The vastness of the ocean changed her world, and now, she uses her surf and yoga business to change our world, one ripple at a time.
A Nourishing Conversation with Adrianne Chandra-Huff
I met Adrianne when I had the amazing opportunity to live and work with the owners of Bodhi Surf + Yoga: Adrianne, Gibran, Pili, and Travis in 2014. I was in Bahía Ballena, Costa Rica for almost three months and worked with the Bodhi staff to formalize their Travelers’ Philanthropy Program. It was an incredible opportunity that came to me at the end of my year-long fellowship with Fundación CRUSA through the Princeton in Latin America program.
When I went to Bahía Ballena, I had already lived in San José, Costa Rica for 10 months, and had learned a bit about Costa Rica’s national efforts to preserve the environment. I was starting to make connections between environmental conditions and social and human conditions, and I was starting to see environmental justice as an issue of social justice.
My three months with the inspiring people of Bodhi in the inspiring place of Bahía Ballena not only cemented these thoughts but forever changed the way I see our planet. When I left Bahía Ballena, I made a commitment to take pro-environmental actions and be an Ocean Guardian.
I interviewed Adrianne over video chat and seeing the lush green trees and open blue sky in the background made me miss my time at Bodhi dearly. There was a constant sound of birds chirping, occasionally interrupted by children playing.
There are still many ways in which I can deepen my commitment to my Ocean Guardian Journey. Having this nourishing conversation with Adrianne certainly served as inspiration and fuel for me to continue my efforts.
Adrianne currently lives in Bahía Ballena, Costa Rica and is a co-owner of Bodhi Surf +Yoga.
S: I wish I can be there with you in person right now! I feel so lucky and so grateful to have spent time with you all in the paradise that is Bahía Ballena. For our readers who may not know about life in a coastal community, can you describe your daily life a bit and tell us about what you do?
A: Yes, of course.
I have been living here in Bahía Ballena, Costa Rica for the past six years. I am one of the owners of Bodhi. Bodhi is a surf and yoga camp in a small coastal community in a region of Costa Rica that is still relatively undeveloped in terms of tourism, as in we don’t have large hotel chains and resorts. Our town borders a marine park, so we don’t have real estate development along the coastal line.
Here at Bodhi, we host guests from all over the world, typically from Europe, Canada, and the U.S., as they come down to take part in surf and yoga. We have several structures within our lodge where our guests can stay. Our maximum capacity is 13 people. All of the owners play multiple roles at Bodhi. I am the cook, and I take care of most of our guests’ meal needs. I am also the guest liaison, which includes welcoming them as they arrive, being with them, answering questions, setting up tours and activities, etc. I have lots and lots of conversations with our guests. I have really placed value in spending time with our guests and creating friendships with them. I find it a really unique opportunity, especially given our larger purpose of the business, which is to promote pro-environmental behavior change. We use the experiences that we facilitate in this very natural area and use the amazing energy of the ocean to open people up to a way of life that is simpler, more natural, and one that makes less impact on the planet. We hope people take these experience with them and make changes in their own lives.
“We use the experiences that we facilitate in this very natural area and use the amazing energy of the ocean to open people up to a way of life that is simpler, more natural, and one that makes less impact on the planet.”
I find my life and work incredibly fulfilling. I get to live in a beach town in Costa Rica, and I get to create meaningful relationships with our guests. I feel a very strong sense of community with the people in Bahía Ballena, and that is really special. There are people who are from outside of the town who live here now and there are lots of people who have lived here for generations, and we all work together to preserve this place and share it with our guests. I recognize that I am very lucky to have this life.
S: It does sound really great. I miss it so much!
I was very inspired by Bodhi and by all of you. Through your business model, you made me think really deeply about the importance of maintaining our core values in everything that we do. What are the most important things that you have learned through owning and running this business?
A: This is an interesting question.
Recently I saw a pie chart (trust me, this is going somewhere) [laughs]. The pie chart had three sections: a tiny sliver that said “what I know,” a larger section that said “what I don’t know,” and rest of the pie, probably 96% of it, said “what I don’t know that I don’t know.” That made me laugh. It is so true.
There is so much that we don’t know, and what we do know, what I know personally, is based only on my experiences. The experiences I have had growing up, my family life, my travel experiences, and my adult life. I think that’s why this blog is so great, because everyone has a story of why they arrived at a certain place in their journey. Some people in this world have to overcome such great hardships, the lengths of which, I, as a privileged person in this world, couldn’t imagine. When we share stories with each other, we get closer to our larger, universal truths.
