monastery with three other monks by his side to defend the Monastery from the wildfire. Four monks versus one of the largest wildfires in California history. I don’t have to tell you who won. These monks today are known as the “Fire Monks”, and Abbot Myogen was their leader in chief.

Without knowing this dramatic ending, I gave Abbott Myogen, the Fire Monk, my copy of the book for him to sign. I’ll never forget him taking the book in his hand, sitting and thinking for one or two breaths, Zen breaths mind you, which take quite a while. He than scribbled a short little something in the book, closed it and handed it back to me. In the commotion of everyone departing and saying good bye I didn’t read the inscription right away. I wanted to savor it for a moment when I had time to give it attention. When I opened it, I saw Abbot Myogen had written me a short little koan, or poem-like message….

Dear Fire-in-the-body
No Path, No Obstacles
Please Continue

This short little phrase wrung my bell; it stunned me, quite literally, my eyes popping out of my head and my mouth opening. It felt like I was in a dream. How had this man, who knew me for so short a time, could see who I was, what my problem was, and offer me a solution, all in three short little phrases? And it took him about ten seconds. I felt like a nail and he had just hit me square on the head and drove me straight down into the board with one hit, like a master carpenter. Anyone who knows me would agree Fire-in-the-body is a perfect moniker for me, but I was quite calm and zen at this retreat, at least for me I was. I obviously didn’t fool “Subtle-Eye”. By telling me to have no path, to not identify too much with anything or any course of action, Abbott Myogen gave me a way to cease having obstacles. Finally, Abbott Myogen gave me what I needed most, which was an affirmation, “please continue”. Affirming people is one of the most powerful things you can do for another person, and Abbott Myogen quietly yet resoundingly affirmed me. I had gotten in trouble with some of the higher monks at the monastery for my filming; even though I was told it was okay to film people and places as long as I had their consent, some of the monks really didn’t like it, and they told me so. After my interview with Abbott Myogen, all of the looks and questions stopped, and everyone who was giving me a hard time before let me be. This to me was a clear sign that Abbott Myogen affirmed me and believed in what I was doing, just as much as him writing it on the inside sleeve of my book. Being recognized by such an esteemed and respected individual has had an astounding effect on me to this day.

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Two months after my interview with Abbott Steve, he passed away with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. It came as a sudden shock to everyone. The week after the interview he started to fell sick and went to see a doctor. Test results came back that he was late in the stages of Cancer and that it had spread throughout his body. It was now just a matter of time until Abbott Steve passed on to the other side. Our conversation was the last recording of Abbott Myogen before he fell ill. After Abbott Steve passed, I was very anger and bitter at the universe for taking this new friend away from me. I couldn’t understand this, but than I realized how wrong I was looking at the situation, and not in the way that Abbott Myogen would want me too. I was looking at the glass as half empty, but it was very much half full. To think that I was so lucky to have this amazing experience with this great man so close to his death is nothing short of a true blessing. I knew this was the case but I hadn’t yet let go of my attachment to my desire to have a wise, grand-fatherly role model. Once I let my attachment to this idea go, something I learned to do from Zen, I became extremely grateful for the friend that I had and the effect he had on me, and no longer mournful because of the friend I lost. After looking at this experience more and more through the long lens of time, I can see this all the more clearer, and I am eternally grateful to have known Abbott Steve, and for the effect that he had on my life.

CicLAvia Westisde 2015

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CicLAvia “started as a grassroots initiative in 2008 as the outgrowth of discussions held by a number of individuals who recognized that open streets events could address active transportation, urban land use and public health needs in Los Angeles.” They also describe themselves as a group that “catalyzes vibrant public spaces, active transportation and good health through car-free streets.” What this translates into is periodically CicLAvia closes off car access to certain key neighborhoods throughout LA: Downtown, Pasadena, the Valley, and most recently, the “Westside”. CicLAvia closed down a substantial stretch of Venice Blvd, from downtown Culver City all the way to the beach, ending in Windward Circle in Venice.

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Unfortunately, transportation by bicycle isn’t very practical in LA: the distances are far, theres no rail system (yet), the weather is extremely hot, and the traffic particularly intense. In light of these facts, it is good to see an organization that aims to counter this hindrances to the bicycle lifestyle.

