Surf Simply the Best

Tuesday, January 20, 2015 Permalink 0

Growing up in the mountains with my feet firmly planted on two skis, surfing was never really on my radar. Even in my native Brazil, we were always inland — visiting family in rural Sao Paolo state. The coast and ocean was just a distant idea.

Years after my clocked ticked 4-0, I gingerly made a first attempt at the “new-to-me” sport as a healthy way to take a break from the extended winters that Montana is noted for.

It started (and sort of temporarily ended) with a trip to Mexico where I had a ad-hoc hour long lesson. Forget learning any details on technique, the lesson consisted of some pop up instruction, a few shove-ins from the whitewater, and a stance consisting of placing my lagging hand upright and the leading arm outstretched in front pointing at the beach, in a sort of American basketball offensive foul call.


The following days were filled with being trounced in the spin cycle surf then tossed out and cushioned by a vast carpet of a recent sea urchin bloom.

The monotony was broken by the jolt of a sting ray. The sting painfully abated by soaking in a concoction cooked up by the local surf shack. A bucket of indigenous leaves mixed in boiling hot water and a local hooch tequila chaser provided slow relief.

After three weeks of dutiful punishment I ended up in a crowded ER deep in the old part of Zihuatanejo with a festering and spreading infection.

“Mi mano no esta bien” — a phrase curiously absent from the Lonely Planet phrasebook — gave the local doc on duty an afternoon smile.

An embedded urchin spine was the culprit. I was sent out the door with a prescription for a hefty dose of “antibioticos.” The receptionist typed out the invoice in triplicate carbon copy — forty two pesos equivalent to the price of an order of guacamole which would most certainly have been more enjoyable. The experience left me with a wilted attitude toward the ocean and the sport. I could see no fun in prolonged periods of pain followed by panicked excursions to the local hospital of a developing nation.

See below the receipt, which I taped into my journal for proof of the cost of a visit to the local ER:


I was ready to throw in the towel when my husband and his friend Sarah discovered a place called Surf Simply in Playa Guiones, Costa Rica. They went down on a trial run to see if the place was truly as great as all of the glowing 5 star reviews on Trip Advisor.

Todd returned from Costa Rica raving about his trip. “It’s the perfect beach break for learning. The surf is incredibly consistent and friendly. No crowds. No sea urchins. Top notch instruction. Lovely accommodations. Etc. etc. etc.”

He had a proposition; He would take me to try the place out as a holiday gift and if I still wasn’t psyched about surfing, then he would agree that it may truly not be my sport.

How could anyone say no to that kind of offer?

By saying yes to learning and adventure while saying no to my fears and insecurities, I came to know and love Surf Simply, the sport and have a new found appreciation for the ocean and waves.

The surf camp completely changed my perspective, skill level and confidence through a spectacular experience in and out of the water. 

Every detail from transportation and meals to lodging and relaxation is meticulously planned. The only thing left on a traveler’s to-do list is to learn and have as much fun as possible!

To begin, your experience level is assessed by a detailed pre-trip questionnaire.

The coaching ratio is exceedingly low and overall group size limited to 12. One coach for every one-three students, but typically two.  Two sessions per day allow for ample personal instruction under different conditions, punctuated by on-land theory lessons and video analysis. The teaching ability and technical skill level of the coaches is stellar, but they’re also just plain fun people to be around.

Here Harry is describing the finer details of a white water climb to Todd and Sarah:

Harry, Todd and Sarah in an early morning session

My initial forays into the sport had left me with precisely no knowledge of surfing. My run-ins with critters of the ocean had left me with, well, lets call it a concern for what lurks below.

As a Level 1 beginner, I learned with Coach Jessie and Prado how, why and when to pop up on a surf board, how the board works and how to control it, what your functional stance should look like. More advanced skills such as trimming and carving turns, paddling techniques, turtle dives, reading a surf report, the science of the swell, and safety protocol were introduced throughout the week. Most importantly, I learned a critical skill for ocean excursions — “the sting ray shuffle.”

This year I transitioned to Level 2 with Coach Jessie. We covered how to read and assess waves, binary and dynamic selection of waves, finding spot X, angled take offs, board design and etiquette were added to the arsenal of knowledge as well as a lot of review of Level 1 skills. I also learned a great deal about small victories and my own perceived limitations.

