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Driftwood Soul: Journey to Surf + Sauna

Photo Credit Oceanside, CA / P.C.: Ali Hartwig @alihartwig

I’m a beach girl. I grew up spending summers at the beach and was thrilled when my family moved to a little island in south Georgia full time.

Didn’t know Georgia had islands or beaches? You’re not alone. These aren’t white sandy beaches with sparkling turquoise water. There’s also no surf (unless a hurricane is in the forecast), but growing up, nothing was better than the sand between my toes, the rich, briny scent of the ocean, and swimming in the saltwater.

I’m a traveler— always have been, always will be. Curious by nature, my energy is fueled by endless dirt roads, the wild story of the woman sitting next to you in a cafe, or the pristine secret beach cove only discovered because of a kismet interaction with a kind-eyed man who only speaks Spanish.

This same curiosity led me outside Georgia’s borders to explore the West and beyond. Colorado was home base for a decade, but every few weeks I got the gypsy itch to get back on the move, usually on a quest for water. I ventured to the nearest lake or river, reconnecting with my aqua spirit. Every few months, I took a flight to the beach. Cuba. Costa Rica. Colombia. I jumped at every opportunity. Life is just better in a bathing suit.

After almost a decade of calling the mountains home, I felt the subtle tug of the ocean calling me back.

In 2018—with the saltwater guiding me— I set out to spend my summer at the beach in the Pacific Northwest. My partner at the time was a landlocked surfer living in Colorado and (to his absolute delight) all I wanted for my July birthday was to kick it on the Oregon coast, camp by the beach, and surf. I’d surfed a handful of times, felt the allure, but dismissed pursuing it since I lived a two-day drive from the ocean.

This trip was a game changer for me. We drove along the windy coastal roads and popped in Cleanline, the local surf shop, so I could grab a board and wetsuit.

“How’s the water? Is it cold?” I asked the shop owner as he handed me a 4/3 wetsuit. He walked over to his desk, checked the water temps for the day and wordlessly loaded a 5/4 suit, hood, booties, and gloves in my arms. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was along for the ride.

We took off, drove down a long-winding road through thick forest, the ocean invisible from view. We parked, packed our boards and bags, and started the long hike to the beach. We walked along a deeply wooded trail, giant ancient trees towered above us, cloaking the forest in a mystical moody darkness. This darkness served as a muted canvas, showing off vibrant green ferns and neon moss. Light pierced through openings in the canopy, illuminating our path out of the woods. As we emerged, the foliage gave way to a gorgeous sandy cove, massive driftwood lined the beach, it was nature’s architectural masterpiece.

The waves were the cleanest, most perfect waves I’d ever surfed. The water was a crisp 55 degrees, but the sun was shining and the water was absolute glass. We surfed for hours, only emerging to thaw out and bask in the sunshine. Then we went back in again and I was hooked.

At that point, I made the decision to move to the beach and become a surfer. Details aside, over the next six months I dismantled my entire life in pursuit of this new chapter—quit my six-figure tech job, packed my home in Boulder, and booked a flight to the Osa Peninsula for a women’s surf camp in Pavones, Costa Rica.

As a seasoned traveler, a bit Type-A, and consistently spearheading most of my adventures, I was skeptical of someone else planning my trip. After a few days though, I let go of the reins and it felt amazing. Surf life was simple: dawn patrol, followed by nature enjoyment or yoga flow, relaxing, surfing again, repeat. Our meals were prepared and the days were full, and I didn’t have to plan a thing.

I felt my whole system relax and reset. I had no idea how much tension I had been holding as an independent woman, carving my own way in the world. I felt like I had to constantly be “on”, always hustling to either drive my career or create the relationships I wanted. Ultimately, I was burnt out.

Surfing gave me a chance to connect with myself and my body, and flow with the ocean instead of some cadence set by the “make more, do more” storyline I subscribed to. I felt that if I wasn’t pushing my life forward, I was going to fall off course. Surfing taught me to let the wave take me along and, if I fell off, simply laugh, enjoy the saltwater, and catch the next wave.

It was with this fresh perspective that I opened myself up completely to re-engineer my life, infuse it with all the things I loved and let that emanate out to share with the world. I moved to Southern California, a five-minute walk from the beach, and surfed every day. I was loving life and I wanted to share what I experienced— a way to reset, get into one’s body, and be taken care of for a bit.

When I thought about the problem I wanted to solve, I sought to tap into the time that I’d felt most challenged. My mind went to the short, dark winter days. Knowing I needed to pull away from the computer but dreading the bitter cold outside of my home office. I would try to sneak out for a bit of sunshine and exercise or spend my paycheck on a spa day (the few things that lightened the stress load and endless hours on my phone and computer.)

I realized that I would have given anything to be sinking into the warm water of a rustic natural hot spring or soaking up the warm desert sun. I wanted nothing more than to feel heat sink deep into my body—feel the day’s stresses float away— as I softened, warmed, and relaxed. Soon, Driftwood Sauna was born. I wanted to create an oasis that didn’t require a week’s vacation time (or a week’s salary!) to feel the benefits of a beautiful self-care experience. I wanted to meet people where they were and bring the experience to them. A travel sauna became my solution. Not to mention, the pairing of surf and sauna make perfect sense. Cold water surf followed by a hot, cedar sauna session… I mean, what could be better than that?

Photos of the Sauna / P.C.: Jonathan Hiller (@jonathan.hiller)

I set my sights on the mission and dropped in. Within six months, I had a custom-designed, handcrafted cedar sauna towed by a badass Dodge Ram on Highway One, up California’s coast to the Bay Area. We’ll save that story for another day ;)

As with surfing, every day I am humbled by forces bigger than me. There have been many low lulls and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet each day I take the same approach as surfing— when a set comes, just drop in. When I fall, smile in the saltwater and paddle out for the next one.


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