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2011’s Most Epic Offices

Being a freelance journalist, I have been lucky to work in some pretty amazing offices this year (besides Bird Rock Coffee and my own office in San Diego).

Here are a few pics from some of my favorite offices this year, including one from Amazon where I wrote a live blog using an iPad powered by solar panels thanks to Goal Zero and Chase Olivier.

Looking forward to some more amazing office locations in 2012.
xo, S

Photo by Chase Olivier
Writing off an iPad powered by solar panels in the middle of the Amazon

Photo by Shelby Stanger
I usually write here or here (near home)

Photo by Izzy’s iPhone
Beach Dog Cafe, Costa Rica = Laughing, Because This could Possibly be my Favorite Office in the WORLD!

Exponential Inspiration

While surfing a right hand point break at the most southerly tip off Costa Rica, with whom I thought was just a few friends, a boat showed up with a handful of guys. At first, my selfish capacity and innate desire to be a wave hog, was crushed. But as they paddled closer to the lineup and I realized they were all pretty good-looking, I decided to smile instead. Besides… they had a boat (that’s like owning a guitar times ten).

Surfing somewhere near here…

This is a tactic I probably shouldn’t admit. But when the surf is crowded and I need waves, I find the best strategy to catching them besides shedding layers of clothing, is to kill with kindness. I hoot, I holler, I cheer, and then waves start coming like I am the Buddha with disciples giving me offerings. ☺

Okay, that’s not the point of this story.
I asked the guys about the boat. I thought it was another charter littering a perfect spot. I was wrong. The guys had sailed from Santa Cruz down, on a journey inspired by similar people who inspired me to escape my cubical two years prior.

Their boat had two green trees painted on the side, and I figured they were also environmentalists.

Their boat, photo courtesy treks and tracks

I instantly thought of Liz Clark, a friend who has been sailing around the world since she graduated college who is also extremely eco-friendly in her ways. Turns out, she is one of the main sources of inspiration for their voyage and that’s when it hit.

Inspiration is exponential.

And contagious.

These guys talked about Liz like she was rock star. She absolutely is in every sense of the way, though, what they are doing is also incredible… and inspiring.

I have been in Costa Rica an entire month now. Usually when I am here, I read immense amounts of books, pitch stories, write, run, surf, do yoga, pilates and wear myself out, but come home feeling incredibly accomplished.

This trip, I have surfed countless hours, but everything else has taken a back burner to good conversations and just “being” rather than always “doing.”

“Being” rather than “Doing” is so much more fun!

Going back to the story about the sailors… It was funny how they viewed themselves as doing something not that extraordinary. They were inspired by Liz Clark’s journey, but they didn’t want to even contact her until they had “finished” their own.

To me, a story about sailing down the Pacific on a rice and beans budget, is the kind of tale that makes me want jump up and down then race to write about it. In the water that session, rather than jonesing for waves, I just got more and more fired up.

These guys do more than just sail. Check them out here.

I told the sailors to contact Liz asap. I hope they do. And then I hope they share their story about their journey down the Pacific, then trekking across the mountains… with the world. Otherwise, I’m gonna’ help do it for them.
And if you read this guys — thanks for the waves and the surge of inspiration.
XO – S

Outside Magazine Reader of the Year Ryan Levinson

This is a story I have wanted to write for years, but was too big of a wimp to write it. My fear – 500 words would never justify this athlete’s achievements. A friend told me Outside was looking for submissions for an inspirational athlete and I couldn’t think of anyone better for them to feature.

I first wrote about Ryan when I was 19 and he was on the brink of a world class kiteboarding career. After our interview and my poor attempt to kiteboard, Ryan shared his story with me. We’ve kept in touch ever since, and whenever I waiver in the water, athletics or in life, his words are the first that come to mind.

Ryan lives his life by the motto that, “Life is not a dress rehearsal, and that, “You can’t choose what happens to you, only how you respond to it.” Whenever I waiver I ALWAYS think of Levinson. Ryan charges every single day of his life.

While this is just a glimpse at Ryan’s story (Outside Mag writer Justin Nyberg wrote the intro), reading this may make you want to run 100 miles or paddle into a double overhead wave….Just warning you now.

