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8 Days In Latvia - Pressing Waves, Making Friends, Finding Weed, Surviving Ladies Of The Beach

Latvia?! I had been wanting to go to an International Surf Association Certification course for some time. In fact, it was one of my birthday resolutions back in November to get that done and here it was clear in July and I hadn’t done it yet.

Attending the course meant traveling to whatever country was hosting it, so that would mean I would need to get away. There were a lot of things I wanted to work on at my company - improvements to my surf shop and other businesses, but I knew if I didn’t force myself just to leave immediately, I would find reasons to keep me working on my shops forever and I would never leave. So I would go, as soon as possible, tell no-one, and try to get back before anyone realized I was gone.

According to the ISA website, their next Water Safety and Surf Instructor Level 1 course was in Latvia, one week away.

Latvia?! I’d heard of it only from an episode of Seinfeld. (George converts to Latvian Orthodox for a woman…). In any case, I’d never been there and needed to go as part of my quest to surf every nation in the world. I would go!

I got out my phone and slid my fingers across the screen until I was staring at airline reservations. To get to Latvia, I would have a layover in Warsaw, Poland. Wow! Where was this place?

I thumbed open the google maps app. Latvia was on the Baltic Sea. Wow again! Close to Russia, and the Ukraine. Could I even go? Isn’t there a war going on?

I searched the internet: “Can I travel to Latvia as a tourist right now?”

All sources said yes, absolutely. And… “Warsaw Poland?”

Yes, I could go there too. Bombs were dropping a mere 6 hours away, as I understood it. But I could go there - and not to help out or anything. But to surf, to wander around and take pictures! How absurd. I almost felt bad about it. But then again, it would have seemed absolutely wrong for me to go fighting a deathly war somewhere, for any reason… so surfing with a war going-on a full country away didn’t seem as crazy as it had just a thought or two earlier.

I booked the flight. I emailed the ISA asking to enroll in the course.


5 days after booking the ticket… I was skateboarding through lines of cars to the international check-in desk at Los Angeles International Airport with both my surfboard and my mini guitar strapped over my shoulder around my backpack. It’s a long story as to how I came to arrive to the airport via skateboard, but suffice to say the shuttle bus at Extended Off-Site Parking was out of service so I was glad I had it handy.

I left a $10 tip to the skycap for taking my surfboard at oversize luggage, slid through security, skateboarded to the gate, and took off out of the country, flying clear over the entire American continent, across the Atlantic Ocean and over the Baltic Sea where we came down in Warsaw, Poland before another plane brought me to Riga, Latvia - a mere 15 hours after leaving LA.


Just landed in Riga, Latvia
Just landed in Riga, Latvia

I landed in Latvia tired, disoriented, and 10 hours away by time zone. It was 4pm in Lativa and 6am at home in California. A whole twelve hours had elapsed while in the air, another three in the Warsaw airport awaiting the connection.

Both flights had had no wifi, which limited my work, as I had expected to be available by phone for my employees. They had left me messages, and as we waited in the plane to taxi to our gate, the phone finally got signal and their messages reached me. It was 12:30pm Latvia time, which meant 3:30am back in California.

First, I learned from a neighbor that my surf shop employee had left the door of the shop open when he left for the night. I was livid about that, and was panicked that I’d been robbed. I wanted to talk to my employee immediately to figure out what the hell was going on. But it was 3:30am there. And by the time it was morning in LA, I’d be lost in Eastern Europe and might not have a chance to circle back to this until later - if I wasn’t beset with more urgent issues by then. So I texted my employee to ask him what was going on with the door being left open and told him to call me as soon as he woke up. I hated sending a message he would receive at 3:30am - especially since he had no idea I was out of town - but I did what needed to be done.

The other text news I got was an update on a mural I was having painted. The painter sent a pic of the updated work he’d done that day - but I thought it looked horrible, like he had missed the entire point of what the mural was meant to convey. Again, a simple conversation would almost certainly solve everything - but I was 9 hours away, and tired, and also busy with everything going on in front of me. Why the hell wasn’t he just painting what I had drawn for him in the draft I’d sent. Had he not understood?! Man I was livid. It was all I could do not to continue texting the two on their respective matters. I just needed to talk to them both. I couldn’t. I was mad at myself. I was mad at them for letting me down. I was mad at the 9 hour time difference. I was tired from the travel and the specter of trouble while far from home. And here, I couldn’t speak or read the language and no signs in the airport seemed to be written in English. I wandered, guessed, and followed my way to the customs exit.