“When we share stories with each other, we get closer to our larger, universal truths.”
S: That’s beautiful, and I am so happy you are taking part in this storytelling journey with me. Tell me about your life and the journey you have taken to get to where you are.
A: I was born in Canada to a multicultural family.
My dad is Indo-Fijian, and he immigrated to Canada when he was 20. My mom is several generations down the line Canadian, of European descent. My parents separated when I was very young.
I almost have two sides of my life. My dad’s side was very loud and boisterous and contained all the food the colors. The community of Indo-Fijians stays pretty close in Vancouver. They are an immigrant community, and immigrant communities oftentimes tend to do that. On the other side, I had a more traditional Canadian, “white” experience. Even though I don’t look like that, I definitely feel like that, because I spent the majority of my time with my mom. It was a great experience for me to have had.
My stepmom and my dad got together when I was very young and they later had two kids. I have a pretty solid family on that side. I have a very solid life on my mom’s side with her too. At a certain point, my mom also remarried and she had another child. I was the only kid between my mom and my dad. That was a very defining series of events for me.
My dad lives in the city of Vancouver, which is multicultural and offers opportunities for exposure to different ethnicities. But I grew up mostly with my mom in Kamloops, which is a small town of 90,000 people in British Columbia and is much more white-Canadian. In school, I was one of two or three non-white kids out of 30. That always felt a little weird to me. The town to me felt small-minded and close-minded. Now it has a university that opens its doors to a lot of people from abroad, so it has changed quite a bit. But back in the 80’s and 90’s, it was certainly much more small-town Canada.
S: Did you feel fluid moving between your mom and your dad’s sides? Were you able to show up to one side of the family and feel at home or was the transition between the two difficult?
A: I felt like I could easily jump in and blend right into each. Having separate lives has always been weird for me. When you go to one life, you are completely part of it, but the people in that life don’t really know anything about your other life. They don’t even know to ask. It’s always been odd to me. It’s similar to traveling. When you go to a new place, the people there don’t know anything about your home life, and they generally don’t ask you a whole lot of questions about it. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. It’s just that they don’t know what they don’t know.
I learned, when I am not in that life, to not think about that life and to just let go of it for the moment. It’s actually an interesting life skill. That’s probably why I can move to different places and I never really feel like I miss things too much. Maybe it’s a sad skill to have, but I can also say goodbye to people easily, because I know that I will see them again. Life is vast, and who knows where you will end up? This has allowed me to live and work far from my family. It has been an interesting ride for sure.
“Life is vast, and who knows where you will end up?”
At Bodhi, I always like to know more about our guests’ lives back home. I tend to ask them a lot of questions, because I think it is really great education for me to understand what their home lives are like. Those have been the biggest learning moments for me. I really like to listen to people’s stories.
Growing up in Kamloops, I did learn to have sort of a small-town mentality. We were poor when I was growing up. I say that as in comparison with other people I went to school with and other people in my community, not in comparison on a global scale. I was in a single-income household, and there was always an underlying struggle. It was never desperate, but the worry was always over us. That has definitely stayed with me, and now I don’t take money for granted. I also don’t spend much of it. I am not huge on consuming. And I think a lot of that has to do with how I grew up. My mom is the daughter of someone who had grown up during the Depression, and those habits lingered with her and lingered with me as well. I think that is great, because in moments when you don’t have a lot, you learn to live without a lot. Then you realized that you really don’t need as much as you think. I never had all the things that my friends had, and in my childhood, it was awful. It was the most horrible thing that could have happened. I didn’t have the shoes or the name brand this and that. But in retrospect, it was a really important lesson for me. As I grew up, I started to appreciate not having had that and the lessons I learned from it. I realized that these things weren’t that important.
“In moments when you don’t have a lot, you learn to live without a lot. Then you realized that you really don’t need as much as you think…As I grew up, I started to appreciate not having had [a lot]. I realized that these things weren’t that important.”
At one point, my mom decided that we would go on a big trip to Mexico. She noticed that I was getting really cliquey with a group of friends. Kids are dramatic, and they form alliances that shift overnight and bully other kids. I can see how my mom was not happy with me being part of that. So, she wanted to take me out of that situation and have a huge, life-changing experience. My mom decided to take me out of school and away from home to spend one year in Mexico.
