Epicurrence: Dreaming Huge, Inspiration, and Adventure. The Art of the Conference.
It was the most punishing pain I’ve ever felt — a sting ray’s tail went straight through my heel and out the other side, leaving fragmented barbs behind in its tracks only for me to later discover them. After the attack, I had to crawl up 140 steps at Swamis in San Diego, CA with blood drenching each slab of wood. It was already well into night fall, and no one was around to help. By step 70, my right leg was already completely numb yet overflowing with pain. After reaching the ascent, I crawled into my Jeep and with my opposite foot, I drove myself to the local hospital, crawling through the automatic ER doors on arrival. With all the agony, moments prior, I rode some of the best, most inspiring waves of my life — and I wanted more.
Story after story, some wonder why we keep paddling back out to the lineup. You hear gnarly tales of sharks and drownings year after year. Like the stingray attack, I’ve also nearly drowned several times taking in water a mere seconds before beaching. I’ve had my share of battle wounds, as well. How about the time I sliced a hole in my head from the sharp tail of my board, leaving my scalp clinging to the cut fiberglass! And, how about those hand full of concussions from the freezing winter months in the Pacific!
Whatever the story, surfing, unlike anything else, is the fuel that deeply satisfies my desire for inspiration. I’m not speaking of the kind of inspiration you find in a folder, but the kind of genius you have to go outdoors to discover. No matter what happens in the water, as you’ll hear from stories like these, surfing is a soulful addiction that no one wants to kick, no matter what happens. Even shark attack survivors with lost limbs fight their way back out. My belief is that it is because surfing is one of, if not the biggest, source of inspiration. It is for my career or for life. I enjoy being absent minded on my board, forfeiting each and every thought to the deep Pacific horizon, all while patiently awaiting the prospect of the next waves to approach. This pure, out of body absentmindedness when I’m riding the wave, ironically, makes the ocean my sanctuary for thought. It’s always hard to explain. How does not thinking motivate better thinking?
It’s this pure, radical stoke of sliding across the face of a wave in uninfluenced worldly moments that sparks my creativity. The ocean is a place where choices have to be made instantly and spontaneously while everything is in a constant movement. The wave is a matrix moment where you enter a new realm of imagination. It’s a humbling experience that sometimes ends with humbling pain like my stingray dagger or ends with an incomprehensible stoke of great fortune. For some, it is just the beginning, after gliding across water for the very first time. After years of experiencing this radical motivation, it has become my absolute mission to share these feelings, this stoke, with everyone possible, starting with you.
Getting inspired in Hawaii
When it comes to surfing, the famous 7-mile miracle stretch of sand on the North Shore of Oahu, HI is generally the first thing to come to mind. There’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world. It is one perfect break after another. Knowing this and the feeling I get everytime I’m there, makes absolutely no better place to host the next Epicurrence, the non-conference for creatives I started earlier this year, than on this grand stage of surfing. This enchantment where land meets ocean, and travelers experience Aloha. It’s where surf legends were born and beaten, and it’s the one paradisal setting where this event had to go down, no matter what, Nothing else could compare. Nothing.
Leading up to day one of this week long bender in paradise was the hardest, most humbling project of ups and downs that I’ve ever worked on in my entire career. Hosting Epicurrence, at Banzai Pipeline, Backdoor, and Off-The-Wall, the main stages of surfing, was the impossible, most unworkable, unattainable dream that I had to fight for reality. It was a constant combat with hardships and mishaps and the so many unknowns. I couldn’t just fly there and visit, and things were brutally expensive, nearly five times as much as Tahoe. Not to mention, I also had a full-time job still on the mainland and a daughter being born only weeks prior to the event. My dream “surf event” was tiresomely slipping further and further through my fingers everyday with people telling me “NO!” and “not possible” constantly or flat out ignoring me. Little did they know, I’m partially here today because of the drive I get when people tell me things are not possible, and I’m following a huge dream.
Ultimately, it was the determination I had to share this special stoke and build the “impossible” along with the help of incredible friends (Jason Murray, Toby Grubb, Jared Fitch, Austin Neill, Marc Hemeon, Daniel Burka, Stephen Olmsted, Andrew Verboncouer, and many others), and the welcoming locals that believed in me and the idea around this event that made the impossible become possible. Not to mention, the incredible 70+ friends as well that really brought it together by opening up and becoming vulnerable to new experiences and ideas. Because of all of these phenomenal human beings, we were able to experience this memorable event at seven, literally side by side homes on the most famous stretch of sand, in the most famous homes in surf history, in my biggest inspirational playground. A true feat in its entirety and an accomplishment above all projects I’ve touched. It was a success made only possible by the humans that came together over those few months and that final week, a success only measured in the hardships conquered, relationships gained, and the memories ingrained.
Why the non-conference
People often ask me, why are you so stoked on creating a conference? Well, I’m not at all actually. I can’t stand conferences — they’re my nemesis. What I am passionate about however is sharing the same raw stoke and inspiration that got me so far in my life via outdoor adventures that I actually do, such as surfing and snowboarding. My conference, non-conference event, or whatever you want to call it, is just my product that enables this. This is why you’ll see a clear pattern on the people I invite to come lead discussions. They’re all inspiring people that live beyond the keyboard and influence my inspiration one way or another.
