Where the Hell Have I Been?

I haven’t written a story in over two years. And that ends today. 

For those who have been readers of this blog, I wanted to have a conversation and life catch up with you. Truth is, over the last two years, I just didn’t prioritize the struggle of writing quality stories. I moved off the road to Maui and was so overwhelmed (mostly in a good way) building my new life. Yes, I was seriously bummed to walk away from this project – which had good momentum – but walking away didn’t feel like a choice. Turns out my silence had a shelf life.

Strange things started happening inside of me. Like getting frustrated when my girlfriend finished my favorite cereal, or not getting up early to go surf. For a self-proclaimed mellow, yet passionate guy these were serious red flags.

My mojo was slipping, and I finally became aware of its drain – not enough creative time. 

For me, sharing visual stories is work that I can’t not do! So here we go again… new blog, new stories, new intention, new energy. Below is a Q&A with myself (you don’t talk to yourself all day?) about some of the learnings and open-ended questions of the last few years. These experiences will certainly influence my future storytelling. 

Maui? How’d that happen? 

When I was living on the road, I joked there were three things that could stop me – going broke, getting bored, or meeting a girl. Number three was the winner. Here’s how it went down: I was asked to photograph a wedding in Maui, fell in love with the sister of the bride, and shipped my van to the world’s most remote inhabited island. Risky? Totally. But I figured I could fit in and be happy anywhere, after all I had done it all over the western U.S. 

 Maui's north shore as seen from my van, Donnie

What happened when you got to Hawaii?

Well, living in Hawaii is not like living in the United States (topic of a future story). It’s definitely nothing like your vacation. Hawaii is a foreign country where a white man in a VW van equals an invasive species. Queue identity crisis. I didn’t surf, I didn’t speak pidgin, and I carried an unshakable label here – “haole,” meaning “not from here,” or more practically “white boy.”  

I needed money badly because I spent much of my savings on vanlife, so I got a real-job, writing and doing marketing projects for Stride Health. I needed friends, so I joined an outrigger paddling team and promptly got my nose broken (accidentally) by a teammate. In sympathetic fashion, my van Donnie promptly broke down 3 times in a row. 

The first six months in Hawaii were a total life 180. Locals say the island tests newcomers – they call it the “Maui shakedown.” Well, it almost broke me. Somehow, though, I sat out the discomfort and now have a deep love for the Hawaiian culture and my life here. I guess Maui wanted me to earn it. 

 Maliko fishing village on the north shore of Maui

Are you living in the van anymore? 

I tried living in the van, but I was sweating my way through the tropical days and barely able to find camping at night. Maui has very little public land, my go-to for finding “home” on the mainland. So I broke my proclamation that I would never pay rent again. Later, I broke my even bigger proclamation that I would never buy a house, and bought a house with my girlfriend. It was our perfect situation – a 100-year-old island cabin, which gets pelted with equal parts rain and sun, only five minutes from our favorite surf break. We just try to ignore the whole 360 monthly payments thing. Even with the house, hardly a week passes without some van camping. 

Sidenote: One of the most admirable qualities I see in people is the ability to change opinions on hard-held beliefs. It was extremely hard to break some of my road-hardened van-man “ideals.” I felt like I was giving up or selling out. But ultimately, I realized I was evolving, and my so-called ideals were walls I had built around myself.

Do you surf now?

I didn’t surf when I moved to Hawaii but do now. Learning to surf here is intimidating as hell – waves have ~2,500 miles of uninterrupted ocean to organize themselves before breaking “heavily” on Maui’s north shore. Most of our surf breaks are crowded, and nearly everyone’s an expert surfer, so it’s hard for a beginner to get the repetitions needed to learn. 

But I noticed something – crowds thinned out dramatically when wave faces grew 10-feet or bigger. Ah-hah! My competitive swimming background could finally help me as an adult. Paddling out when it got big became my M.O. These sessions alternated between pure exhilaration (skittering down these beasts) and pure fear (diving under 15-foot walls of white-wash). I’m sure the lifeguards were confused as hell, watching a dude that couldn’t surf but could paddle around on a 15-foot day. They never called me in to the beach. 

