Liz clark surf swell

The High Seas of Hope

Talking Adventure, Fear, and the Power of Dreams with Captain Liz Clark

Words BY:
Ethan Stewart

This story was first published in Issue #25, buy your copy today: HERE.

We Are, Perhaps, Never Closer To Our Ancestors than when we are alone in the wilderness. The swirl of uncertainty, vulnerability, and uncompromising nature is a heady brew that quickly reduces us to our human core. Be it land or sea, life priorities get reordered in the wilderness. It is a tonic for too much ego and a building block for healthy self-esteem. It nourishes and frustrates. Invites and denies. Softens your heart and hardens your muscles. And, for those who adventure in this way enough, it often delivers a hard won type of personal wisdom; one that is equal parts contentment and conviction. Indeed, the wilderness teaches us about who we are.

Liz clark swell patagonia book

Captain Liz Clark has been in pursuit of these timeless lessons since 2005. A former NCAA surfing champion with a degree in Environmental Studies, Clark was making drinks at a popular watering hole in the Santa Barbara harbor along the coast of central California when fate intervened and brought a Cal-40 sailboat into her life just before her 25th birthday. A lifelong sailor, Clark had rose-hued daydreams about one day circumnavigating the globe by sail and scoring world-class waves along the way. The boat, which she promptly named Swell, suddenly made those dreams markedly more attainable. Months of elbow grease and countless hours of help from friends got Swell prepared for the adventure of a lifetime. Ready or not, Clark shoved off from the tranquil waters of Santa Barbara in October of 2005 and headed out into the wilds of the Pacific Ocean all by her lonesome. In the nearly two decades since, Captain Clark hasn’t stopped navigating the stormy seas that ensue when you decide to pursue a dream with every inch of your being. It has been a masterclass in both brutality and beauty for the ripping regular-footer; much of it movingly depicted in her critically acclaimed memoir, Swell; A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening. But the good captain isn’t done yet. Far from it, actually. Currently anchored in Tahiti, Clark continues to pursue her dream and follow a path all her own. Bomb Snow connected with Liz recently to find out more about her ongoing adventures and talk a bit about what it takes to live life to the fullest.

Liz clark rudder fix

Captain Clark doing some routine maintenance on her rudder.

Ethan Stewart: Been a while. How the
heck are you, sister? Where are you these days?

Liz Clark: Ethan!! So good to catch up! I’m doing alright, thank you. I’m in Tahiti.

ES: You have been there for a while now, right? Is Tahiti home now? Or is Swell home? Or is California still home? How do you think about home these days?

LC: I am currently living on land in Tahiti, with Swell moored out in front of my house. I spend the night on her often and do some local sailing, but it’s been a really nice change having a place on land after more than 10 years living full-time aboard Swell. I feel very at home in the South Pacific now, but California will always be home too. Home is wherever I feel good.

ES: It's been 16 years since you first shoved off from Santa Barbara Harbor. Crazy! I know this is a big question, but how has your thinking about your journey changed over the years? I know it started as a hopeful circumnavigation of the world with some surfing along the way. Obviously, that has shifted over the years as you have grown and your horizon line has expanded. CAN YOU Talk a little bit about
that evolution?

LC: About a year or so after sailing south from California, it became really clear that to succeed at voyaging like I was — often alone and vulnerable in so many ways — I had to open up to the spiritual side of the adventure I was on, look within, and work on becoming a better human. Of course, finding good uncrowded surf was always the principle mission, but I realized that my inner evolution was much more important than how far I sailed. Plus, the Pacific offered so much of what I was looking for in terms of surf and lifestyle, and the more time I spent in the Pacific islands, the more important it became to devote myself to environmental advocacy and raising awareness about climate change. But hey, it’s not too late to keep sailing if and when the spirit moves me!

ES: Certainly, your adventure has not been without major anxiety. I mean, just reading your book can give someone a few panic attacks along the way. How do you deal with things like self-doubt and fear?

LC: I was lucky to have parents that instilled in me a sense of confidence that I will always be able to affront what comes my way. I also had the blind courage that a dreamer often has to pursue their dream at whatever cost, I think that helped me look at the positive aspects, versus all the things that could go wrong. But, when the fear was real, my strategy was always to just focus on the immediate thing that I needed to do. Move mindfully but take action, and not let the fear paralyze me. After those scary moments would pass, I often couldn’t believe that I’d made it through, but, when there is no other choice, we always manage to find more strength and courage than we think we have.

I’m most proud of learning to love and accept myself for who I am, my faults and shortcomings included.

Liz Clark
Liz clark captain tree patagonia

Nothing like foraging for your own coconuts in the wild.

SWELL 0008 Jody Macdonald boat2

ES: Where do you think that capability comes from? Is it something you can develop along the way or are you born with it?

LC: I think my voyaging capabilities blossomed from my great desire to live out my sailing dream… If I hadn’t wanted the dream so badly, I doubt I would have been willing to face the fear and uncertainty that are a constant part of a life at sea.