See the full story for yourself here and check out Ryan’s website at www.RyanLevinson.com.

By: Shelby Stanger

Introducing our 2011 READER OF THE YEAR, Ryan Levinson, an athlete who competes like a champ while fighting a savage form of muscular dystrophy.

As told to Shelby Stanger

Ryan Levinson knew something was going wrong with his body. In 1990, he was 18 and a promising cyclist—competing on an elite development squad with the likes of George Hincapie and Jonas Carney. But his performances began falling off, and one of his calf muscles seemed to be shriveling. “I thought it was an imbalance in my training,” he says.

It took six years of doctors’ appointments and tests before Levinson was diagnosed with an incurable and progressive form of muscular dystrophy called FSHD (facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy). The most prevalent type of muscular dystrophy, FSHD slowly weakens and destroys muscle cells and tissue. Doctors told Levinson to stop strenuous exercise, believing the physical effort would speed the deterioration. Levinson chose to prove them wrong. He postponed working toward his degree in outdoor recreation at San Diego State University and continued a binge of sports and adventures—including surfing, kiteboarding, diving, kayaking, and sailing—that has now lasted 15 years.

“You can’t choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you respond to it,” says the San Diego–based 38-year-old. “I thought, if I’m going to lose these muscles, and all I risk is losing them faster, then I’m not going to quit doing what I love.”

In 2006, Levinson, an Emergency Medical Technician with San Diego Medical Services, completed the grueling off-road triathlon course at the Xterra World Championship in Hawaii, which entailed a one-mile open-water swim, a trail ride up and down 10,023-foot Haleakala, and a seven-mile trail run. This year alone, he won the stand-up paddleboard division for challenged athletes in the Hanohano-Huki Ocean Challenge in San Diego; took third place in the challenged-athlete division of the Long Beach to Catalina and Back personal-watercraft race; made the semifinals in his age group in the World Bodysurfing Championships; and was a first-place finisher in the highly competitive challenged-athlete surf contest at Duke’s OceanFest at Waikiki Beach. “People think ‘challenged’ means slow guys who get a hug afterward,” Levinson says. “These are guys who broke their neck at Pipeline or got their arm bitten off by a tiger shark. They rip.”

His accomplishments are all the more impressive when you consider that his biceps are as thin as his forearms. (His shoulder muscles have grown larger to compensate.) He has almost no muscle in his chest, and his belly bulges out because there is little remaining of his abs. His legs are thinning, and his pelvis jostles around after he runs a quarter-mile, lacking the muscles to stabilize it. He can’t lift his right arm over his shoulder, do a push-up, sit-up, or pull-up, and it hurts to hold the phone to his ear.

But that hasn’t stopped him. Despite failing several times to qualify for the San Diego Lifeguard Academy—his swim times on flatwater couldn’t meet academy standards—Levinson performed the grueling physical challenges and completed the 39th academy last spring, after being voted Most Inspirational Recruit. He’s been on the prestigious water-safety patrol for California’s Mavericks Surf contest and Mexico’s Todos Santos Big Wave Event.

Along the way, he’s opened doors to tri­athlons and other races for physically challenged athletes. “When I was diagnosed, I looked around the Internet for resources for people like me, and all I saw was atrophy and sorrow. So I decided I would be that guy.” Here’s more, in his own words:

“DOCTORS TOLD ME I would accelerate my muscle loss by being active, but it turns out being active didn’t increase muscle loss any more than if I just sat around. That was pivotal, because that changed how a lot of doctors tell people with FSHD how to live their lives. It’s a good feeling, knowing my efforts give people hope.

PEOPLE GET STUCK thinking there’s only one way to do something, but it’s incredible what can be accomplished simply by modifying equipment or technique, whether or not you have a disability. When I’m operating a rescue watercraft for an event, or I’m on the ambulance at work, the people I help don’t know I have FSHD; they’re just glad someone is there.