P.S. did you know it takes 60mph winds blowing in one direction for 70 hours, and those waves traveling over 1,600 miles of ocean to create a 50-foot wave like this one? This is one of world’s most beautiful waves, aptly named Jaws (Pe’ahi).

 The famous Jaws (Pe'ahi) surf break on the north shore of Maui

Does living in Hawaii feel isolating to you?

I always tell people this about Hawaii. If you make your life about the ocean, these islands feel infinite. If you don’t, Hawaii feels small, and there’s a very good chance you will leave. I make sure to travel to new environments every few months and have been milking the credit card rewards programs. 

 A Hawaiian Sea Turtle, or honu, cruising the ocean

I hear about the idea of Island Time? Do you spend your time differently than before? 

I spend everyday in nature because it’s what I step out my front door into. Consequently, I’ve spent a lot less time on my phone, which has caused my social media following to stagnate. Oh well. 

Now that I have a home-base to work on my van, I spend more time tinkering. I've been fighting rust and fixing my CV axles, clutch, steering rack, and water pump. I’m about to install new exhaust and brakes. 

The lack of nightlife on Maui, which drives some people nuts, is my paradise. There isn’t much light pollution here, so it gets really dark and often pours at night – the perfect recipe for snuggling up with a book. Some of my favorite books this year were Hawaii, Surf Is Where You Find It, The Alchemist, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ckAll the Light We Cannot See, Solitude, Barbarian Days, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, 10% Happier, Tools for Grassroots Activists

 Fixing the steering rack on my 1986 Volkswagen Vanagon
 Haley enjoying the fresh feeling of the ocean

Have you picked up anything from the Hawaiian culture?

“Bro!” has become “Brah!” I throw about 14 shakas a day. I like reggae. I hate shoes. I love poke. I like “talking story,” the local pastime which translates to “shooting the shit.” It’s not a quick hello, it’s a sit and stay awhile. As I’ve developed a more patient, easy-going demeanor, I’ve been getting less hassle from the locals. I’ve even started pronouncing most roads correctly, as well as remembering the name of our state fish – humuhumunukunukuapua’a. 

And that broken nose I got from paddling. Well, I have a little different nose now, but I recovered and our team won the Hawaiian state paddling championship that summer. After our win, a local guy on my team told me “you’re now a part of my ‘ohana (family).” I can’t imagine a greater compliment for a haole. 

 My broken nose from paddling on Maui
 State Champ paddling team, men's Novice B

So you’re spending more time again on 63mph.com?

YES! I’m back to full-time freelance work… and it is AWESOME! I rebuilt this website with a big hand from my girlfriend, Haley, and I’ve reaffirmed my commitment to working on important stories. I even built some new relationships with a few companies that I’m really excited about.

 Paddling between Maui and Moloka'i, through the Pailolo Channel. 

Is the concept of 63mph obsolete now that you’re off the road?

No, I’m realizing it’s even more relevant now. The creation of 63mph has always been more than living in a van, traveling at a top speed of 63mph. My purpose with this blog is to create visual stories that serve as inspiration for living a slower, more connected life. I didn’t understand it at the time, but moving to Hawaii was the next step in understanding and living this lifestyle. 

To me, the only way we’re going to solve our personal and planetary problems is to simplify and slow things down, not complicate our lives further. Think about it, most of us already have so much more than we need, except the ability to chill the fuck out!

Chilling out may just be the revolution that allows us to survive. 
 Maui's shoreline at sunset

Will you go back on the road? 

The road is my boomerang – it always comes flying back into my mind – and I don’t see that ending. Haley and I are always planning our next extended road trip. And if kids are in the future, the road will be an integral part of their life experience. 

What’s the hardest thing you’ve experienced over the last two years?

Well, both of my remaining grandparents died, which was extremely hard. But maybe even harder was realizing how big of an ego I brought to Hawaii. Over the last two years, I’ve wrestled almost constantly with my ego. The work is never done, but I think my perception of self is much smaller now. Thanks Haley and Hawaii for that one.

What’s the best thing you’ve experienced over the past two years? 

The joy of love and a sense of home, two feelings that have helped me find a growing sense of contentment.  

Thanks for being here with me. I really appreciate you reading these stories. This is the first of many to come.