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What other organization you know of aims to reduce carbon emissions, improve and promote health, and stimulate the local economy? Im sure there’s quite a few that do this actually, but the cool thing about CicLAvia is that it accomplishes these noble and lofty goals simply by getting people to ride their bicycles.

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My particular trip started in Mar Vista, which is my neighborhood. Sunday just happens to be when Mar Vista has its famous Farmers Market, and the CicLAvia course ran right though it. With CicLAvia happening, the normally sleepy open air market turned into a carnival. It was a pedestrian only zone, slowing the pace down a bit and making it a good place to get off your bike, find some shade and get something to eat and drink.

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I hadn’t ridden my mountain bike in months, and the tire in back was extremely low. Thankfully the local Mar Vista Bike Co-op bikerowave had their tent up and running, repairing bikes for free! All I needed was a bicycle pump, but people were getting brake jobs, spokes repaired, tires aligned, you name it. This place was very impressive, and right on Venice Blvd.

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After the Farmers Market I joined the masses careening down Venice Blvd. on our bicycles. I’ve done numerous “critical mass” or “bike gatherings” before, but this by far was the largest. By the time I got to Lincoln and Venice, the surreal nature of the event kicked in. One of the busiest intersections, if not the busiest, intersection in LA was being completely taken over by bicyclists. This was a moment that I felt was more than worthy of capturing.

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In a city that famously let it’s rail car system be bought by Firestone tires and shutdown, it is pleasingly ironic to see the City taking an active role in public transportation. In fact the old rail lines are being reinstalled as I type this, and soon it may be practical to use a bicycle to traverse the city because there will be a public transportation system that supports it.

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CicLAvia drew an incredible number of cyclists out on the streets. In fact I noted several times how it felt just like LA traffic, with the sheer number of people involved. The irony that there is still traffic even when people ride their bikes is easily countered by the fact that there are this many people who are interested in getting outdoors and living a more active lifestyle. Hopefully with continued popularity we will see more and more of this cool events, whether there is traffic or not!

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Next up on the event schedule for CiclAvia is going to be on October 18th, in downtown LA, or “the Heart of LA. Heart of LA will have six miles for participants to explore by bike, foot, skateboard, wheelchair and other non-motorized traffic. The route will take people through Boyle Heights, the Arts District, Little Tokyo, Civic Center, Chinatown, Historic Core and as far west as Macarthur Park.” This marks the 5th year anniversary of this program, and I look forward to participating with the masses and getting out and exploring this historic city at the pace of a cruisey bike ride.

Lifestyle: Exploring Santa Cruz for the Holidays

This Holiday Season I made an extended stay, or Sojourn, in Santa Cruz, CA. Although Huntington Beach won the battle to be called “Surf City USA” in the court room, Sanata Cruz holds this title in spirit. Everyone surfs in Santa Cruz. EVERYONE. Young and old, boys and girls, experts to barneys and everything in between, Santa Cruz has every type of surfer imaginable.

It makes sense for surfing to be such an integral part of the culture in this California Beach Town, seeing as how the city itself overlooks a handful of some of the coasts best point breaks. Surfing is in your face constantly while in Santa Cruz, and few can resist the call that the wavs make to each passerby as they walk along iconic West Cliff Drive. Here are a few moments frozen in time from my trip there. Thank you Santa Cruz, until we meet again!

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The crossroads

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“Surfer” was here

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“Waves are toys from God.”

-Clay Marzo

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Surfer’s Lament

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Job well done

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Even the building have waves in SC

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Past-time paradise

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God bless Santa Cruz

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Fast track

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“The Lane”

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Law of the Land

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Coastal Access at it’s best

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A Dad is coaching his 12 year-old daughter as she is about to paddle out at The Lane

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Front row seats, how many of them are dreaming of surfing??

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Doesn’t get much better than this

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“The Highest Form of Learning is Teaching”

As a martial artist, there comes a point in your path when simply taking classes is no longer sufficient to progress your training. In order to fully progress from student to master, there is usually an interim phase were one must be a student AND a teacher at the same time. Guro Dan Inosanto, my teacher in so many ways, often quotes Socrates, saying “the highest form of learning is teaching.” These words always made sense to me, and I naturally agreed with the idea, but I never really knew what it truly meant, until I started teaching.