ANYONE WHO OVERTRAINS, under-rests, eats poorly, or overstresses will physically break down. With me it’s just hyperexaggerated. I train hard, but I train smart. I do yogalike stretches for an hour every morning to help mitigate pain that muscle imbalances put on my joints and connective tissue, and I continuously have to adapt to ongoing muscle loss. Certain movements can cause intense pain no matter what I do. Staying active and loose helps a lot, as does meditation.

A COMBINATION OF THINGS
drive me: a sense of duty, love for my wife, being able to help other people, the fact that even pain is an experience in itself.

My FSHD ISN’T something I need to outrun. It’s a part of me, and I own it. Yeah, I’d be stoked if there were a cure, but that hasn’t happened yet, so I live every day with a deep passion that comes from loving what I do and knowing that it will be increasingly challenging to do it. When you think about it, that’s true for everyone. This is not a dress rehearsal. This is life.

Interview with Jack O’Neill

Sometimes half the fun of writing a story is getting a story — or in my case — getting to the story. With less that 36 hours notice, I was told I would be given a rare opportunity to meet the man who invented the surfing wetsuit, Mr. Jack O’Neill himself.

Sleep deprived but stoked to meet Mr. O’Neill

It might not seem like a big deal to someone who doesn’t surf, but if you think back to the era before wetsuits, the surfers of Jack O’Neill’s day were a die-hard bunch, especially the ones who braved the frigid waters off San Francisco all for a few waves.

Jack was no different. I had to be at his house at 10am. He lives in Pleasure Point, a solid six-hour drive away from San Diego without traffic. I had an event the night before, though, that lasted until 10:30pm. Since I can’t function without at least a few hours of sleep, I woke at 1:55am the day, dragged a friend to join me (since I am worthless driving at night), and left by 2am.

Sunrise in Central California

My hair unbrushed, my teeth in need of toothpaste, my eyes only staying open by the three cups of coffee sending electric impulses to my eyelids as if I’d attach an electric shocker to a dog, we watched the sunrise over the California grapevine – a gorgeous site, and finally arrived at 9am to Pleasure Point.

Jack’s house is on a cliff overlooking a perfect point break, almost falling into the water. In person, he was the most jovial man, looking like a fit pirate Santa Claus, with the business ethos of Yvonne Chouinard and the adventurous spirit of the younger Laird Hamilton.

Jack’s house

After the interview, I had an hour to write the story, and then I did what anyone else who had just interviewed Jack O’Neill would do. I grabbed the 4.3 mm rubber full suit out of my trunk, wiggled it over my body, pulled the zipper up and jumped in the ocean, incredibly greatful for meeting the man who allowed me to stay in the water that much longer.

See the interview with Jack here.

Running and Surfing with Born to Run’s Chris McDougall

Where have I been? Writing stories! That’s where. Heaps coming out soon, and I’ll be better about blogging. Here is one of my favorite recent pieces I did about Born to Run author Chris McDougall.

Why are there no action shots of us? See #6.

Why was this story so cool for me?

Well, probably not something I should admit as a writer, but my ADD self has a hard time reading most books cover to cover. When I couldn’t put Born to Run down, I told everyone about it. Two days after I finished the book, I found out the author was coming to my local book store. I emailed his publicist, inviting Chris to run a race called Beastman and got an immediate response. We drank beers, he told me the secrets to writing success, and taught me to run barefoot.

McDougall is down to earth, incredibly genuine and for a 6’6″ guy from Pennsylvania, he can run AND learned to stand up on a wave pretty fast. When we got to La Jolla Shores beach on our barefoot run, I told Chris he had to try surfing. There were so many reasons not to.

We were wearing running clothes, I had no board with me, he was running late to a sold out book signing that night, and if he got hurt, podiatrists across the USA would have a field day. Luckily, Surf Diva was up the street, he is a great athlete, Lululemon pants work great in water, and McDougall is a great athlete, and a great sport.

Here is the full story here:

Top 10 Lessons on Barefoot Running (and Surfing) With Born to Run’s Chris McDougall
by SHELBY STANGER Published on TheAdventureLife on SEPTEMBER 28, 2010

Why are there no action shots of Chris and Shelby? See bonus lesson #6…
By now you’ve certainly heard about the barefoot running book Born to Run, right? Not long ago, author Chris McDougall was swinging through Southern California on his book tour and I arranged to meet for a barefoot run, on one condition: that if he was going to teach me to run barefoot, I could teach him to surf. Here’s what we learned from each other.

