The beginnings of surfing for local Adam Rumack, managing director at earth-reverent The Ojai Foundation, appear intimately connected to mystical experience. As my friend mused backward in time during our interview, there appeared to be a strong and intimate connection with his sense of quietness that was present during early morning entries, by himself, into the smooth misty ocean waters at around six or seven years old. His parents would take him to the beach and they stayed on land while he paddled out on boogy board. As he stroked and kicked forward through the shallows, he could acutely hear, as an open child can, and vaguely see the breaking surf in front of him. Waves rose up into those iconic shapes of glassy shoulders and peeling white foam. There was a tranquil and vivid excitement of meeting an unknown, a sense of privilege, and a thought that he might have been the first person ever to discover such a magical time, place, and situation.
Now, as an adult surfer in his early thirties, he often still feels, as he steps off the shoreline, informed by those early-life exposures, with a quieting readiness for “mystical experience” and for less dramatic yet related soul-rich moments. Currently, sometimes if the circumstances and social hubbub along the surfline override his inner leanings too strongly, if he isn’t feeling it, he will move on. He may, on the other hand, drive to a less-inhabited break to imbibe of the “pure” form, one of his favorites, body-surfing.
There were some middle years through his surfing history when he quested more intently for competency and where he could feel the tendencies for competition with his neighbors in the lineup. Now, not so much. Especially not since Jeffries Bay South Africa. More on that soon.
When Adam turned 16 and got a car, before and after school he was able to drive on his own to boogy board the breaks along the Southern California coast and he traveled adventurously alone. His spirit for adventure and pushing his solo-time edges were unusually strong, from early adolescence forward.
Since he discovered that school work was relatively easy for him, between ages fourteen and sixteen, he took to reading some of the beatnik-era story-tellers, like Jack Kerouac in, On The Road and The Dharma Bums, Gary Snyder’s poetry, and the writings of Shunryu Sazuki Roshi of San Francisco Zen Center. Having read about meditation and yoga, his interest in quieting and exploring the interior of himself began to occupy his mind more.
This somewhat precocious leaning and exploring for deeper meaning was partly catalyzed by his father’s counsel when Rumack was around 14, counsel that seemed to have a more practical intention. The advice, nonetheless, opened up vistas that are still expanding for him today, and he is grateful to his dad for these.
The vignette about his father went something like this: My dad was a dedicated worker, a butcher and a grocer. His version of enlightenment or the good life led him to teach me two lessons. One was that physically working hard was the path to feeling good in life, and getting up early in the morning strengthened that path. The second lesson was to help me get through studies with success. He taught me that I should and could consciously breathe and relax my mind, and he said that if the mind is calm, and you pay attention in class, you can access all the knowledge that you need for doing well on examinations.
Adam found this to be effective enough to give him much free time for doing what he loved, searching out and riding waves. Enter an initiation ceremony, a powerful rites of passage experience, at The Ojai Foundation when he was 18 years old and when he had graduated from high school in Santa Monica. This provided the further arcing of a path that encompasses both a spiritual interior and an earth-based grounding and reverence. This sensibility includes paying attention to issues of sustainability and caring for planet and for self. It also was the beginning of wanting to share the potency and importance of rites of passage with adolescents, which is part of his work now.
The body of knowledge included slices of Native American wisdom along with Eastern and Western philosophy. Formal meditation practice, ritual ceremony, sweat lodge time, and the powerful tool of council circles where people can speak, listen, and act leanly together, from the heart, were part of his adult-threshold initiation experience that have continued to draw his special interest and participation.
As a child, his mother and he would attend church together. Adam feels that there is still a related tone of the sacred that is present in these quite different-seeming current experiences. He honors his mother for much of that.
Then, young Mr Rumack went to college. He discovered that for the Santa Cruz wave conditions and surf community, “The boogy board wasn’t going to cut it and switched over to a short board.” So he got with that present situation and as he explored breaks along the north Santa Cruz coast he had “some pretty harrowing experiences.” He discovered more about being on the edge of what is possible for surfers at a given moment in their development.
During this time he, “got more into yoga, and started to recognize that my body would need the yoga in order to keep surfing. That the yoga was a complementary practice to surfing.” It also helped to continue calm his active mind.
Also during this UCSC era of his life, he began his first international surf travel with several trips to Baja and he felt touched by the unique ecological vibe of desert meeting sea.
It happens that at UCSC, a person can take their final year of university at a foreign college. He chose to go to South Africa.
On one very long shoreline road trip during vacation, he explored northward toward Durban in his $1800 car, eventually landing in Jeffries Bay for the big winter swell. He remembers in detail the crackling anticipatory atmosphere as the top South African big wave surfers drove in for the weekend contest and a number of people from other parts of the world showed up. He recognized people from Santa Cruz, and his own excitement was high.
Though not a contestant during that weekend, “I surfed 8 or more hours a day for 2 or 3 days, and that doesn’t include breaks, or lunch.” Adam describes the double to triple overhead wave faces that reeled fast and long off the world- class “super-tubes” point break.