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I had the privilege of teaching a women’s self-defense program at The New High School Project, in Monterey, CA. TNHSP is a very unique learning environment; it is an independent high school that specializes in teaching children with Learning Differences such as Dyslexia, ADHD, and Autism. I myself have Dyslexia and ADHD, and I went through extensive after school programs to help me learn simple things like reading and writing. I, like many people with a Learning Difference, don’t learn these skills the same way as most people do. As an adult, I have learned many things through martial arts that made me say to myself, “I wish I knew this when I was a kid!” So I tried to take these techniques and ideas that I think are helpful for those with a Learning Difference, and tie them into my women’s self-defense program.

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We covered two martial arts in the women’s self-defense class, Jan Fun Gung Fu and Filipino Kali. Jan Fun Gung Fu is a style of fighting developed by Sijo Bruce Lee, my teacher’s teacher. It is a very utilitarian and street oriented system of fighting. It has very straight forward fighting concepts like western boxing and low groin kicks, but Sijo Bruce also added a lot of Wing Chun, a martial art developed by a Chinese nun. Wing Chun is one of the very few martial arts that was developed by a woman, and it’s techniques are ideal for close quarter combat and self-defense, naturally. One of the hallmarks of Wing Chun is “hand immobilization”, basically trapping someone’s arm or hand in a pre-emptive move so that they cannot attack you. I taught some of these hand immobilizations techniques, but also how to counter hand immobilization as well.

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No self-defense system is complete without some kind of offense, so I taught them the finer details of the eye jab! A poke to the opponents eyes really is the easiest and safest way to defend one self, but it must be in self defense. Using this technique to assault someone is a serious crime, as it should be. All the ladies at TNHSP fully understood this, however, and I was happy to teach them some life survival skills.

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Towards the end of the class, I taught them Filipino Kali. Kali is a mother art of various Filipino Martial Arts. It involves literally every form of combat imaginable: spears, swords, shields, daggers, punching, kicking, grappling, trapping and wrestling. For this class however, I stuck to the basic double rattan stick training method. This is the first fighting modality that people learn in Kali; out of all the vast choices, two rattan sticks is first. The reason for this is that the rattan sticks are excellent tools for performing various coordination and attribute development drills.

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In Kali, the emphasis isn’t on learning techniques first, but in developing the practitioners attributes so that they can adequately execute the techniques. This is atypical compared to most martial arts, that mostly focus on techniques through repetition. In Kali, the focus is on attribute development through repetition. Ambidexterity is a prized asset in the martial art world, and Kali is one of the few martial arts that actively develops this attribute. By using both hands simultaneously and in conjunction with each other, you’re increasing the brains ability to use both hemispheres of the brain. This activity will increase the hemispheres abilities to communicate with each other, which is a valuable attribute for dyslexics in particular to have. So I snuck in a little bit of cognitive training while developing the students’ attributes such as coordination, dexterity, and sensitivity.

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This was a very rewarding experience for me as a student, and for me as a teacher. I realized that you really don’t know something until you can teach it to someone else, and than unfortunately you can become so self-aware that you realize you are making so many mistakes that previously had gone unnoticed. And than you realize that there may be a million other things that you’re probably missing, and than you get anxiety because you no longer have a hold on things like you thought you did. And than it all becomes clear, again, and the wise words still echo in your head, “the highest form of learning is teaching…”

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Tai Chi with Liping at Tassajara Zen Center

After such a wonderful initial trip, I decided to return to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center the first chance I got, which was the beginning of the Guest Season in May. I signed up for a week long retreat, studying Tai Chi with lay monk and Tai Chi Master Liping. A week at Tassajara is an ambitious feat: no electricity, no cell service, no contact with the outside world at all. When you are at Tassajara, your are AT Tassajara. But, after all, that is the point…

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Although I was eager to get back in touch with the world by the end of the week, I throughly enjoyed my week long stay there, and made many personal discoveries. It truly is a wonderful place for contemplation and self exploration. As far as I can tell, that’s what Zen Buddhism is about. Abbot Myogen told me once, “Just sit, and see what happens. See where your mind takes you…”. So even though I was there to learn Tai Chi and study Zen, ultimately I was there to “inquire within”.