CHRIS MCDOUGALL: TOP 5 SURFING LESSONS I LEARNED
1. SAY YES AND GO FOR IT
No matter what you’re wearing, no matter if you have a flight to catch in a few hours, no matter if you’ve just been told that particular coastline is teeming with stingrays and you thought you were supposed to be training for a marathon that morning, always say “Yes!” when someone spontaneously offers you a surfing lesson. And why? Because:

2. LET GO
Einstein rode waves. He must have, because nothing explains the theory of relativity better than the absolute suspension of time and place you’ll feel the second you spin your board toward shore and feel the ocean rising and hissing behind you. All that other stuff — the flight, your run, the poorly-tied running shorts now sagging toward your ankles — will blink from your mind and be forgotten, because:

3. KEEP IT NICE AND EASY
To speed up, you’ve got to slow down. Or, as Caballo Blanco told me when I asked him how to run like the Tarahumara Indians, “First you’ve got to focus on easy, because if that’s all you get, that ain’t so bad.” You can’t get fast until you’ve got easy figured out. Every time I tried to leap to my feet, I flew off the board. When I relaxed and took my time, my body knew what to do. Because:

4. GOLDEN RULE OF SURFING
Everything in life begins and ends with your hip. No wonder they call it the sacrum, or “sacred spot.” Learn to thrust them right, and magic happens. Know why?

5. LOVE FAILURE
You’ll learn to love failure. You have to find the fun in biting it, otherwise you’ll miss the real golden rule of surfing: Even when you crash, you’re still just playing in the water.

Bonus 6: Never stash your camera in your jog bra.

SHELBY STANGER: TOP 5 LESSONS I LEARNED FROM CHRIS

1. DON’T BE AFRAID, GO FOR IT
Never be afraid to email an adventure author whose book you love, especially if they are coming to your town. If you want a response, invite them to do something they’ll love. Inviting Chris McDougall to run/swim a local underground race called “Beastman” triggered an immediate response and an invitation to run barefoot.

2. GIVE AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE
Just like your mom told you to always bring a gift to someone’s house, if someone teaches you a new technique like how to run barefoot, share the gift. Teaching surfing will do, even if you don’t have a swimsuit and you have to borrow a board and surf in your running clothes. When someone learns a new sport, you’ll make there day and they’ll tell you everything, like…

3. GO EASY + BAREFOOT = PROPER FORM = HEALTHY RUNNING
Like the fact that you can run long distances without getting injured by going EASY. Easy – meaning slowly, without pain so it’s fun and you can hold a smile while doing it with proper form. After you master “easy,” then you can be fast. In surfing, we call it “going with the flow.” Try fighting a wave or muscling through it and you’ll be hucked to the bottom of the sea.

In running, when you fight pain, you often get injured. Bulky shoes can mask pain and change your innate running form. Running barefoot, you have no choice but to run correctly, landing on your forefeet first; not your heels or that can be harsh on your knees and joints. Contrary to what it might seem, running barefoot on soft beach sand can let you get away with bad habits when you are first learning. Start running barefoot today…on asphalt.

After all, humans were designed to run. We’ve been doing it for centuries. The marathon has been around much longer than Nike Air.

4. FIND A WAY TO GET IT DONE
When opportunity knocks and you find yourself as an Associated Press correspondent in Portugal with zero journalism experience, learn on the job because you never know where life will take you. After graduating Harvard where he was a rower, McDougall found himself abroad at the AP. He quickly became a war correspondent. Then, he covered an array of stories that once landed him in Mexico on assignment reporting about a Mexican pop star who started a sex cult. That’s when and where he saw a picture of a Tarahumara Indian running. It’s also when he got the novel idea to write a book and train for an ultramarathon without ever having run any long distances in his life, but…

5. KEEP THE FAITH
A job you love and a paycheck can be a great motivator to complete a task like running a 50-mile race without a lot of training. When you’ve chosen a career path like adventure writing and you’ve been forced to choose between buying mustard or ketchup because you’ve been that broke, it will eventually pay off in the long run…literally. Born to Run is now a bestseller.