S: Wow! I didn’t know it was for such a long time! What do you think compelled your mom to do this? I understand the pre-teen clique situation, but how did she decide to take such a big leap of faith and take a 12-year-old to Mexico?
A: Yea that is a good question. The way my mom talks about it now is that this idea got into her head one day. My little brother had been born, and he was one-year-old. My stepdad was born in Mexico, and he had family there. In part, my mom wanted to take my baby brother down to meet his dad’s side of the family. But my mom claims that the trip was mostly for me. It was something that she thought I would benefit from, and I did! It was the single most defining experience of my life. It is crazy to think that this was all because of a single stroke of brilliance that she had – not that she is not brilliant, she is very brilliant – but she doesn’t think of herself as very adventurous. She is fairly content in her job in our hometown. So perhaps it was divine intervention that we ended up doing this.
In the beginning, I really wanted to go, but when it got closer, I didn’t want to go anymore. I think I was scared to go, because back then, I had seen movies like Zorro and had heard things on the news about how Mexico was a scary, terrible, dirty, and dangerous place. I was 12 years old, and I was terrified that we were going to die in Mexico.
Anyways, we did end up going on the trip. In short, it was a completely eye-opening experience that fundamentally diverted my path in life. Most directly because I ended up falling in love with this town, and I went back to the town several times later in life, and ended up meeting my husband Gibran there. But the trip changed my life in so many other ways too.
I tell people that my life before the Mexico trip was in black and white, and afterwards, my life was in color. This is an analogy, but it is also how my memory works. I have very limited memories before age 12, and they are black and white. I came into my value system and world perspective after having traveled. I am not sure where I would have ended up without that trip. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me to think that I might have been working in some corporate job somewhere in Canada, traveling once a year maybe for seven days. It’s so crazy to me to think that one experience could have had such a profound effect on me.
“It was the single most defining experience of my life…I tell people that my life before the Mexico trip was in black and white, and afterwards, my life was in color.”
In Mexico, I fell in love with Latin culture. It reminded me a lot of my dad’s family, which is big, open, and loud. There were food, colors, and music. I met so many people, and talked to everyone. It was something I felt like I connected with, and I loved that. In Kamloops, I didn’t even know the names of my neighbors and I didn’t talk to the people I saw on the street. After coming back from Mexico, I realized that this was weird. We all lived there together, but we didn’t speak to each other.
S: What are the moments from that trip that really stand out to you now?
A: Getting to the ocean was a huge deal for me. My mom was an avid outdoors person. She was always dragging me on hikes and out into nature. But I hated hiking and I did not like being in the outdoors. I was terrified.
S: Wow, I am so shocked to hear that, knowing your love of nature now!
A: I know! I was scared back then. I thought that at any moment a snake or a spider would hurt me. I was a little wuss. I hated bugs. In the beginning, I struggled a lot in Mexico with nature, bugs, and the outdoors. But then I started to enjoy myself, and my fear of nature got less and less important. I was having fun with my new friends, and I stopped thinking about the surroundings.
This is a disgusting story, but I feel compelled to tell it [laughs]. One day, in Mexico, I squeezed my own orange juice and was drinking it. I was halfway through the glass before I looked down and saw maggots swimming around in it. They were alive! And I had already drunk half of the glass. I remember thinking that it was disgusting, but still, I was calm. I am sure if this happened prior to Mexico, I would have lost it. I don’t even know what I would have done. My hatred of nature slowly went away during my trip.
I think a root cause of my hatred for nature was the fear of the unknown. In cities, everything feels sterile, which really isn’t even true because communicable diseases flourish in cities. But for me, nature was a big unknown because I had grown up in the city, so I was afraid of it.
But I remember seeing the ocean for the first time.
That was when I first fell in love with nature.
It was profound.
It was immediate.
It is lifelong.
Now I feel a sense of calm when I am in nature. My mom actually told me that before Mexico, I was a really fidgety kid. I always had to be doing something like reading or watching TV. But in Mexico, I would just go to the beach and sit there for hours and watch the ocean by myself. I realized that I could no longer live without the ocean.
“I remember seeing the ocean for the first time. That was when I first fell in love with nature. It was profound. It was immediate. It is lifelong…I realized that I could no longer live without the ocean.”