The border guard took my passport, looked at it and shook his head. “You shouldn’t have done this!” He said. He was pointing at my signature - not so much the letters but the smiley face at the end of it with arms and legs riding a surfboard. It was a little something I had made part of my signature, designed to bring a smile out of people. He wasn’t smiling.

“That’s my signature,” I objected.

The heavy-set, armed and uniformed man looked at me funny. His stomach jiggled in a hushed laugh of disbelief, then he let me through.

Riga Latvia, the day I arrived for the ISA's surf Instructor Course
Riga Latvia, the day I arrived for the ISA's surf Instructor Course


Maybe I was just hungry and confused, fatigued and feeling extremely lonely - or maybe I’m just hopelessly romantic. I must have been some combination of them all at that moment, for in my delirium, looking at the boarder guard’s frown as he begrudging allowed me through the doors, I felt hopeful I might meet someone really special. Perhaps I should’ve learned better to have such hopes, but when I get dreams in my head, I’m not someone to let them go.

In the middle of my second day in Latvia I felt I knew I had met the girl I had been waiting all my life to meet. There is only one other crush I have that I have felt that way about, and when I met her, just as when I met the other, I was basically unable to speak.

I rarely felt that way about anyone (or maybe just when I do, I get sudden amnesia for anyone else I’ve ever met). My first thought was, “I am glad I am single right now. Because if I wasn’t, I would have to break up with whoever I was seeing, just because I now know a woman like this exists.”

By the time I left the country, seven days later, more thoughts of her were going through my brain than waves through the Baltic Sea - and I was wondering: had I lost my mind? Was I losing myself? Was I in love? Was I lost in fantasy? Did I always feel this way about girls I like? Had I been bitten by a bug or stricken by an arrow? What did this whole experience mean to me?

Day 1: Swim & Run. I received no itinerary for the course [there was probably some confusion because I was the only foreigner flying in for it]. So even at 6:30am, two and a half hours before start time - day one of the six day course - I had little idea what I was getting into.

The night before, right after I had landed in Latvia, I had gotten an email reminding me to bring pool gear and running shoes - because the first day of the course apparently now involved a timed swim and run test. What?! I hadn’t realized there would be a fitness test, especially not immediately on arrival. I was tired from the 12 hour flight and the ten hour time change, and a bit dehydrated as well. And of course I hadn’t brought shoes - only sandals.

Prepared I was not, but physically fit I was. I wasn’t concerned about either test of fitness in the least. But I didn’t know what the required times and distances were. Would I be swimming and running at a sprint, or at more of a miler or 5k stride? And would I just tag along someone else’s pace, or set my own? I didn’t want to injure myself trying to set any records, but I didn’t want to fail the course by not trying, or even just not give my best.

Before I could think it over, I was checking in at a hostel in downtown Riga. Why a hostel? I had considered a comfortable hotel suite with balcony, overlooking the city, but had forgone that idea in favor of a private room at a backpacker’s hostel where I knew I’d be able to find weed - and fast. Particularly since I had just gotten to town.

Finding marijuana in foreign countries , especially while still illegal, is a favorite hobby of mine, and one of my chief purposes in travel. So, while in line to check-in, I began chatting up the surrounding travelers and staff to ask on the local flower situation. Illegal, I knew. But I also knew it was easily and safely procurable.

What I deduced from those conversations led me to a bar with six other hostel guests where, after an hour and a half or so, one of the bartenders friends showed up with our orders in exchange for our Latvian cash [my share of which I had picked up at the Polish airport during my trip]. Whatever the exchange rate was (Latvia uses the Euro), the weed cost about $90 American for a quarter ounce (7g). Decent stuff. Pretty standard price, higher for tourists I’m sure. But the weed was decent, even by California standards and I was pleased. I showed the dealer and my hostel buddies the websites and wares of my own cannabis and mushroom business involvements back in legalized parts of the United States. They ogled over the simplicity and professionalism of the website ordering page and regaled me with their own stories of pot shops they’d been to - legal and otherwise - in other parts of Europe and all over the world. Then it was time to go immediately to sleep to wake up early for the surf course in the morning.