Below Coach Jessie and I are OTB (Out The Back) with the advanced students:

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A slight miscalculation on a bigger wave leads to a great wipe out hall of fame photo:

Todd Pearling on a Big Wave

Our friend Whitney consults with Coach Andre about her great pop up:

Whitney and Coach Andre

Team Skittles, 2015. A group consisting of our close friends took over the camp and we had a great time!

Team Skittles

Surfing three hours a day is enough to exhaust every muscle from the tip of the head to your toes. Throughout the week, I discovered muscles that I’ve never used – ever.

Thankfully, Surf Simply has a strategy to counterbalance the intense physical activity of the practical sessions.

Daily yoga sessions and massage available to each of us brings relief. A fantastic private chef keeps our appetites satiated. A community refrigerator stocked full of cold beverages and ice cream greets weary participants every day. Fresh baked treats and hot coffee by the gallon available 24-7.

The community rancho is flanked by an inviting and fresh pool. Hypnotic looping surf videos and an enormous built in sectional, comfortably host nap and relaxation time.

Oriana, the photographer for Surf Simply, professionally documents the experience. Ru, the founder of the resort, navigates the waves with his Go Pro, capturing a unique action perspective from water level. Laura shoots and edits all the Surf Simply monthly films. Upon departure they give you a stunning album of images and video on a thumb drive to share and print from – a cherished send-off gift.

It’s an intimate, luxury experience in every way. Thoughtful approach, attentive, friendly and professional staff, excellent cuisine both within the rancho and the restaurant selections for our dining field trips. I couldn’t have a higher recommendation for a week at Surf Simply. It’s simply the best.

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Until next year – thank you for the great images and video Ru, Laura and Oriana! And thank you to all the amazing coaches who make the week memorable for a lifetime!

Walking Out to a Morning Session

The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani + More Firsts in Japan

Monday, January 5, 2015 Permalink 0

I’ve always been intrigued by the snow monkeys who “take onsen” – especially after seeing Marsel van Oosten’s viral image of the macaque “checking his email” in the famous hot springs. When we figure out this unusual routine happens pretty close to Tokyo in a region referred to as the “Japanese Alps,” Todd and I are all in.

Macaques in Onsen

It’s about a mile hike up to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, through a lush forest on a well maintained trail.

Trail to Monkey Park

The forest is marked with tree identifications along the way.

Tree Identification

Once we climb all the way up to the hot springs, we find many families of monkeys scampering about and soaking in the hot water. They swim and play, groom each other, and enjoy the relaxing heat while the rest of us shiver with our cameras. We joke about how this really is a tourist destination for the monkeys to watch people.

About an hour after we arrive, a park ranger comes and builds a little bonfire. I have yet to see this happen at the Boiling River in Yellowstone. It is welcome for our stiff hands and cold toes.

Grooming in Hot Springs

Design, Whimsy and Snacks: The Architect’s Wife Now Open in Bozeman

Sunday, January 4, 2015 Permalink 0

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I’m loving interior designer Abby Hetherington’s recently opened design studio and showroom, The Architect’s Wife. She renovated and set up shop at the vintage Montana Motors garage off of Babcock street in Bozeman.

A thoughtfully curated interiors and lifestyle store, Abby and her team feature contemporary furniture, luxurious home lighting, as well as unique finds and accessories; even the most distinguished shoppers are sure to discover extraordinary pieces for the home. You can purchase items right off the floor or use the extensive fabric, flooring, and wall-covering library for special orders. The team is friendly, creative and knowledgable. I love stopping in and having them show me the latest design treasures and the stories behind them.

And the snacks. Did I mention the snacks? The peanut butter-filled pretzels call my name every time I visit. (As do the flaming hot cheese balls, which of course I would NEVER admit to.)

See Abby’s design projects and website here.

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“A Path Appears” to Premiere January 26, February 2 and February 9 on PBS

Sunday, January 4, 2015 Permalink 0

I’m excited to finally be able to share the documentary A Path Appears with you! This past year I was on the road in Africa, Haiti and across America with Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn capturing images and video for the book, social media campaign and companion series which is premiering this month!

The documentary examines the struggles women face in the United States and abroad, and the inspiring individuals working with them to create effective solutions. The book provides a unique and essential narrative about making a difference in the world — and a roadmap to becoming a conscientious global citizen.

The three 1 1/2 hour segments air on PBS January 26, February 2 and February 9.