S: Do you remember what you were thinking about as you contemplated by the ocean at age 12? [laughs]
A: I do actually! I have always had a fascination with the unknown, which is weird because I just told you that I was scared of it. But I think it is both fear and fascination. One of my most vivid memories from my childhood was my mom reading to me the book A Wrinkle in Time, and I remember after that, looking up into the nighttime sky, I was filled with fascination, thinking, “Who are we? Why are we here? How is this possible?” It was as if half of my vision was blocked but suddenly, reading that book, a whole world was revealed to me.
I felt the same way when I saw the ocean. I remember being on the beach and looking up, thinking that we were on this vast planet, in an even more vast solar system, in an even more vast universe. We were so small.
Perhaps for some people, this may not be a comforting thought. But for me, it is. I look at the world’s problems, and I take them really hard and think often about how they affect us, especially with politics and policy that is happening right now. I have a tendency to get so down. But in front of the ocean, I think, in the scope of everything, our problems may not be as big as we think. There is something about the openness of the ocean, where you look out and you cannot see anything on the other side, that makes me feel really small but also really connected at the same time. Once my eyes were opened to that, it became impossible to go back to a state of not knowing or not feeling this.
“There is something about the openness of the ocean, where you look out and you cannot see anything on the other side, that makes me feel really small but also really connected at the same time.”
S: That is beautiful. The way you talk about the ocean reminds me of how Neil DeGrasse Tyson talks about the universe. He talks about the cosmic perspective of humanity, and if we put the entire history of humanity into the cosmic calendar, we only exist in the last few seconds. We are small and insignificant in the eyes of the universe.
A: Yea, I think that is exactly what it is. I love Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the way he explains things. I think city life can be distracting to a universal truth – the fact that we are all little dots on a big blue sphere that is spinning at top speed around a big ball of fire, that is crazy town! [laughs]. We have a tendency to forget about this. I think if more people were to get out and get connected to nature, whether it is just looking at the sky at night or going to the ocean, and shut down modern technology to regroup in nature, I think we would have a bit more understanding and more perspective of each other and of the planet. That is a perspective I hold very, very dear to my heart, and also one that I like to shamelessly plug into what we do at Bodhi.
“I think city life can be distracting to a universal truth – the fact that we are all little dots on a big blue sphere that is spinning at top speed around a big ball of fire, that is crazy town!”
S: This makes me want to come back to Bodhi so much!
In our past conversations, you have said that the trip to Mexico also opened your eyes to inequity and to issues of social justice. Can you talk more about that?
A: Yes, definitely. One of the most important things I learned from the trip was about the inequity in our world. I made connections with people in the community, and it made me become more compassionate and less selfish. I learned about how other people lived.
“I made connections with people in the community, and it made me become more compassionate and less selfish. I learned about how other people lived.”
The trip opened my eyes to issues of social justice. Even though I considered our family to be “poor” in Canada, I didn’t realize that I had so many more opportunities at my disposal compared to my friends in Mexico. I remember when I met a lot of my friends in Mexico, I had no idea about their economic conditions. But one day, they invited me over to their house, and I saw that they had dirt floors and seven beds in one room. And I would think back to my life in Canada, where I had my own room. That gave me perspective. It gave me the values that I needed to guide my life. It gave me the humility to recognize that I needed to learn more and be a student of life. At age 12, I felt foolish for not knowing about these realities of the world or for not ever having thought about other people. I remember feeling the injustice of it all and taking that to heart.
“That gave me perspective. It gave me the values that I needed to guide my life. It gave me the humility to recognize that I needed to learn more and be a student of life.”
Of course, there was also inequality in Canada, and there are still many problems in Canada, especially considering the First Nations people and how they were treated. In my hometown, there was an Indian Reservation where most indigenous people lived. There were educational, political, and economic ramifications left over from times when indigenous people were put into Residential Schools, which were school where kids were ripped away from their families and the teachers tried to Christianize them. We have one of these Residential Schools in my hometown. It was no longer in use, but it was this old, haunted building in our town, reminding us of the past. These were things that I didn’t think about prior to the Mexico trip. They were just part of my life, and I didn’t think about it until there were compelling reasons for me to think about it.