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Tucked away throughout the grounds are numerous alcoves and nooks for people to sit down, relax, contemplate, read or just simply observe.

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I had numerous spots that I frequented while I was here, but my favorite was a flat stone down by the creek that meanders it’s way along the Monastery’s grounds.

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Many of the guest quarters are built along the creek as well, which has been a home for humans since prehistory.

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These hollowed out holes in the stone were used by Native Americans to grind acorns into mush that they would eat as their main staple.

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The love and care that has been put into making Tassajara what it is today is palpable. This handmade walk way leading to the Zendo from the Monks quarters is a piece of art in itself. Observe how each piece of wood was independently measured and cut to make a smooth a sinuous path that leads to the Zendo.

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All over the grounds there are small pieces of art that act as functional pieces of the Monastery: A dead Sycamore tree turned into bench seating, tiny shrines tucked away in obscure places, everywhere are small details some Zen monk took the time to create with care.

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The entrance to the Monastery.

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One of the several gardens on the Monastery grounds.

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Another great reading nook to take a book, or to just sit and observe.

The Tai Chi retreat was an amazing experience. Liping is a Chinese national who immigrated to the US almost 20 years ago. She lived at the San Francisco Zen Center, studying Buddhism, for over ten years. During her time in the US, she has been a practicing Zen Monk, as well as a practitioner of holistic Chinese medicine. Liping is a very unique individual indeed: a native practitioner of Chinese medicine and arts, but also a devotee of Japanese Buddhism.

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Liping demonstrates a Tai Chi sword form.

She has taught numerous Tai Chi retreats at Tassajara. The style of Tai Chi that she teaches is very rare, dating back all the way to the last royal family of China. Her style is known as Swimming Dragon Tai Chi, and it is known for it’s fluidity, grace, and athleticism.

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Liping, mid form, with students looking on.

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Liping performs while Phillip, her husband and also a Tai Chi Master, watches on and names the techniques Liping is demonstrating.

Tai Chi was a challenge for me because of how slow we were required to move. Tai Chi is very much an Internal art, but I saw numerous correlations to self defense, or “External Arts”. Swimming Dragon Tai Chi was developed by an Imperial General while he was held prisoner during the cultural revolution. It was designed to enhance and maintain physical attributes such as grace, strength, flexibility, and stamina. From some of the photos posted, you can easily see that this is the case.

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Liping getting grounded with Swimming Dragon Tai Chi.

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Effortless grace.

By the end of the week I became close friends with many of the participants at the Swimming Dragon Tai Chi Retreat. Everyone at the retreat, and at the Monastery in general, are extremely warm and inviting people. It is easy to make friends, but I was surprised at how many GOOD friends I made.

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The Swimming Dragon Tai Chi Class, Spring 2014.

As if learning the ancient art of Swimming Dragon Tai Chi with amazing people in an inspiring environment wasn’t enough, Master Liping asked me to teach a small workshop the last day of her retreat. I was, and still am, extremely honored to be asked to share my knowledge by such an esteemed master as Liping. It truly is an honor beyond words. I demonstrated various southeastern martial arts: Kali, Silat, and Muay Thai. All of these arts have a history of music, dance, meditation and ritual connected to them, similar to Tai Chi and it’s relationship to Kung Fu. So instead of showing the lethal our fanciful techniques of these arts, I decided to do a “Tai Chi Speed” demonstration of Kali, Silat, and Muay Thai.

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Urban Warrior_1 giving a short lecture on the Southeast Asian Martial Arts and their various elements, which includes meditation and restoration.

In the Indonesian art of Silat, they have what is called the Bua and the Bunga, or the fruit and the flower. The Bua, or the fruit, is the actual application of a technique, but the Bunga is the flowery presentation of the art. Just like the fruit and the flower can’t exist without each other, the external application and the internal practice of the art cannot be separated from each other. The Bunga will often be performed very slow and gracefully, with music accompaniment. This concept is very akin to Tai Chi and how it relates to the External Martial Arts of China.