Bonus 6. Don’t put your waterproof camera in your sports bra then bodysurf a wave into shore and forget. Especially in the impact zone. Just don’t.

Costa Rica Part 1

Offshore everyday in Nosara, Photo by SurfingNosara.com

I felt the biggest sigh of relief in months. No worries. Just surf, write, eat, surf, teach surf lessons, maybe shower and repeat. I can see why people never leave, set up shop, marry a local, have babies and cash in everything in the states to live in Costa Rica. Being an expat would be so easy here. No, that’s not my plan, however, there are waves every day and it’s offshore right now, clean, and only slightly windy. I am in heaven.

I arrived Monday night and as soon as I stepped off the plane, I let out the biggest exhale. Costa Rica has a magical quality about it for me. Not to get too cheesy on you, but I lived here for a month when I was 16, in a small fishing village with no electricity where I slept on a clay floor and used a machete and shovel to build a fence. We didn’t even finish it in the whole month I was there, kind of sad, but that’s not the point. Every Sunday, I organized a local soccer tournament, and it was the first time I was immersed in another culture completely. It was an incredible experience to say the least.

I arrived to a small airport, found a taxi to drive me to Nosara — since clearly no one else had surfboard or anything looking like that were headed in my direction — and off we went for two hours through dirt roads stopping only to get an Imperial (Costa Rica Bud Light and the first alcoholic beverage I ever tried) and platanos… arguably one of the most amazing takes on a banana (deep fried with lots of salt).

My awesome surfer girl roommate who gives me rides on her quad so I don’t have to trek it through the jungle

The directions to my house said: “Turn left at the banana tree and if you run into a bunch of plants, you went to far. Haha.” Costa Rica has a lot of foliage, and farms full of banana trees. Somehow, I found it and no one was home, but I made friends with the neighbor and waited with the ants the size of sticky notes to find my home for the month. As soon as I changed and ready for bed, the door opened and a ridiculously good-looking guy walked through the door. To make it worse, he has a thick British accent. For me, guys with British or Aussie accents are kind of like guys who play guitar for most girls. Luckily, he is younger than I am. I don’t plan on liking younger guys until I am cougar age.

I am teaching surfing for the first time in a while. You’d think teaching someone to surf would get old, but besides riding waves yourself, watching someone catch their first wave is a feeling that can never be replicated. So here I am, post a blissful morning of surf lessons, surrounded by bamboo trees, palm frawns, monkeys in the trees above, sipping a pineapple-banana-smoothie, conjuring up pitches for a large Men’s magazine.

The view from my laptop sipping banana smoothies and writing away

The first morning I couldn’t sleep so at 6am ran to town and discovered an old gym with three guys doing a crazy hard workout that let me join in before heading off to my lessons. I have one more lesson to teach for the day, dinner, and then I repeat the schedule for the next week: 6am workout; 8am tech surfing; 10am eat; 12pm surf myself or write; 2pm: write/read and yoga; 4pm teach again; 7pm eat; 8pm read and write 10pm – go to bed and repeat the next day.

Adios.

Following Two Bartenders Around Sundance for a Story

Party crashing with a real party crasher at Sundance

A few months ago, I followed around a bunch of bartenders around Sundance for a story. Here is the short version of how it went down:

Over a surf, my friend tells me of two local mixologists going to Utah to guest bartend celebrity parties at Sundance and asks if I want to come. I say no, because they leave in two days, then catch a wave, and change my mind while paddling back out. I realize this will definitely make for a good story, especially because this is their first big break. I have no place to stay, no flight and no story assignment, but I tell him to count me in, then paddle in and get on the phone to start pitching.