Going back to Canada from the trip, I decided that I was going to become a lawyer. Maybe for a young mind, that is the first thing you think about when you think about justice. My second thought was that I would learn a lot of languages and work as a diplomat or for an organization like the United Nations. I saw the UN as the answer to global inequality, a way to find solutions and foster communication and cooperation among different nations.
“These were things that I didn’t think about prior to the Mexico trip. They were just part of my life, and I didn’t think about it until there were compelling reasons for me to think about it.”
Those thoughts and beliefs followed me all the way into college. But it was in college that those hopes and dreams came completely crashing down. I realized that the UN could not do much, and that sometimes, it even got in the way of progress.
S: I really relate to these thoughts! I went into college thinking UNICEF was the answer to children’s rights, but learned that unfortunately they are part of the multibillion-dollar industry that, while sometimes doing important work, fundamentally profits from poverty.
A: Right. I will never forget the moment when my mind changed.
I studied international studies and political science at the University of California – San Diego. It was kind of a piecemeal major, and I chose to focus on Latin America, global politics, humanities, etc. I had to, in my studies, watch a documentary about the Rwandan genocide, not once, not twice, not three times, but four times in various classes. I remember listening to Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda, trying so hard to get the UN to take action. But the UN kept saying “we don’t know the situation; we can’t step on people’s toes.” Dallaire kept saying, “If you don’t do something at this point, it’s on you.” And the UN didn’t do anything.
I watched the documentary four times – no, actually, three times, because the fourth time I had to walk out of class. I couldn’t watch this again. There was aerial footage of people hacking each other with machetes. I remember thinking, no, that’s it for me, I have no more faith in the UN.
At the same time, I remember taking a class called Grassroots Activism, and I remember thinking, “Yes! That is where it’s at!” I can see that. Any change is going to be from the bottom. It is going to be small organizations working really hard and forming bonds with other organizations to tie us together and propel us forward.
S: What motivates you to believe that grassroots is, in your words, “where it’s at?”
A: It honestly just makes sense to me. I have witnessed people gathering their communities and that community slowly building power and inviting others to join. It mirrors phenomena in nature, like how one wave can have a ripple effect. You think of the growth of a seed, at first you can’t see anything but at a certain point, it shoots up and becomes unstoppable. That has always been what grassroots movements looked like to me. That’s what building power is like. I can feel it.
“Any change is going to be from the bottom. It is going to be small organizations working really hard and forming bonds with other organizations to tie us together and propel us forward…I have witnessed people gathering their communities and that group slowly building power and inviting others to join. It mirrors phenomena in nature, like…the growth of a seed. At first you can’t see anything, but at a certain point, it shoots up and becomes unstoppable…That’s what building power is like. I can feel it.”
S: Since the trip to Mexico when you were 12, I know that you have gone back many times. What are some of the things you learned from your subsequent experiences?
A: One striking thing I remember from traveling to Mexico was the border between San Diego and Mexico. I moved to San Diego when I was 19 and went back and forth between San Diego and Mexico often. It was insane to witness the border and to cross the border within the same day and see the differences.
On the U.S. side, they were diverting all the water to the plants, and it was all green and lush, which was actually weird because it was a dessert. You don’t even think about that until after you cross into the Mexico side, where it was dusty and dry and there was no plant in sight. On the U.S. side, there were big mansions and beautiful gardens. On the Mexico side, as far as the eye can see, there were shanties and homes that look like they would crumble with a strong wind.
It was so crazy to me that there were so many U.S. Americans, especially those who lived in San Diego, who had no idea of this reality. They would go down to Mexico and treat it like their playground where they could get cheap drugs and cheap tequila. What were these people thinking? Maybe it made them too uncomfortable, so they put it out of their minds. But I don’t know how that is possible. I think it is one thing when you don’t know about these realities. But if you live in San Diego and drive to Mexico, you do get exposed and once you know, and you are ok with it, then you are complicit in it. There are people I know, good people, people that I am close with, who don’t seem to be as affected by these sorts of things as I know that I am and that you are. It is hard to wrap my mind around that. I think we need to start thinking creatively about ways to drive change and get people to think and act.
The experience of driving across borders has always been very striking to me. Going in between countries in Central America is also very striking. You can see the immediate ramifications of political decisions. Driving from Costa Rica to Panama, you immediately see that the primary rain forest that surrounds us is gone, because the Panamanian government chose to cut it down.