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Yours truly, Urban Warrior_1, demonstrating a Hari Mau Silat technique.

In the Filipino art of Kali, there is something called Karenza, or “Dancing with the Wind.” In this practice, the Kali practitioner will often ask a question or seek guidance from God. Than the practitioner will practice Kali in the air, visualizing opponents and attacks, but also entering a meditative state through motion. Often they will dance with their shadow from candlelight or the moon. After a certain amount of time of moving meditation, the practitioner will find a solution to the problem that they face. This practice, although Filipino, bares striking resemblance to Tai Chi and the other Internal Arts of Asia.

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Karenza at Tassajara, an honor beyond words.

In Thailand, Muay Thai has been the warrior art for centuries, if not millennia. All warrior arts have an internal element, a time for the warrior to turn inwards, refelct and be introspective, heal and recuperate, and Muay Thai is no different. In Thailand they have what is call “Wai Kru”. It is a ritualistic dance that today is practiced by combatants before a Muay Thai fight. It symbolizes what camp you are from, part of your history, your connection with God, and your confidence and ability as a Warrior. Essentially it is a war dance. Again, it is practiced very slowly, much like Karenza or the Bua.

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Demonstrating “Wai Kru”

Wanderlust Yoga Festival on the North Shore of Oahu

At the beginning of the year, I attended the 2014 Wanderlust Yoga Festival on the North Shore of Oahu. I had casually heard about the event and looked into it with tepid interest, Yoga “festivals” aren’t necessarily my way of practicing yoga. But after looking more closely, I saw that there were a lot of options for classes and courses outside of the world of yoga.

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There were numerous classes on Hawaiian culture, hiking, mountain biking, surfing, paddle boarding, even slack line and hula hooping. It was a very eclectic selection of classes to choose from.

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My interest grew; than I noticed the festival was being held minutes away from the fabled North Shore of Oahu, and we were allowed to camp on the beach! Being an avid surfer, this pretty much sealed the deal for me, but than I saw Gerry Lopez would be teaching a yoga class everyday. I HAD to go at this point.

For those of you who don’t know, Gerry Lopez is like the Joe Montana of surfing, to use an analogy. He is a champion surfer, he is humble, polite, and just and all around nice guy that everyone loves. He is famous for mastering Pipeline, a surf break on the north shore known for it’s deadly waves that can create the most amazing rides in the world.

The first thing I would like to mention about my trip to hawaii is not the surf, the sun, or the yoga, but the food. The food in Hawaii is amazing. You’ve never had fruit this good, or vegetables this fresh, or raw ahi this delicious. I haven’t been back to Hawaii in awhile, so I had forgotten the difference in quality between the Islands and “the Mainland”.

Here are pictures of the best ahi poke I have ever tested or even dreamed of. The fish is so rare it almost melts in your mouth.

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Is it from a famous Japanese restaurant you ask? Does it have a Zagat rating? Nope, you’re in Hawaii, where an old supermarket called “Kahuku Superette” serves the most delicious sushi grade ahi you’ve ever tasted.

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There were numerous vendors selling food throughout the day at the Yoga festival as well. Delicious vegan options, macrobiotic, and local fare were all present. I enjoyed this particular meal very much: wild elk skewers from Molokai, with Taro root hash, and sea vegetable salad. This was my go to meal after a big surf session.

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I tried to maintain a paleo diet while I was in Hawaii. Being “paleo” is relatively easy in Hawaii because there are so many options to choose from to support this diet. In it’s basic sense, ‘paleo diet’ means no grains or flour, no dairy and refined products such as sugar. Only foods that a hunter-gatherer would eat in the paleolithic age is allowable. Impractical? Yes. Effective? Yes. Being in Hawai’i makes this diet not only easy, but enjoyable. The one thing I had that was not paleo was rice. I have to admit it, I love rice.

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Here are some local provision that I picked up:a papaya and bananas from a roadside fruit stand, fresh made poi from a local superette, and local smoked ahi and marlin from the same superette.