Every editor loves the idea, but only one will take a chance (good thing he is only the second one I called). I buy a last minute ticket, take a shuttle to Sundance, and  trip and fall in the snow upon arrival. My foot is still broken. My name is not on the list, so I sneak in to the first party where I meet the guys.  I stay at the bar until 5am every night, watching like a fly on the wall, and squeezing  bags of lemons and limes to help out when I can.We share a blow up mattress between three of us at the CUPS condo, laughing hysterically about the situation, and I learn more about cocktails in two days than I ever did working at a bar myself right after college. The story finally unfolds the last day.

Voila! Here it is . I have never been excited about the taste of alcohol, but these two guys are truly talented liquid chefs.

Liquid Chefs Lucien and Ian

Full story below as well:
MAKING SNAKEOIL IN THE SNOW

The phone rings at 4PM. A frantic voice is on the other end. “Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are having a last-minute release party. Can you guys do the cocktails?”

It’s day five of Sundance in Park City, Utah. Celebrities abound. So do people who merely dress famous. San Diego mixologists and Snake Oil Cocktail Company co-founders Ian Ward and Lucien Conner have been asked to quench thirst at Luxury Lounge—a converted nightclub with lots of silver and fancy lighting. It’s a shiny ephemeral shelter built for after-parties and doling out free gifts to celebrities, producers and the people who loiter in their vicinity.

Ward sighs, pauses. He’s spent the last four days handcrafting cocktails that go way beyond pouring vodka and cranberry juice over ice.

“What time do we need to be there?” he asks.

“It starts at 10,” says the voice. “There will be 200 people and I’m not sure how much product we’re working with.”

“Sure, see you in 15,” Ward mutters. As he grabs a chunk of his hair, you can see the tattoo on his right arm—two C’s, five H’s and an O, connected by dashes. The chemical formula for alcohol.

Exhausted, he turns to Conner. When not creating custom drink menus, the two of them are responsible for the cocktails at Whisknladle in La Jolla. In that restaurant’s back lab, they concoct recipes for award-winners like London’s Burning (roasted jalapeño and avocado puree, fresh-pressed lemon, lime and house-made simple syrup) and their famous cucumber honey mimosas.

Ward grew up in New York, the son of deli owners. Conner worked at top L.A. restaurants while getting his degree in fine arts and Spanish at UCLA. Snake Oil is their venture; Sundance is their opportunity. And they’re draining every last bit of it.

“I just want to lay in the hot tub all day and drink Krug,” says Conner. “Didn’t we do enough of these parties already?”

“All I wanted to do was go to Chef Dance Dinner tonight and stuff my face with foie gras,” adds Ward. “But work’s work.”

The work has gone until 5AM every night in Park City. Blizzard-like conditions have made things complicated. So have Utah’s notorious liquor laws. Fruit that’s supposed to be ripe is delivered raw or black. Sponsors’ drinks, liquor and perishables are late or lost in the Donner Party snow. Luckily, improvisation is the duo’s forte.

Mangos too green to even cut? No worries. They make a mango gastrique by reducing mango-flavored Honest Tea (a sponsor whose goods did show up on time). Lemons, limes, sugar and white balsamic vinegar become sweet and sour. Adrien Brody couldn’t get enough of them.

By now, they have served up drinks for Bill Murray, Robert Duvall, Joan Jett, you name it. Big names, buzz names, no names—they’ve served them all. Movie producers have invited them to bartend private parties; liquor companies have asked them to create inventive drink menus.

It may have been easier to politely decline this last-minute soiree and relax at the condo. They’re staying with friends who own Cups, a new organic cupcakery in La Jolla (Ward and Conner make their specialty syrups). Ward looks longingly at the steaming hot tub. But there’s one more chance to impress the right people, to make a fan that could turn their startup company into a cocktail juggernaut like New York’s Milk & Honey or Portland’s Liquid Relations. He gathers his things and heads into the snow.

The party is a mess from the start. It’s the last night of the film festival, and this is an ad-hoc production. There’s no liquor, no glassware, no ingredients from sponsors like Zola Açaí and Dos Lunes Tequila to splash into their drinks.

Thirsty celebrities will be arriving very soon. As a last resort, Ward and Conner open the caterer’s refrigerator, stealing whatever items they can possibly use. Calling out to each other like auctioneers, they put a cocktail menu together from scratch in just a few minutes.