Please take a look and let’s discuss! I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

15 Years of Portraits: Walking Memory Lane with Acclaimed Jazz Vocalist Jeni Fleming

Tuesday, December 30, 2014 Permalink 0

One of the joys of working in photography is the opportunity to collaborate with amazing subjects who through the introduction and process become friends. Over a period of months then years, relationships grow as do the laughs, tears, hugs and stories. The great memories multiply.

It’s a gift to look back through stacks of images, a reminder of how precious and wonderful life and friends really are.

I’ve cherished a long and vibrant history with singer Jeni Fleming. We met as the 1990’s were fading to the millennium. Both young artists, we were embarking on the winding paths that would criss and cross over the years, spanning all sorts of personal and professional milestones.

Looking through my archive the other day, I decided to pop a few images over to her for the sake of tripping down Memory Lane.

Here’s what Jeni had to say:

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“Our very first photo shoot together!  Wow, I look like a child, because…I was!

I think I was 26 in this picture. We did this shoot in Audrey’s dining room.

Funny to think how little we knew each other back then, could we have imagined that we’d become lifelong friends?

I’m trying to decide if I see something different in this early photo, something that says my trust in her developed over time, but I think that it was instantaneous which explains why it always boded well for us and our friendship.

When someone has witnessed your life, in all of its beautiful and ugly stages, for as long as Audrey has, its hard to imagine not knowing that person.  I think we’ll know each other forever.”

A Visit to St. Ignatius

Saturday, November 8, 2014 Permalink 0

I’ve driven by the historic mission at St. Ignatius many, many times without being able to stop and actually enter the building. On a summer trip to Kalispell this year, I made a definitive plan to swing in and found a spectacular interior – delicately painted and softly illuminated by the large antique windows.

Apparently, the 58 murals were painted between 1901-1902 by an untrained artist who worked as a cook and handyman at the mission. 

If you’re ever on US Highway 93 between Missoula and Kalispell, MT, I highly recommend stopping in!

Painting John at the NW Filmmakers Festival

Friday, November 7, 2014 Permalink 0

Painting John, a short documentary I made about artist Hugh Wilson, continues the journey through film festivals and broadcast, this time landing in Portland, Oregon for the annual NW Filmmakers Festival.

A lone rancher and nomadic artist.

A stark landscape and unrelenting winter.

Through the intimacy of life portraiture, two people meet and forge an improbable bond beyond the world of social networks and sound bytes.


See the film online at Montana PBS.

Artifact, Appetite & Aperture; A First Newsletter

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 Permalink 0

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July 2014; Paradise Valley, Montana

Summer in the Rockies is firing up, and for those of us in the visual arts realm that means getting out and reveling in the seasonal ephemera. From road-tripping around the Crazies with talented singer/songwriter, Jesse Macht, to peeking into the rural studio of Northern New Mexico ceramic artist Lisa Jensen, summer is the time to “make hay” meaning get out and shoot, for the season is fleeting.

Welcome to the first edition of Artifact, Appetite & Aperture, an ambling chronicle that wanders throughout the American West and toward the sunset, wherever that may be. Kickback and let me introduce you to some of the exceptional people, places and style that I discover through the collaborations and assignments as a photographer and contemporary design sleuth.

See the full newsletter here. Thanks for reading!

In The Studio with Brandner Design

Saturday, April 10, 2010 Permalink 0

Photographing beautiful and unique design has always been a joy for me and today was no exception. I worked with Jeff Brandner of Brandner Designs shooting his most recent pieces of furniture before they were shipped to clients in New York.

Brandner has an artistic approach to furniture – each design blends timeless industrial strength with contemporary elegance. He uses reclaimed and renewable materials as well as found objects. His work is both functional and practical but adds distinction to any space like only fine art can.

The shoot was set in the modern interior design studio of Greathouse Workroom in Bozeman, Montana where we photographed and sipped coffee all day while a spring blizzard raged outside. It was a perfect way to spend the day!

Canyonlands: The White Rim

Sunday, October 8, 2006 Permalink 0

The trip to Canyonlands National Park begins with all of my underwear being stolen in Park City, Utah. I imagine the thief given the demographics of this affluent resort town. He is a strapping six foot four sometimes ski bum utterly disappointed to find my bag filled with performance socks, polar fleece and other various outer and under garments all in size extra small.