Okay, enough about food, now more about the Wanderlust Festival. There were a wide range of classes offered for the yoga novice to the yoga nazi. I was more interested in restorative yoga since my trip was already extremely active due to my important surf schedule, which was a major part of the equation for me. But there were numerous alternative activity classes that involved history, hiking, mountain biking, surfing, kayaking, even hula and music.

One of the classes that I enjoyed the most at Wanderlust was the Slack Key Guitar class. The teacher was extremely knowledge about the music but also the history and culture of Hawaii. It was a very rare opportunity to get some hands on experience with Hawaiian culture.

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There was also live music every night at Wanderlust. Moby of all people played Friday night, and Donovan Frankenfurter, a famous surfer, played with his band Saturday night.

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Donovan Frankenfurter

One of the many highlights at the festival was getting to work with the non-profit organization Sustainable Coastlines. They are dedicated to the health and sustainability of our coastlines, specifically through cleaning up and reducing the use of single use plastics.

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Loading up the bus at Turtle Bay Resort to take a trek a do a beach clean up in a remote beach that has a lot of plastic washed up on shore.

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A few hundred people from wanderlust participated in the beach clean up. It was very uplifting to see so many people demonstrate their support for the environment, especially while they are on vacation.

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After the beach cleanup I finally got to take my Yoga class with Gerry Lopez. I took two classes with Gerry, and I was very surprised to hear that he has been a Yogi since the 70′s. I’ve been to a lot of yoga classes, and I have to say that I was very impressed by Gerry’s knowledge and approach to yoga.

On the first day, I settled in and found my place on the floor, I looked up and saw another famous pro surfer, Dan Malloy, sitting right in front of me. Dan is well known for his alternative approach to surfing lifestyle, and his support of conservation efforts for natural resources. Fittingly, he is a surf ambassador for Patagonia. Dan is one of my favorite “free surfers”, and I was very excited to get to meet him.

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Here is a picture of me with Gerry Lopez. He said something interesting which I found very relevant to yoga practice today. He said that when he started Yoga back in the 70′s, it was taught as a complete lifestyle within itself, but nowadays Yoga has been broken up into “specialty yoga”: yin yoga, flow yoga, hot yoga, etc. I think it’s important to remember what Yoga was originally created for, finding calm and balance within yourself, not getting tone and lean.

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Gerry’s Yoga class, over 200 people strong.

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My humble abode, after getting drenched in an afternoon storm.

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I would say the trip was a raging success for me. I surfed in Hawaii, did Yoga with Gerry Lopez and Dan Malloy, met so many wonderful people, ate amazing food, and had a one of a kind experience. Wanderlust has Yoga festivals all over the US and they’re starting to go International as well. Although I have reservations about the commercialization of Yoga, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at Wanderlust North Shore 2014, and I will almost definitely be heading back there again.

Zen Buddhism according to Central Abbott Myogen

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During my first visit to Tassajara Zen Mountain center I attended a Zen and Yoga workshop. During this retreat, I had the pleasure of recording a conversation that I had with the late Abbott Myogen. At the time of this interview, Myogen-San was the central abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, Green Gulch Farm, and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.

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A picture of myself with Abbott Myogen on the right and Priestess Shokugchi on the left

Myogen-San was raised as a Mennonite, learning a respect for hard work, discipline, and self-reliance. He became a lay practitioner of Buddhism for a number of years, during which time he worked as a landscape architect and raised a family. Eventually, Myogen-San was chosen by his peers to become Central Abbott.

Abbott Myogen is also known for being one of the famed “Fire Monks”. In 2009, the Ventana Wilderness has overcome by raging wild fires. A small battalion of monks prepared the monastery for defense against the wildfires in the event that they burn through Tassajara. Despite their efforts and their desire to stay, the Monks were eventually evacuated by CALFIRE and the Sherriffs department, for they had deemed the monastery indefensible against the out of control wildfires. But four monks defied the statistics and science that said the monastery could not be saved, and they stayed behind despite the explicit instructions to evacuate from authorities. As a result, these four monks, Abbott Myogen one of them, saved Tassajara Zen Mountain Center from burning to the ground.

A Winter’s Sojourn

A Sojourn is a temporary stay in a foreign local. Typically they involve an immersion in the local culture and environment, offering a respite and a fresh perspective. I like to make seasonal sojourn’s, taking small trips every three months or so to a different locale to refresh and rejuvenate.