“I’ve got raspberries!” yells Ward.
“I hate using raspberries!” Conner groans. “It’s amateur.”
“I know, but we have nothing else here!” Ward returns.
“I found chocolate!” says Conner. “We could do a raspberry water martini with shaved chocolate.”
“I’ve got some of that cabernet foam left over from the Celebrity Poker Party!”
“That’s good. Lets add some balsamic vinegar to it and call it a day. What else do we got?”
“Mangoes, kiwis, bananas… it’s like [expletive] Aruba in this fridge,” Ward says in his New York accent.
“There is something kinda hilarious about serving daiquiris in the snow,” Connor retorts.

Over the next few hours they scurry around the kitchen cooking syrups, making gastriques and creating flavored waters out of anything they can. The kitchen smells of roasted jalapeños and grilled kiwis. It smells of dinner, not drinks.

At 9PM, guests arrive. One by one, they drink them completely out of vodka. The ShamWow guy is there and so is Couples Retreat star and ogle inspiration, Malin Ackerman. An old lady repeatedly attempts to take pictures with Ward and Conner. She also attempts to lick Ward’s ear. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes either never get near the bar (they don’t drink) or skipped out entirely.

Full trashcan = sign of a good night.

My Day as a Test-Dummy

Here is what I did last Sunday right before the rain hit in not-so-sunny San Diego. My friend, Ryan, is basically a hell-man who despite having muscular dystrophy, has made it his life’s mission to pursue outdoor sports and encourage others, no matter what limits they may have, to just go for it. He also does water rescue and lifesaving and wanted an extra test dummy to hone his skills using his jet ski and a rescue sled so he could practice saving unconscious victims in the surf.

It was cold, the Christmas Parade was going on in La Jolla (amazing cougar-watching and the lifeguard float is always a high note), but I knew I was getting foot surgery in two days so wouldn’t be able to do it for a while, and it sounded really fun. Plus, I will pretty much do anything for Ryan.

Here is the hilarious video Ryan put together from a part his wife, Nicole, filmed back in the bay off the dock since none of us had a water camera.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyHkUSh9Fj0

In the surf, it was so much more fun, especially since Ryan kept dropping me off in the same location they spotted a dead seal at the other day. There’s nothing like hearing the theme song from JAWS in your head to get your blood pumping in 58 degree water.

I wore three wetsuits, a lifejacket, booties, a good old Pro-tec water helmet, and gloves while I sat there freezing and taking waves on my head until Ryan and Nicole would fly past on the jet ski and lift me up onto the sled while I acted like an unconscious victim giving them no help at all. As we progressed into the afternoon, he’d put me in more critical spots, having to get me on the sled and get out just before a wave would crash on us. There were a few times, I thought we’d launch off the waves or have to bail. Ryan has been training with a pretty solid crew, and he gracefully finessed his way with the ski through head-high waves like we were going over speed bumps at five miles per hour.

 
I’m not really that fat – just wearing three wetsuits

The most critical experience of the day happened when Nicole and I both simulated being unconscious victims right in the impact zone. With only a few feet of green water before the next wave, Ryan single-handedly lifted us both onto the seat of the ski– me on the back and Nicole on the front. I was in a butt-lock as he sat on my back to hold me in place while Nicole was locked in place on the front. Within seconds Ryan has both of us safely secured on the ski (mind you- we gave him no help) just before escaping another head-high wave. What a rush!

 
Levinson about to rescue me while simulating a conscious victim.

Riding a wave out on a jet ski gives you such a different perspective of the ocean. You can see the crest as it is rolling over and get up on a wave in place where you can never (at least I couldn’t) get on a surfboard. It also gave me a huge appreciation for the skill set Jet Ski rescuers have. The recue sled (a giant boogie-board like flotation device) is one of the best inventions created. Thanks Brian Keaulana. Thanks to Ryan and Nicole for coaxing me out there and letting me appreciate the ocean on a day I (or almost no one else in San Diego) would have ever paddled out. Although I missed the cougars and the guards, this was an awesome Sunday afternoon.