Liz Clark, captain of the Swell

Writer, captain, surfer, Patagonia Ambassador, and all around badass Liz Clark has been traveling since 2006 aboard her 40-foot sailboat, Swell.

LIZ CLARK sailed from California along the Pacific coast of Latin America, then across the South Pacific to French Polynesia, surfing uncrowded waves, and traveling, as she says, “at a pace not much faster than you can run.”

I first read about her in an early issue of Wend Magazine and felt a mix of envy / stoke about her “global surf mission.” In the years since I’ve continued following her blog, her articles inThe Surfer’s Journal, and other magazines, and have come to really admire her vision for life lived at ground level (or in her case, sea level). She writes:

I’ve reduced my daily impact on the earth. I live closer to nature. Solar and wind power provide my electricity. I use less, need less, and want less, yet have never felt more fulfilled.

I exchanged a bunch of emails with Liz while she was back visiting family in San Diego over the past couple weeks. Here’s some of our correspondence:

[DM] I saw where you’re back in the states until October to work on your book project. How is it going?

[LC] Um, yes, the book project…Things are a bit stalled for the moment. I took on this project a bit before I was ready to do it. I needed money to repair my boat, but now it’s turned into a much bigger time commitment than I had expected. I was certainly naïve to think it could have been finished in the time frame that we had originally agreed upon. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends ever since we started. I need a little time to get back to my voyage and step away from it for a little while…we’ll see what happens…

How does writing the book differ from your blog?

Liz foraging papayas

This book is conceptually a visual piece—photos, sketches, and scans, mixed with snippets of my writing, quotes, etc. I did a ton of editing of my journals and blogs from the last 4 years to intersperse throughout the photos.

The biggest difference between writing the blog and the book is that blogs can stand alone. They are simple, and only need me to complete, whereas when writing for a book, you have to think of how each sentence is going to shape and create a greater piece, and then work back and forth with an editor to get it just right.

What books are you currently reading? Whose writing styles are you stoked on?

Liz repairing leak

I’m currently reading The Long Way by Bernard Moitessier. He was an extremely talented French sailor and writer. His writing style captures the feeling of being at sea better than any other sea-going book I have ever read. If you want to know what it feels like out there, read this book.


After four years of sailing around the world, what’s left? What places are still on your “to-visit” list.

Too many to name!!!! the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Indo, India, Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean…

What’s it been like trying to connect with people you’ve met while you’ve been nomadic? Have any of the places you’ve visited impressed you enough that you’ve been tempted to call your voyage quits?

Liz, smooth cutback

Connecting with people in small places is easy. Everyone is more open and interested in talking. Saying goodbye is always hard though. You always hope that you’ll see them again, but you really never know.

I could have built a little beach shack in a ton of the places I’ve been. I think it’s more about being ready to stop. Who knows!? I’m not putting a ton of pressure on myself to make it all the way around the world. It’s more about continuing to follow my heart.

Reading your blog, particularly about the need to continuously repair / attend to Swell reminds me of a couple people I know who have pursued lives based on sustainable action – namely that while others might imagine their lives as simple, in actuality their lives are constantly filled with work – planting, harvesting, repairing machines / systems, attending to animals, fire mitigation, splitting firewood, etc.

It seems however that even with all the work required, they (and you) still have way more time to just enjoy being where they are or to be creative than they would if living a more ‘convenient’ lifestyle. Can you talk a bit about how many hours you spend working each week to sustain yourself (making repairs, blogging, photo shoots, interviews–anything that could be considered ‘work’) versus how much time you get to chill / surf / recreate?

Filling the propane tank

Great question. It obviously differs from week to week, situation to situation, but truly, I spend nearly 90% of my waking time dedicated to maintaining Swell, sustaining life aboard (filling water, getting food, fuel, gas for cooking, cleaning, and making repairs). Then once that is finished there is also writing blogs, answering emails, corresponding with sponsors, fans, ordering parts, etc. If I don’t explicitly make time for surfing, yoga, and relaxing, the workload can completely swallow me.

Then when you throw in actually moving the boat to meet someone somewhere, like working with the filmmakers from Dear and Yonder or meeting up with a photographer here or there—these missions add a whole extra dimension to the workload.

Planning for these visits can even shape my whole year because of hurricane season in each region. But within all that work, I try to maintain a really present attitude. If I’m scraping algae off the bottom of the hull, then I try to keep my mind there. If I’m writing a blog, I totally immerse myself in it. If I was thinking about everything I had to do every second, I’d go mad!

The one thing that keeps it all in perspective for me is the fact that, despite being as busy as a New York stockbroker, I get to be surrounded by nature the majority of the time. Nature is where I get my energy. That’s what makes it all seem worthwhile to me. Plus, knowing that most of the time I have the freedom to say, “Not today, the conditions are perfect to check out that spot on the north end of the island…”, balances out the fact that I’m often a slave to the voyage. But I find that hard work is never as hard when you believe in it.


Was there a time when you felt like you were working hard but not believing in it? What led you to pursue the voyage of Swell?

Liz: ‘Home is wherever I’m with Swell.’

Well, we all have to do random jobs that aren’t our heart’s calling. I worked plenty of those kind of jobs before I left on this voyage: I filled scuba tanks in a dive shop, sliced meat in a deli, taught kids how to surf, made espresso drinks, cleaned and waxed boats, and worked every rung of restaurant jobs. I worked hard at all of them but can’t really say I ‘believed in’ them. I did believe that they wouldn’t last forever, though!

When we’re young, we need to get out and feel the pulse of the world and workforce to know what particular role we might fill. I think it’s when we get a little older, and we remain longer than we know we should in a job that we don’t particularly ‘believe in’–that’s when work can become really ‘hard’. In my eyes, it’s not the actual labor or the stress or the long hours that make a job hard, it’s hard when deep down you know that you are not listening to your heart.

Obviously, we don’t always have the luxury to precisely choose our work, but even to be looking beyond that job and seeing how it can lead you to the other one (yet still appreciating the current one for its place on your Path)–that kind of determination always seemed to make my not-so-dream jobs less ‘hard’.

Even now, when I’m hauling 5-gallon jerry cans of water in midday tropical heat, or writing a blog at the end of a long day, or working at the top of the mast and realize that I have to lower myself down to get a different size screwdriver then pull myself back up…yes, all of this is hard, but deep down I believe in this lifestyle or ‘job’ and feel like I am being true to myself when it comes to my overall mode of existence on this planet. It was my heart that led me to pursue this voyage!

Community Connection

To learn more about Liz Clark, please visit her blog.

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