S: Have you seem aerial footage of the Haiti and Dominican Republic border? They are on the same geographic island, but the Haitian side is barren while the DR side is green with a striking line.
A: Yes. Borderlands are interesting places.
Travel can be both an enriching and horrifying experience. It is a privilege that I have had, and it has taught me a lot.
I am a great proponent of travel being one of the most important tools for education. I know that my experiences traveling have been just as, if not more, enriching for me, as school has. You learn a lot about the place, but you really learn a lot about your values and yourself.
At Bodhi, the value that we all place on travel is also really important for our business.
We usually only have access to our guests for seven days, but we don’t take that lightly, because we know travel opens your mind in a way that not a lot of other things do. Travel creates a set of circumstances where you have a great opportunity to learn information and learn about yourself.
“Travel can be both an enriching and horrifying experience. It is a privilege that I have had, and it has taught me a lot.”
S: On the topic of Bodhi, I recently saw that Bodhi got the B Corp certification, congratulations on that!
A: Yea, thanks! That was huge.
S: Was it a complex process?
A: Yes, it was. They really do want to get to know your whole company, and they ask you to show them what you are about. It is really great for us, because we can use it as a model going forward. You get yearly audits, and we all want to improve our score every year. I think it is cool because it’s one thing to say that you are all these things, even if you are, but it is another to have a third party confirm it.
I like being part of the B Corp movement. It is getting more popular, and I want to be inspired and help to inspire other businesses. I’ve spent a lot of time on the B Corp website looking through various companies and learning about what they do. It is very inspiring for me as a business owner and as a consumer to look at all these businesses that don’t have to do it this way, but they choose to. They go out of their way to do it. It aligns with my values, which continue to push me to think of our business differently. It doesn’t need to have a huge staff or budget, but it is about a mentality and willingness to do things differently.
“It is very inspiring for me as a business owner and as a consumer to look at all these businesses that don’t have to do it this way, but they choose to.”
S: I know you all have changed your programs a bit since my time there three years ago. Can you give me and our readers a brief description of what Bodhi is like now?
A: Yes, of course.
We were already doing a lot of construction when you were here, and we have finished that since and built additional bungalows. Now we have a total capacity for 13 people. We also run formal seven-day surf and yoga experiences called Bodhi Sessions, where groups arrive on the same day, go through the same program, and depart on the same day. It is great for us because we get to frame the experience, and we get to take advantage of teachable moments. This really aligns with our values to teach our guests about our community, about the way our community has decided to develop tourism by staying away from large hotel chains and resorts, and to inspire our guests to commit to pro-environmental behaviors. It also allows us to foster connections among our guests and between our guests and us.
The decision to structure it into seven-day programs was in part logistical. The lodging site grew, and it became increasingly difficult to have people come on different days throughout a week and everyone doing their own thing. We found that we were losing energy running it that way.
The Bodhi Sessions now include five surf and five yoga lessons that are very structured. Everyone goes through the same program. We also added meals to the program, which I do (and love). I spend most of my time in the kitchen, and I am trying to do so with a larger purpose. I have been watching Chef’s Table on Netflix, and there was one episode about the farm to table movement, and the chef said a lot of things that were interesting and inspiring about food and the way we eat. We have placed so little value on something so important, and in doing so, we have pillaged the soil. We are not farming properly. We are not taking care of the animals. But there is a way to do it that is a bit more meaningful. So I get to cook and think about these issues and think about how I can do it different.
“We have placed so little value on something so important, and in doing so, we have pillaged the soil. We are not farming properly. We are not taking care of the animals. But there is a way to do it that is a bit more meaningful…It feels so good to use food to gather people and to facilitate moments where we are sitting around eating and learning.”
It feels so good to use food to gather people and to facilitate moments where we are sitting around eating and learning. That is what food is really about, you know? It brings people together to talk and share.
I know that sometimes, when I am trying to inspiring pro-environmental behaviors, people can tune out because they think we are trying to shove green stuff down their throats. But the fact that we do sit down with our guests, talk to them, have fun with them, play games with them – it becomes clear that we care about them, about our humanity, about the earth. We also make it clear around the Bodhi facility that we care about the environment. We have a marine trash museum; we post our signs about the 6 R’s; we have a composting system. I think if you are coming to Bodhi Surf, you probably have an idea about our values.