Smoking a blunt from window sill of my room in Riga, Latvia
Smoking a blunt from window sill of my room in Riga, Latvia

That’s how it came that I was smoking a blunt on the sill of the oversized window of my private hostel room in Riga, Latvia just after waking up at 6:30am. Overlooking a narrow brick alleyway, I could hear European travelers still drunk as they ambled and sang their way back to neighboring hostels. It was already bright as noon outside. I had had to force myself to bed around one am, the sun had just recently gone down two hours or so before. We were that far north of the equator that now in the middle of July, the sun practically never set.

It was almost like being in Alaska. It hadn’t even occurred to me when planning (or not planning) this trip that the sun would be up almost 20 hours a day here this time of year. How exciting! And also, when was I going to sleep?! I’d had to force myself to stay in bed since the brightening sky had woken me up at about four in the morning. I’d slept for less than three hours. Plus I was still on Los Angeles time. It was 6pm there and 4am in Latvia. So I had stayed in bed forcing myself to keep my eyes closed until 6:30, then was up on that big open window smoking my morning blunt and sipping a coffee I’d prepared in the communal kitchen.

Two hours later I would be disrobing to enter a swimming pool for a timed swim test - the required distance and time I still did not know. Then I’d be performing a similarly mysterious run.

Skatboarding Riga withmy mini guitar.
Skatboarding Riga withmy mini guitar.


IMPRESSED. We met that first morning in Riga on our way into the pool at the Olympic Center, an impressive clean and official looking facility that was hosting a group of about twenty of us on behalf of the Latvian Surfing Federation and the International Surf Association for the first two days of training in their Water Safety and Surf Instructor certification program.

CPR training at ISA Surf Instructor and Water Safety Course
CPR training at ISA Surf Instructor and Water Safety Course

I hadn’t been too distracted by her at first. Since I’d stopped engaging in casual sexual relationships a few weeks earlier in favor of dedicating myself fully to finding a meaningful relationship with a life partner, I was pretty much immune to the superficialities of a woman’s physical appearance. It was her half-combed mane of beautiful blonde surf hair, and her lack of makeup that made me think she might be different from all the other pretty girls I’d met. In fact, I had a list of what I was looking for in a life partner and that hair was one of the few items on it (aside from fitness) having to do with physical description. So I made a point to immediately introduce myself to her on our way up the stairs to enter the pool locker rooms.

Over the two following days I got to know her a little bit. And that second day was when I went from thinking she was ‘just pretty’ to believing that she was the most fascinating person I had ever met -  smart, athletic, articulate, tough, and downright beautiful. Aside from being known as one of the best surfers - not just in Latvia but in all of the Baltic Sea - she was leading a team of about twenty employees in her own watersports business, something that she had founded herself over a decade earlier. She had a college degree in a totally unrelated field, spoke three languages well, spoke a handful of others in piecemeal, and had designed her professional and personal life to travel solo for weeks and months at-a-time, surfing locations all over the world.

She was a better surfer than I was I, I could tell just by the way she carried herself, and much more pleasing to the eye than me - but aside from that, I felt as if looking at her was like looking into a mirror of my soul.

I had been getting to know her little by little - in the pool between exercises, in the classroom during breaks, over lunches with our classmates. It all started unsuspectingly. We needed to partner up for water rescue drills and CPR simulations, so I’d chosen her that first day and she never made the point to seek another partner for the rest of the week.

I didn’t have a car to get to the lake for open water training, so I hitched a ride with her both the first day and the second. That’s when I heard her sing for the first time. I had mumbled something to myself, I don’t remember what, and when she asked what I’d said, I told her I was “talking to myself.” That’s when she began singing the opening lines to a pretty obscure Guns n’ Roses song, one of my favorites actually… “When you’re talking to yourself…” I recognized it instantly. I’d enjoyed that song privately since I was a kid and it always made me feel better when I was down. I’d never heard anyone else reference the song in my life, nor sing it. And she had a wonderful singing voice.

That’s when I felt as dazed as if I’d got hit over the head with a baseball bat. What the hell was happening? Who was this person? My ability to think clearly began to melt away. That was the second afternoon. It was a six day course. Most of the rest of the week was a blur.

I had to get to know this person. I could not let such a person simply brush past me, never to see her again. She seemed possibly receptive to my interest. Possibly. Occasionally she looked me in the eye and smiled at me very sweetly. But she regularly seemed to be smiling, and she was nice to everyone. And looked everyone in the eye. So who was to say? I had to make my intentions clear.

That second afternoon was our last in Riga. The course would be continuing in the coastal surf town of Pastilova, three hours away. She’d be driving home to her business that day, then would meet us for the rest of the course. So sometime during the late afternoon classroom session that day, I asked her to go out to dinner with me the next day in Pastilova.

