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Loving the ones you vacation with

Alison Berkley
Aspen, CO Colorado

A few years ago, I went on a media trip with a crew of female surfers on a boat trip to Fiji for Surfer magazine.

“I’m going to Fiji,” I heard myself say for weeks preceding the trip. Each time I said it, it sounded like a lie, or maybe like something unfamiliar. It was vaguely like that week I turned 30 and had to keep saying the word “thirty” under my breath over and over and over again like I couldn’t believe it was true.

This trip seemed sort of that way, like it couldn’t be real.

“Tough life,” people would say. “Can I have your job?”

If it seemed a little too good to be true, it was. Our crew consisted of then World Champion Layne Beachley and three other surfer girls from the pro circuit, girls who were featured in advertising campaigns, girls who had their own signature lines of surf apparel, girls with major attitude.

Our first night on the boat, they got drunk on whiskey and danced until 4 o’clock in the morning to bad early ’90s hit rap songs like that one that goes, “I like big butts and I can not lie.” They stuffed pillows down their pants and spanked each other and video taped the whole spectacle and then watched it on the viewfinder, squealing and laughing so hard they cried. I guess they were kind of like fishermen in that way, so far away from home so much of the time that they have to come up with ways to entertain themselves. That’s what I told myself anyway, hoping that eventually I’d come to know them a little better, or at least understand them well enough to tolerate them.

All I could think was, “Oh my god, I’m trapped on a boat with these people for two whole weeks.”

I had a reason to worry. They picked on me from go ” of course I was an easy target, but still. They were ruthless in finding my biggest weaknesses and making light of them either in public settings or in ways that cut deep.

At one point one of the girls, Jodie caught me on video playing with the split ends in my hair. It was a nervous habit, and that much was obvious from the look on my face, the furrowed brow and the twisted expression of contemplation and worry.

“Oh my goddd, I’m so confuuuuuused,” Jodie said as she mocked me for her little film documentary. “I don’t know what to dooooo.” I watched it in horror, along with the other girls who thought it was almost as funny as the little pajama party they’d captured on film the night before. I felt humiliated, mostly because Jodie was right ” I was so lost in my own neurosis in that moment that I hadn’t even noticed her filming me from a few feet away.

When we were out in the water, it only got worse. These were big waters and I really couldn’t surf. I was terrified.

“I’d give you some surf pointers, but I haven’t seen you make it to your feet once yet,” Layne chided.

I won her over in the end after winning an impromptu diving contest we had one day when the surf was flat from the top deck of the boat. I’d been a diver in high school and had experience with the high dive, so I had a few tricks up my sleeve. All it took was a little hesitation on Layne’s part for me to even up the score.

“I’d give you some pointers, but I haven’t seen your feet leave the deck yet,” I said.

In the end, I got a fabulous interview out of Layne about how she deals with fear. It was one of those rare moments in my career in action sports that I had a conversation with someone that actually meant something.

At one point I had a rare moment to myself. It was the first time I really stopped and took a moment to notice where I was, on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific that would be most people’s definition of paradise. Yet I had not even been able to see it until now.

I remember feeling a profound sadness that moved through me like a bone chilling wind, this realization that my own loneliness somehow trumped the beauty I was surrounded by.

The reason I bring this up is because a decade later I find myself in Hawaii, which, while not as remote as Fiji, is just as beautiful and magical. It’s got this fairy tale quality, all vibrant colors and the surreal wonderment of a cartoon, like walking around in the pages of a children’s book.

Since we’ve been here we’ve seen whales breaching and giant sea turtles beaching. We’ve seen 20-foot waves exploding against the cliffs and watched rainstorms hover over the mountains while we sat under the coastal blue sky that was delineated by a massive rainbow. Those same colors have exploded on our plate, an array of raw poki, seaweed salad, fresh pineapple, and papaya ” the kind of food that’s so fresh and so healthy it makes your smile wider, eyes brighter and cheeks pinker.

What’s more, I’m here with people I care about, people who also care about me. Somehow that makes everything look prettier and taste better, makes me laugh harder and longer, often times until I can’t even breathe. It’s the way I laughed when I was young, at things that aren’t even funny so much as silly but somehow pure and happy. It’s one of those rare times when I can just be myself without worrying about what to wear or how to act or what to say.

It just made me realize it’s not about the journey or even the destination but who’s along for the ride.


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