I have found that people are really interested to learn more, especially around mealtimes. I can see the wheels in people’s minds turning, because we are able to present information in a way that is not pushy or guilt-inducing. It is not about, “What are you doing in your life to make this a better planet?” It is about how we all enjoy this place so much; we love to be in the ocean, to surf, to be in this clean place largely untouched by development, so how do we work together to keep it that way?
I think the culmination of all these experiences make people’s minds open. When we travel, when we venture outside of our comfort zones, our nervous system is in shock, and it remains alert. You become more open and more susceptible to what is going on around you. I think when we are in our homes and going about our routines, we have a tendency to become almost brain-dead, because we are going through the familiar motions and we don’t need to think about it too much. When you are traveling, everything is new and your mind is taking it all in like a sponge, like a child.
“When we travel, when we venture outside of our comfort zones, our nervous system is in shock, and it remains alert. You become more open and more susceptible to what is going on around you.”
I think that we have been able to capitalize on these opportunities simply because we have realized that having travelers with us is a huge opportunity.
I am incredibly proud of what we have done so far, and I am really stoked, to use some surfer lingo [laughs], to be part of a group of individuals who are guided by our values. I do recognize that we can do more and we can improve. That motivates me. We are in the surf and yoga business and we have figured out how to be different. I completely believe that it is applicable in every industry. I think that is where the solution lies: in grassroots movements in every industry. I don’t think there will be top-down solutions that will fix our planet. Everyone, at a certain point, has to decide that they don’t want to be part of the world that allows injustices to happen.
S: How do you think grassroots movements in industries can interact with our capitalistic system?
A: I think the grassroots movements can spiral up, or trickle up? [laughs].
There is a growing movement among consumers to be conscious. For example, you are a consumer and you need to buy a t-shirt. There are two t-shirts, one of which is allegedly sustainably made with organic cotton and is fair trade and all the things that sound good. There is another shirt that is not. They are right next to each other on the shelf, and the sustainable one is more expensive. You as a consumer have a decision to make. Of course, it depends on your budget and a whole bunch of other factors. If you only have $20 and you still need to eat dinner, you are less inclined to spend all of it on a t-shirt. But people who have some wiggle room in their budgets, people who are in middle or upper classes, they have a real choice to make. I like to think of it as dollar voting. People who can freely spend money do drive a huge part of the economy, and if they are more conscious, then companies will also respond to that and care about more than just their bottom line. They will care about the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. I have been noticing less and less tolerance for worker disenfranchisement or poor working conditions, and I think that the trend is positive. Although all of this does depend on how our capitalistic system evolves and whether we will continue to allow people to not make a living wage. But I think the trend is that more and more companies will be trying harder and more and more consumers are going to be more critical.
In our case at Bodhi, we are able to offer a product, an experience, that is similar in pricing as our competitors but is more sustainable. And that is in large part because we as a company have decided to take a cut. I am not sure that we are going to be able to convince a lot of other companies to do the same, but I do have hope in the people of our generation to do things differently – to change companies, industries, and capitalism as a whole — because capitalism has proven to be a system that does not work for so many people in this world.
In the 90’s, we often talked about how people went into businesses to make money, and that’s what turned me off from businesses. But I had no idea that you can have a business that drives the industry forward by doing things differently, creatively, and doing it for the greater good.
“I do have hope in the people in our generation to do things differently – to change companies, industries, and capitalism as a whole — because capitalism has proven to be a system that does not work for so many people in this world.”
I see my peers in the nonprofit world struggling. They are talented individuals who have to spend half of their time looking for funding, and they don’t even get to put their actual skills to use. It makes no sense.
S: I definitely feel you when it comes to nonprofits. It is so hard to raise money, and fundraising often prevents nonprofits from being honest about the issues. A lot of social issues have root causes in oppression, and it is often hard to talk about these issues of oppression with potential donors. The donors tend to be part of the larger oppressive system. Their livelihoods perpetuate it and depend on it, and they probably do not want to critically examine or even acknowledge their roles within it.
A: Yes, absolutely. I also feel that nonprofits have so little room to mess up. For us, as a for-profit business, we get to say, “We don’t do everything perfectly, but we are trying to make strides to do better.” Nonprofits can’t say that. The public, as a collective, jumps anytime a nonprofit says a similar thing and then this nonprofit gets a really bad rep.