“Hmmm.” She smiled, then said, “I’ll think about it.”

With the head of Latvia's Olympic surfing program, Normunds Barinovs
With the head of Latvia's Olympic surfing program, Normunds Barinovs

After Hours

I had spent the first two nights in Riga - my first two nights in Latvia - at the backpacker’s hostel downtown where I had a private room with bathroom attached. My sole reason for staying at a hostel instead of a hotel was to meet people who could introduce me to a local weed dealer, since marijuana possession was still a criminal offense in Latvia.

Pulling this off had meant first getting to know all other hostel guests I could, building some friendly repoire then openly asking them about cannabis. Before I knew it, beginning when I was in line at the check-in desk, I had befriended two Brits, an Aussie girl, a French man, a Latvian girl and two young German engineers - all of whom were around twenty five years old and on some sort of ‘holiday’ both from the early stints of their careers, and from graduate schools. The hostel had organized a “beer tasting event” where we sat around at a local pub getting to know one another while I laid my groundwork. One of my new mates then ingratiated me with a bartender he’d met a week prior, who put me in touch with his weed dealer. My pals and I tasted 15 beers together in tiny glasses. A few of those folks stuck around to share some weed; another guest there gratefully asked if he could piggy back a weed order on to mine. Between us we got almost half an ounce of buds, almost california quality too, though not quite. It was pretty good weed - good body on the buds, good smell, no stems or seeds, no weird smells from the smuggling route (in Brazil and other countries sometimes the weed is smuggled into the country through automotive fuel tanks or other questionable methods which are very noticeable to the nose - if you’re brave/stupid enough to sniff it, let alone smoke it).

The second night in Riga, I went out with a couple guys from the water safety class - the ISA Instructor for one, and the head of the Latvian Surf Federation for another. The instructor had flown over from England where he lived with his family, but was originally from Australia (or New Zealand?). He had a big laugh and a sense of humor not unlike Ricky Gervais. He kept me laughing the whole time, both in and out of class - in between laying down the curriculum of course. The head of the Latvian Surf Association had the hair, style, and vibes of a true soul surfer. He asked us the same questions two questions every day in regards to surfing and surf instruction training: ‘Did you have fun?’ And, ‘Did you die?’

I had skateboarded from my hostel to a bar near them - a beautiful ride to and from in which I got to see lots of a city which was completely foreign to me. There were gorgeous stone streets and old buildings dating back hundreds - sometimes more - years, directly abutting the occasional ‘soviet style’ apartments, looking like prisons, built during the Russian occupation between World War II and the late 1980s.

My new mentors of surf were good fellows, very cerebral yet high energy at the same time - true to the surf spirit. During our outings together, I actually learned that they already knew this girl whom I was to become so gaga about, as she was quite well known among Baltic Sea surfers. I wasn’t pining over her yet, and she wasn’t there as she was staying about an hour outside of town with friends. But I did hear a lot of positive things about her, as she’d known these people for the past 15 years or so. And hearing about her, my crush on her was growing - I just hoped I wouldn’t let my feelings crush me.

In the back of a stranger's car being driven through Latvia
In the back of a stranger's car, being driven through Latvia

Feeling Kidnapped

To get to Pastilova, I had intended to rent a car. The head of the Lativian Surf Federation would have none of it though. I guess he must have thought of me as their guest, as he made sure everyone took great care of me. Without even telling me - possibly because English wasn’t his first language - he arranged a ride for me through a surf shop owner in Riga who was also attending our same course. I’d met the man but hadn’t realized he was a shop owner, nor that he would be driving me. I had brought all my things with me from the hostel that day, knowing we’d all be departing for Pastilova that night, and without any words about it that I understood, my bags were placed in the car of an otherwise stranger and I was told I’d be going with him, departing at 7 that night. With us in the car was the instructor.

Just like that, after we completed our CPR and water rescue tests, we went to a bar for two beers, then were in a Latvian surf shop locking up with the owner, then were in his car speeding across the rural Latvian landscape - the Instructor riding shotgun, telling us funny stories in his British/Aussie accent. Latvia pretty much looks exactly like rural Pennsylvania, especially if one were to think of the river city of Philadelphia as a much, much newer (and larger) version of Riga.