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South facing view from the New Camaldoli Hermitage.

Winter in California is probably my favorite time of the year. On the coast the weather is usually better than it is in the summer; there is no fog, no marine layer, and no wind. The surf is usually excellent this time of year as well, so it is not unusual for me to take an extended trip, and sojourn somewhere along the PCH to enjoy the weather and catch some waves. This year I decided to not only hunt for surf, but to also visit a pair of monasteries that I had been meaning to visit for a long time: the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, and the San Francisco Zen Center. I traveled up the PCH from LA to SF, surfing along the way in Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco.

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An onlooker watches a surfer making a top turn at C street in Ventura, CA.

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An epic winter’s sunset at C St. with the Channel Island in the background.

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A local pulling into firing beach break at Pebble Beach in Monterey, CA.

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Dawn Patrol at “The Lane” in Santa Cruz, CA.

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Perfect conditions and “A” frame waves at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

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Ocean Beach, SF.

This year, however, I decided to make this trip a a bit more spiritual, and I spent some time at two monasteries I’ve been meaning to visit for awhile: the New Camaldoli Hermitage located in Big Sur, and the San Francisco Zen Center.

The New Camaldoli Hermitage is a Catholic Monastery, operated by Monks who have dedicated their life to spiritual practice. They have numerous rooms, guesthouses, and cottages for visitors to stay in.

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Entrace to the New Camaldoli Hermitage.

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Chapel at the Hermitage.

The surroundings are quiet and tranquil, sitting on the foothills of the Los Padres Mountains in Big Sur. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, New Camaldoli is about 2 hours South of Monterey, and 2 hours north of San Luis Obispo. In one of the most remote and undeveloped stretches of the Pacific Coast Highway, the Hermitage is a great place to get some space, quiet, and solitude. Visit their website at http://www.contemplation.com/

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Western lookout from the hermitage.

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The Hermitage grounds.

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Smoky sunset due to unusually late wildfires because of severe drought.

They offer simple meals that are vegetarian three times a day that you can pick up yourself in the guest kitchen and bring back to your room to eat. I supplemented their light fare with some locally smoked salmon that I bought in Morro Bay.

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After staying at Camaldoli Hermitage for a few nights, I moved on north to San Francisco, and checked into the Zen Center. The San Francisco Zen Center is the first Zen Buddhist Monastery in the Western World. It was founded by Zen Monk Suzuki Roshi in the 60′s, and has continued to be an epicenter for Buddhism in the west ever since.

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The Zendo at the San Francisco Zen Center.

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A room with a view, third floor of the SFZC.

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View from my room at the SFZC.

The Monastery is located right in the heart of San Francisco. They offer vegetarian meals three times a day, and you are free to join in the meditation and services that they hold throughout the day. The building is very old and beautiful, the architecture is stunning. It is well worth the trip is you are ever in SF, whether to stay or just a visit.

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Central Abbot Myogen, who tragically passed away recently, was interviewed by Urban Warrior Academy in the fall of 2013. Abbot Myogen talked a bit about the rich and important history of the SFZC and about Zen Buddhism in general.

Restoration: How to Make an All Natural Salve

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This past weekend my surfboard hit me in the eye and split it open pretty good. I had to get three stitches, literally sewing my eyelid back together, not a fun experience. Since this is a really sensitive area I wanted to be extra careful not to get an infection, it could ruin my eyesight. The doctor gave me some poly-sporin antibacterial gel to put on my wound, but this stuff is petroleum based, as is almost all anti-bacterial ointments. Whose idea was it to put petroleum in ointments to heal cuts? This seems pretty ridiculous to me.

I decided to make my own anti-bacterial salve, made from all natural ingredients. The salve was made from a few all natural products that I have discovered over the years. In my opinion these handful of all natural products are indispensable due to their usefulness, versatility, and effectiveness. A hand full of products and you have a Holistic First Aid Kit.