People completely lose faith in all nonprofits based on the few stories they hear about nonprofits diverting funds. But we often hear horrible, truly atrocious, things from for-profit companies, and we say, “Oh, but they were just trying to make money and trying to make investors happy.” For example, I still support Coca-Cola because I like it and I have one once in a while. But I know it is a horrible company. I know that in almost every aspect of their business, they have done horrible things. On the other hand, the Three Cups of Tea guy, after the news about inconsistencies in his story came out, people immediately called him a liar and nobody cared about the impact work he had done.
S: Yea. Or when the Rigoberta Menchú “scandal” came out, uncovered by this white male academic who couldn’t seem to identify a better anthropological project to spend his time on, people lost faith in her and focused on that instead of on all the work she had done to uplift indigenous communities.
A: Yea, it is perhaps a way that our society tries to feel better about ourselves when we realize that we are not doing enough. We poke holes in other people’s stories and say, “See, you are not so perfect either!” and we try to feel better about not doing enough in our own lives.
I am not making an excuse for that, but I think that could be a reason why people do it.
Of course, at the same time, I don’t think that we can all do everything. I do think it is a responsibility that we all have to educate ourselves about what is going on in the world, but it is not to say that we can or should try to tackle every issue. I simply don’t think that is possible or realistic. But if we each tried to work within our own spheres, we can be different.
I know that in the environmental movement, people often feel helpless, because the issue is so vast. The other day, I wanted to share something positive about the ocean environment on the Bodhi social media. When I got on Google and search for ocean + humans, I saw articles that said they had found trash in the deepest part of the ocean, which scientists didn’t think was possible just one year ago. The situation is changing so quickly and so drastically. I could not find a single piece of news that was positive about the ocean. The only one I found was from 2013, and I had already shared it.
It is so easy to get down. When we talk to our guests about it, they sometimes say, “Well I don’t live near the ocean, I don’t think there are things I can do.” So we came up with a list of action items and put them in our Ocean Guardian email campaign.
S: Yes, I have subscripted to the Ocean Guardian emails!
A: Yea that’s what I thought! I get that we feel that the issue is so big and that the things we do are so small. But I still believe that the only thing you can do is to chip away at it. You share that information, that energy, with everyone. You talk and connect with people in meaningful ways and you share your experiences and listen to their experiences so you get motivated to go forward. That’s the only way to do it.
“I get that we feel that the issue is so big and that the things we do are so small. But I still believe that the only thing you can do is to chip away at it. You share that information, that energy, with everyone. You talk and connect with people in meaningful ways and you share your experiences and listen to their experiences so you get motivated to go forward. That’s the only way to do it.”
S: I believe that too.
I have been seeing a lot of updates about the documentary that is being produced about Bodhi. Can you tell me a bit more about it?
A: Yes, we are really excited about that.
The daughter of two past guests of ours is making a film about us. The guests were so great, and we really connected with them while they were here. They went home and started to make a lot of different environmental choices, and they were really committed to change. Their daughter became very curious about this experience they had, so she connected with us and she became interested in making a film about us. She is really inspired by the story.
The film is becoming more than just about Bodhi. It is about development in Southern Pacific Costa Rica. She compares Jacó to our area and talks about what made this town choose to do tourism differently. She looks at how surf and marine tourism can affect development positively and negatively. The sustainable tourism industry is not perfect, but it is an opportunity. The hope for us is to disseminate more information and to inspire other businesses to be more sustainable.
S: That’s great. I can’t wait for it to be finalized!
You mentioned several times that there is room for growth in your business. What is the next concrete action you are taking to improve Bodhi?
A: I am really interested in facilitating moments of learning, especially through my role as the guest liaison and as the cook. I want to learn more about more ways to facilitate conversation that create impact.
When we sit around eating meals, we talk about a lot of different topics and sometimes get on divisive ones like politics. We don’t always get to the same conclusions. In the past, we would kind of move on and not talk about these things. But I really want to think about more creative ways to facilitate dialogs that we can have together. One benefit of travel is to meet other people from different walks of life so we can learn different perspectives. I want to learn to better facilitate these spaces and turn them into space for learning and for inspiration so that people will go home and do things differently.
To learn more about Bodhi, including booking your own Bodhi Session, check out their website. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also sign the Ocean Guardian pledge and receive Bodhi’s Ocean Guardian emails here. The documentary about Bodhi Surf, The Bodhi Wave, is tentatively scheduled to be released in September 2017.