To him, this weekend, at age 22, felt like another initiation, like a pinnacle to the intentional aspect of his many-years’ surfing quest. When it was over, his fire for stretching himself in such dramatic fashion was sated, burned away. “Wow, I’ve done it. I’ve done what I came to do, as far as surfing goes.” “There was sort of an existential valley after that” which required some integration. Following this he could have more simple fun with his surfing.
It was also during this year in South Africa where he began a serious yoga practice. As Adam explained it, on one side of Africa’s southern tip the ocean temperature was in the high 60’s; on the other side, the low to mid 40’s. With the combination of cold water and with his prolonged and aggressive surfing sessions, he became so jammed up in his neck and shoulders that he couldn’t keep the daily wave schedule going. “There was really no choice.”
He speculated in our interview that, “there was too much strength without the softness,” in a sense, in certain muscle groups. He had become too out of balance functionally. Though he was cross-training, he found a room above the exercise equipment space in a Cape Town gym where he could begin to stretch out and experiment. He came to discover that by doing some gentle but focused Iyengar postures, “The next day I would surf and it was magical; it was like I had a whole new body. From just one dose of that yoga.”
Returning for a moment to Adam’s surfing timeline, he went for 2 1/2 months to Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. You can almost see him in the casual pic above navigating a “secret” Uruguayan river-mouth break. A high point of his South American surfing trip, though, was a left break at Point Lobos on the southern Pacific coast. This remote surf locale where he stayed alone was dramatic with wintry weather and swell.
Adam next took an English teaching job for a year on an Island off Japan. He wanted to surf more, but they had placed him on the leeward side of the Island, Shikoku. Though travel there was difficult, he did manage to drive to and surf a couple of typhoon swells on the active shore.
Later, while doing an MBA degree at Monterey Institute Of International Studies, and still surfing some of the breaks in the neighborhood, he entered more serious yoga training and unexpectedly received systematic preparation to become a teacher.
An older Korean woman noticed him doing back bends in a gym and invited him to her class. They followed up together where she led him through a four year long study of Ashtanga yoga while he remained there in Monterey, California studying, and then while in a two-year corporate marketing job. At the end of his first yoga class he had an astonishing experience. He felt dramatically relieved of what felt like a heavy weight that had been on his body, heart and consciousness as long as he could remember. “Like the world was glistening. I remember eating a piece of fruit and feeling like I was tasting fruit for the first time. Just this sense of clarity that I had never experienced before. And I was hooked.” The photo below by Liz Otterbein is of Adam in the Sanscrit-named posture Kapotasana.
At our current time, in 2014, Adam Rumack has a few passions. Out of them, prominently, one is surfing and one is yoga. For the time being, yoga is his dominant daily self-care activity. Living and working on magnificent acreage of The Ojai Foundation, within the mountains above the east end of the lush orchard-studded Ojai valley, inhabiting ridge-lines, steep arroyos, and sloping meadows, he finds it hard to get time for the trip to Ventura or coastal breaks.
When he gets a free moment, and the Jonesing gets unbearable, he’ll zip down to Surfers Point in Ventura. It is not uncommon for him to stop along the way to an LA meeting, a San Diego conference, or en route to help lead a course at Esalen to get in the water.
Rumack teaches classes in Ashtanga yoga at Lulu Bandha’s and the Iyengar Center in Ojai, as does his lovely partner Alana. Because it’s a passion for him, more than a livelihood, he wishes to foster an Ashtanga practice community. A person can follow events at www.ashtangaojai.com. He works at his full-time job responsively managing The Ojai Foundation, www.ojaifoundation.org. There he also expresses his related passions for leading council workshops and introducing adolescents and young adults to nature-based rites of passage.
There are moments when Adam feels astounded at the miracle of us being able to ride on nature’s waves, and to be riding with such fulfillment. He shares his gratitude at the immense privilege to be able to do so.
He sees in surfing and in yoga multiple metaphors for life. For example, in executing a rise forward to standing from a back bend, when you knew priorly that you never could do it, or in daring to drop into a wave of whatever size that challenges your sense of what is possible, or suddenly entering a consciousness-altering tube, we are encountering the unknown. As individuals, and collectively as a species, we are finding that the impossible and the possible lie in embrace next to each, so intertwined sometimes that it is difficult to tell the difference between them.
When you spend time with Adam, two things stand out. He listens well and he retains an openness to what might come next. This includes his approach to surfing that he doesn’t want to get stale. Though his intentions with surfing are not of the aggressively urgent quest for greater competency sort, he says that he stays open to learning of more subtle and interior-relating experiences.
When he elaborates on what takes him back to his childhood mystical roots of water and wave, he speaks of the early morning light predisposing the mind, the sound of wave in quiet air, the rush of water over feet, perhaps as he tucks through a section, the thought-stopping unfolding of a barrel, the aligned and cleansed sense of forgetting the stresses of a busy life. Yoga does it for him. Surfing does it for him. We know what he is talking about with surfing. Hah, and amen!
– the beginner, doug honeyman