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First, my soap of choice is Dr. Bronners magic Soap. It is a pure, simple castile soap with all of it’s glycerins retained. It has no Parabens, no animal testing, it’s vegan, fair trade, and organic; the list goes on and on. Dr. Bronner’s is as amazing soap. Plus it’s hypo-allergenic, so it’s perfect for sensitive skin and for cleaning a delicate wound, like over your eye. With Dr. Bronners soap you can wash your hands or your clothes, clean your dishes or cuts and scrapes, and all without harming the environment.

Besides Dr. Bronner’s, I feel everyone should have some Tea Tree Oil in their bathroom. This essential oil is a miracle worker. I once had a cut on my leg that got infected, and the infection went down into my leg and than popped up around the cut with little puss pimples all around it. Not a good sign! I just dressed the wound with tea tree oil for a few days and the infection vanished! Tea Tree oil is a natural biocide; meaning it kills virus, bacteria, and fungus. It even abates scoriosis. It is an amazing product. Get some!

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Another amazing product that I use is made almost entirely of Bee products. It uses Honey, Beeswax, Royal Jelly, and Propolis. There are numerous different brands out now that sell this particular blend of Bee products, but the original is Egyptian magic. Apparently Madonna swears by this stuff, so it must be good. It works as a lotion for your skin or a conditioner for your hair, but bee products are renowed for their preservation qualities. Honey has an indefinite shelf life, meaning you could let it sit in a jar for a thousand years and than eat it as if it was put in the jar yesterday. What does this have to do with wound dressing? I don’t know, but it must have some correlation! The Bee Magic is a great way to keep a wound from getting dry and cracking, and it will also help with scarring. It’s perfect for burns, rashes, sun burns, and minor cuts and scrapes.

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Making an all Natural Salve

Now Tea Tree Oil can hurt a lot if it gets in your eye, take it from me, I know. I thought I could apply a little bit of Tea Tree Oil to my cut without getting it into my eye, I was wrong. It went into my eye almost immediately. The stinging was pretty intense, I wouldn’t recommend it. So I decided to make a salve out of the Tea Tree Oil and my Bee Magic. I simply but some of the Bee Magic on my finger and dropped a few drops of Tea Tree Oil onto it. I than mashed the Tea Tree and Bee Magic around in between my fingers and spread it along my cut and the rest of my eye. I kept it out of my eye, but I could still feel the sting of the Tea Tree a little bit; the Bee Magic did a good job of abating the Tea Tree’s stinging, and keeping it contained, all without any petroleum! Next time you have a cut, try this!!

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Lifestyle: The Intangibles of Life

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(photo of pro surfer Dane Reynolds, enjoying the intangibles of life.)

As I was out in the water surfing the other day, I reflected on how much more enjoyable a surf session is to spending time at my home gym. Whereas time in the gym is all about quantifying things, (minutes, reps, sets, pounds, etc.) surfing has no quantifiable outcomes attached to it. Surfing, like any adventurous outdoor activity, is a lifestyle more than a sport. It is a lifestyle that revolves not around a goal or a particular outcome, but a constant search for an ever elusive, ever changing, and always fleeting phenomenon: the wave.

Try to focus on your health and wellness “lifestyle”, not just focusing on your weight or your waistline or any singular and specific goal. Lifestyle encapsulates all the intangibles in life. Pay more attention to the little things, and less attention to specific goals, such as “loosing 5 pounds.” Enjoy activities that are social, that are outdoors, that bring you enjoyment beyond simple exercise or being fit.

The website for “Marine Layer Productions”, written and maintained by world renowned professional surfer Dane Reynolds, is a great example of the recreational lifestyle of surfing. Dane is considered one of the best surfers to ever ride a wave, but his focus has steered further and further away from the monetized, corporate, professional contests that can dominate the surfing industry. In recent years he has put more and more attention towards promoting a lifestyle; his production company, Marine Layer Productions, is the home for his thoughts and imaginings. The site is worth a perusal, to say the least.

Check out Dane Reynolds’ vlog site

www.marinelayerproductions.com/

And here is a clip of Dane Reynolds movie, Slow Dance, featuring Craig “Ando” Anderson. Both of these amazing athletes have turned their backs on the competitive nature of professional surfing, and have instead decided to be ambassadors of surfing culture

Also, check out this movie starring Dane and Ando, Dinner for Deux.