I think everyone is capable of much more than they realize. And I definitely think courage is something we can develop with practice. When you love something enough, you find the courage and eventually push past your perceived limits. That’s what’s so beautiful about passions and dreams, they challenge us to expand — mentally, physically, and emotionally.

ES: Be it sailing related or otherwise, what are the challenges in life that you are most proud of overcoming? What do you hope to do better next time around?

LC: I’m most proud of learning to love and accept myself for who I am, my faults and shortcomings included. I’m also proud of my sailing accomplishments and that I chose to steer my voyage from the heart, instead of choosing to sail farther and faster because that’s what my sponsors or social media followers wanted. Next time around… I might do better at collaborating with local advocacy groups along the way. I feel like I spent so much time fixing the boat!

When you love something enough, you find the courage and eventually push past your perceived limits.

Liz Clark
Liz clark profile

ES: You are an eloquent and outspoken champion of the natural world. It is clear you are passionate about our collective need to work with the environment instead of against it. Tell me a little about your environmental philosophies. How have your adventures changed or sharpened these views?

LC: I resonate deeply with Indigenous philosophies that view humans as a vital part of the natural world, and that it is our greatest responsibility to take care of the Earth that keeps us breathing, nourished, clothed, sheltered, and everything else. In today’s world, it isn’t always easy to see clearly how to uphold that responsibility, but I am dedicated to learning and doing my best to give back and find reciprocity with the planet, and show respect for all life. I think these ideas always resonated with me, but my years of living close to nature aboard Swell definitely gave me a chance to develop my own relationship with Mama Earth, intensifying my love for her and dedication to helping humanity rediscover our role as stewards and caretakers of the planet.

ES: Is there a price to pay for pursuing your dreams?

LC: It depends on how you look at it. I don’t have a 401k or the same kinds of security that others might have at my age having taken a more conventional path, but I have security of heart, from the relationship I’ve developed with the Universe while pursuing this dream. I have peace of mind knowing that I have no regrets. I believe that our dreams have a purpose, and that pursuing them will always lead us somewhere we are supposed to be.

SWELL 0014 Chris Mcgeough

Swell swim liz clark double up

ES: You are clearly an inspiration for so many. But who or what inspires you?

LC: “What” inspires me is nature, in all its glorious forms! A few of my biggest “whos” are Jane Goodall, St. Theresa, Harriet Tubman, Greta Thunberg, Patrisse Cullors, Robin Wall Kimmerer, the Ascended Masters! But I’m also inspired by the courage and kindness of the everyday people I encounter along the way.

ES: I know you have a soft spot in your heart for the mountains. What do you see as the biggest similarities between mountain time and ocean time? What are the biggest differences?

LC: I think the mountains and the ocean, and any wilderness area really, are most similar in the way they make us feel — the awe, humility, peace, grandeur, spaciousness. As for differences, the sea is ever-changing, while the mountains are full of sacred stillness. They are perfectly yin and yang. I have had a whole lot of the ocean’s perpetual motion in my years, so during my precious time in the mountains I always feel grateful for that magical silence and sense of stability to help balance and ground me.


If you haven't checked out Clark's book, Swell, please do. Our Editor Ethan Stewart, has a review of her book below:

I think the mountains and the ocean, and any wilderness area really, are most similar in the way they make us feel — the awe, humility, peace, grandeur, spaciousness.

Liz Clark
Swell book patagonia liz clark captain

A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening
Author: Captain Liz Clark

From a certain view, Swell is a classic autobiography, one that details and celebrates the highs and lows of the anything-but-ordinary young life of Captain Liz Clark. However, when taken in its full measure, Swell quickly transcends the genre and becomes something markedly more, and entirely original. It is a book about self-discovery and challenge, about the natural world and the profound personal lessons to be uncovered when we look for a better version of ourselves out beyond the edges of a predictable life. It is real, raw, and endlessly inspiring. The language and storytelling are a page-turning blend of high-seas adventure, onshore drama, hard-earned insights, and poetic observations of nature. The photographs are like a mini tropical surf adventure unto themselves, perhaps surpassed only by the whimsical illustrations (by Daniella Manini) that brilliantly pepper the book and serve as tonal touchstones for every chapter. And then there is Amelia, the tabby cat that Liz adopts from the jungle somewhere along the way. Affectionately known as Tropicat, the kitty becomes a most unexpected yet remarkably competent first mate for Captain Clark.

However, the true star of the book is the captain herself and the way that we can feel her growing with each passing chapter. Her consciousness, her feminism, her humanity, and her activism are all evolving as the story unfolds. We recognize ourselves in her moments of honest vulnerability and feel ourselves rise along with her as she overcomes demons both inside and out. It is this element of the book that I, as the father of two little girls, am most jazzed about. Indeed, the book, like the woman who wrote it, is empowering, hopeful, and just plain impressive. –E.S.

To check out more on Liz and what she's up to, go here:


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