Just like Epicurrence No.1 in South Lake Tahoe, CA, I wanted to stay away from the traditional conference vibe that my introverted persona shuns on autopilot. Those days are filled with long presentations and blank stares. Those events that usually fall on the weekend, which belong better to rest and family. Epicurrence was created because I wanted an event I could attend, an event to re-inspire me without screens but adventures. It should be an event during the week that enforced time away from the office, an event where everyone lived, ate, and experienced humbling adventures together.
I chose events based on surfing and snowboarding, because authentically it’s what has inspired me ever since I was a child. I needed something different. I wanted a way that someone like myself could better interact with my peers at a “conference.” I needed something more natural, adventurous, and comfortable yet something uncomfortable, vulnerable, but secure. So I built it. Epicurrence is my different. It’s what I was missing, and based on the full smiles, laughter, tears, and new found relationships, others are beginning to feel the same. It’s this week of conscious effort to re-inspire yourself and the ones around you. It’s more of an epic vacation than a “how-to” lecture, a truer form of inspiration to take back to your desk.
Now, it’s been nearly a month since we left the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii where we designers, developers, entrepreneurs, and creatives alike inspired over raw discussions, epic food, and for some, once in a lifetime adventures. Set forever in our memories is that one week when we shredded fabled Banzai Pipeline on a SUPsquatch with free surfer and Red Bull athlete, Jamie O’Brien. Those days when legendary surfers Pancho Sullivan, Myles Paddaca, and Jason Murray taught us how to surf and survive the waters. It was a week loaded with surf, surf, and more surf along with cliff jumping, rock climbing, hiking, shark diving, and doors off helicopter tours through the windy, rainy valleys.
It was a week of adventure after adventure. Inspiration was everywhere. We were bombarded with it from guys outside of our industry, such as legendary artist, film maker, and photographer, Thomas Campbell and the world’s greatest waterman, Mark Healey. World-class chefs cooked up epic breakfasts and dinners, while some even shared Sambazon açaí bowls straight from the founder himself, Jeremy Black. Opening night of the event was just as heavy, as we were serenaded on the ukulele by big wave surfer champion, Makua Rothman.
With all of this radical stoke being shared, the most important thing was that all of my favorite creatives were at hand, participating in unique, fun, hard, heavy, uncomfortable, valuable, and priceless conversations together. We grew together that week. I, for one, learned more and more about diversity and all of its issues as I continued to fail to keep the event properly diverse in most aspects. I’m grateful how the two past Epicurrences have pushed not only myself but others to put diversity on the forefront and better understand the challenges, and how we are friends facing on the same issues on a daily basis. To better understand the issues for everyone, I even created a “women’s only” panel which forced the discussion. It ended up being a much harder discussion than I imagined, and from the looks of the room, it was quite uncomfortable. However, this needed to happen for me and for everyone, as we’re the leaders back home and the ones that should be pushing these issues forward.
To be quite honest, it still hasn’t settled in what happened on the North Shore. Again, this little idea of mine actually coming to life and continuing to grow. This unimaginable adventure had even more full of moments of weakness and strength, hidden failures, yet unimaginable fortunes, and even tougher conversations than the first one. Epicurrence and its community is coming alive whether I know what to do with it or not. I’m here, welcoming you along for the ride.
Don’t dream big, dream huge.
Last of all, I want to remind us how important dreaming huge was for this event. Epicurrence No.2 was a true test to my character. I’m a believer in always dreaming huge, starting from way beyond the top and going straight to the impossible. Then, when needed, I slowly come back down. Even when sometimes it’s really hard, that’s your moment to test how important your dreams are. It’s not meant to be a walk in the park. It’s tough stuff. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to give up on this event because of how hard it was. Everything from money, people, travels, housing for 70+ people, diversity, weather, gear, surf lessons, transportation around the island, etc. etc. made me want to give up the idea. I had to remind myself of the dream. I knew the stoke that was about to be shared would be worth it.
Even as a designer, I’m used to constant push backs and opinions of others driving solutions, whether they are right or wrong. For this event and Epicurrence in general, I made it my priority to go as far out as I possibly could while staying focused on creating an event that I personally would enjoy first and foremost. I wanted an authentic event that only I could dream up for myself and hoped it inspired others. If I stuck to this plan of following my dreams, I just knew deep down inside it would be a success, win or lose. With the help of some incredible friends that believed in this idea, we pulled it off. I do believe, as a community, we’ve created the ultimate event. It is an event where success is determined only by the relationships gained and the motivations inspired.
As for dreaming big, here’s a peek at my initial to do list. These are some of the things I wrote down the very first time I sat down to think about what I wanted to do for the next Epicurrence:
- Host it on North Shore of Oahu — I did.
- Stay in the most infamous surf homes like the Volcom, Billabong, Rip Curl, Oakley homes — we did, all of them.
- Pay for everyone’s flights first class — we kind of did. It was not first class, but thanks to GoSolar.com, everyone got $1,000 to spend on flights.
- Everyone gets a GoPro — they did. Everyone got a Hero4 Black. Again, thanks to GoSolar.com and GoPro.
- Get a pro surfer to come inspire — we did. Jamie O’Brien came and entertained us beyond belief. So did Mark Healey, Makua Rothman, Pancho Sullivan, and Myles Padacca.
- Get Jack Johnson to come play ukulele — almost, but we did get Makua Rothman to come and welcome us to Hawaii.
- Get custom board shorts from Billabong — they weren’t custom due to timing, but everyone got a free pair, some multiple pairs of board shorts thanks to Billabong along with 60% off codes.
- Make the sickest swag bag ever — it continues to grow.
- Get everyone free helicopter tours — we did. Thanks to UENO.co and GoSolar.com again.
- Use beach chairs — we did.
- Giveaway a car or two — not quite. This unfortunately, wasn’t going to happen due to an uprise in budget costs. We chose not to. However we did give away thousands of dollars in prizes and a sick Onewheel.
- Get Thomas Campbell, my biggest inspiration in art, to attend for 30 minutes — he did. Not only did he come, but he dominated the first night with an unforgettable show with The Mattson 2 and stayed the entire week with us. Legend.
- Have a real, authentic luau — we got close. We had the food and pig, but at the end of the week were limited on resources to get the hula and music. Next time.
- Get a living legend to attend — we did. Mark Healey, the world’s greatest living waterman gave an inspirational talk with Jason Murray.
I look back at this list and my immediate reaction is what in the world was I thinking! No wonder people were telling me it was impossible. But you see, this list should be a true testament to always dream huge, ask questions, and take risks. Basically, you’ll never know unless you try. It’s that simple. My dream of creating a “surf event” has come true. Just like I did, if you ask the right people the right questions and truly believe in what you’re after, eventually you’ll get a “yes” to your dreams.
Moving forward with Epicurrence I want to do the following:
- Push diversity. Epicurrence No.2 was a small step in the right direction on diversity, though still greatly deprived. Moving forward, this is something we’ve got to continue to elevate.
- Go huger. We can only dream more huge.
- Go deeper. The conversations are getting harder and tears are starting to drop. This is how we move forward. We’ve got to get more and more real. “The Nest” is alive and growing.
- Go paperless. For the past two events, I’ve been paperless and plasticless except in a few areas like coffee cups and bottled water. From now on, I will do water stations. Everyone already gets epic thermoses anyways.
- Go to Utah. Yup, that’s right. Epicurrence No.3 is coming to Park City, Utah Winter of 2016! Get ready as there will only be 60+ spots available. Request an invite today!
I’d like to end this with a few special thank you’s and credits:
- Mahalo Jason Murray for stepping up and being my partner. You’re stoked fueled mine.
- Mahalo Jamie O’Brien, Dianne Villarreal, and Red Bull for the once-in-a-lifetime experiences for this crew.
- Mahalo Makua Rothman for the aloha.
- Mahalo Thomas Campell and The Mattson 2 for unforgetable inspiration show.
- Mahalo Mark Healey for the push to live the life you want.
- Mahalo Jared Fitch from GoSolar.com for partnering up and getting heavily involved with flying everyone out to Hawaii, the heli tours, GoPros, the epic giveaways, and much much more.
- Mahalo Austin Neill and Billabong for the radical stoke.
- Mahalo to the home owners and the cleaners of those homes on the North Shore and Airbnb for allowing them to rent these amazing homes.
- Mahalo Marc Hemeon for the radical moderation and push.
- Mahalo Daniel Burka for the moderation and killer interviews.
- Mahalo Pancho Sullivan and Myles Padaca for the surf lessons and being the most genuine, nicest guys ever.
- Mahalo Rico Castillero and Austin Hendrix for being the photo/video ninjas. Also, thank you for letting us rock the Amigo Booth — amigobooth.com.
- Mahalo Toby Grubb, for your continued support and friendship.
- Mahalo Jason Simon for your chef mastery and brilliant mind. If you’re looking for a chef for your event — he’s the guy. Email me for his contact info.
- Mahalo to Jeremy Black from Sambazon and Haleiwa Bowls for whipping up some amazing acai bowls that week.
- Mahalo InVision and The Grid for the continued sponsorship and support of Epicurrence.
- Mahalo Nate Harris and Album Surfboards for the boards.
- Mahalo Design Details and Spec.fm for the mics when the ocean was hard at work and the live show.
- Mahalo Daniel Waldron and Belinda Preno for helping upon arrival.
- Mahalo Andrew Verboncouer and your wonder wife for the aloha and help on the island. One day your dog will like me.
- Mahalo to my wife Elisa and daughters Waimea and September for allowing me to spend the time away and live my dreams.
- And of course, mahalo everyone who attended and helped in there own way. I’m forever grateful to you all!
Read more about Epicurrence No.2:
- Make Me Uncomfortable: The Discomfort Zone at Epicurrence, by Jessica Collier
- How do you get inspired? Do you attend a conference? Listen to a speech? Go surfing? We say: do it all., by Toby Grubb
- Aloha Epicurrence No. 2, by Andrew Verboncouer