I had expected it to be getting dark since we’d left just after 7pm, but I had forgotten to consider the northernness of Latvia and the summertime pattern of the sun. The sun hardly ever set the entire week I was in Latvia.

When we arrived in Pastilova at 10:30pm the sun was just setting. And by 1130 it was still hardly dark. Somehow, my first three nights in Latvia I hadn’t fully processed this. They just felt sorta like never-ending days and I must have confused the everlasting sunlight as my own jet-lag from the 12 hour flight and 10 hour timezone change. Now that we were in Pastilova the endless sun of the far north summer was undeniable.

We pulled the car up to a surf shop there in Pastilova. A man I recognized as another participant in our class came quickly out the door to our car, having been waiting for us. We opened the doors, all sliding out, me from the backseat. The guy who had been waiting for us took my luggage from the trunk, told me to follow him, put it into the trunk of a black BMW station wagon and told me he’d be taking care of me. I was utterly confused. I had made my own reservations for lodging and was used to taking care of myself, having my own independence.

Part of me felt almost like I’d been kidnapped. I was tired, hungry, disoriented, and not in control of my whereabouts, my food, or even my water. I had hardly eaten or slept in 4 days. I was completely dependent on my hosts. Though there English was very good, they spoke mostly Latvian and the better part of my own confusion and disorientation was challenging for me to communicate.

With my luggage in the trunk of the black BMW, I was directed back to the surf shop at which we’d just arrived. We had left one surf shop in Riga (belonging to one course participant) and had arrived at another surf shop in Pastilova (belonging to another course participant). I later learned that all these people were not just friends, but fellow pioneers in the Latvian surf scene, which had only been going on since the mid 2000’s when these individuals were the first to experiment with surfboards on the chilly and unreliable waves of the Baltic Sea. They were all friends. And now, becuase we were all in the same course, they were including me. Despite my confusing, and the pangs to have control of my own whereabouts, I was grateful.

I had no idea where I was in Pastilova. Somewhere was the lodging I had booked - a cabin on a campground near the beach. I had no idea how to get there and since it was now nearly midnight, I worried I wouldn’t be able to check in. To my great surprise though, all that had been handled. Dagnes, owner of the surf shop in Pastilova knew the owner of the establishment where I was staying. He had taken the liberty of checking me in and already had for me the key to my room! Startled as I was by that, I went with it. Around midnight, after the group of us had some beers together at his shop, he took me over to my cabin, even carried my bags like a porter, and made sure I had everything I needed there.

He might as well have been the mayor of Pastilova as he knew everyone, even a local restaurant cook, through whom I later gained further access to the Latvian marijuana black market. The cannabis market in Latvia reminds me of the US around the nineteen-nineties or early two thousands, pre-decriminalization and pre-legalization. To get weed you needed not just to know someone, you needed to be on good terms with them as purchasing was partially a financial transaction, yes, but much more so, it was a social transaction, usually one that also included smoking together and developing a friendship. In any case, I was in Latvia, I was making friends in the surf industry, making friends in the weed industry, and I even had a romantic crush… perhaps worse than crush, I had someone I was just about convinced was my soul mate.

My cabin for nights 1-3 in Pavilosta
My cabin for nights 1-3 in Pavilosta

Day number what?

What the fuck day was it? What time was it? This became a running theme for my week in Latvia. I woke to a bright grayish blue sky through the window. I checked my phone. It was a few minutes after four am. I had just gone to bed less than three hours ago. The whole 7 nights in Latvia I must’ve averaged 3.5 hours of sleep per night, tops. By 5am it was full on sunrise and by 6am it may have well been midday.

Plus I was ten hours off from my usual California timezone, so my employees had been working when I went to bed and were still working, getting ready to close, when I woke up. I used the opportunity to text and call them to follow up on projects and give commands. Since none of them knew where I was, it only made sense that I was awake and speaking to them during normal business hours. I don’t think any of them would have expected that I would be in Latvia, of all places, deep in the old Eastern Bloc, studying life-saving and surf lesson skills with local surfers.

My body was stiff and heavy as an oak board. Between the lack of sleep, probably some dehydration, and the twelve hour flight it took to get here, I was sore as I could be. To manage, I stretched constantly the whole time I was there. I took bike rides and skateboard rides just to keep my blood flowing, I paid to use a sauna at a spa, and I took a yoga class - more on that later.

Nonetheless, I powered on. The three days of courses in Palistova bled together like the waking dream of a semi-sleep deprived traveling nut job surfer - which I guess I was at this point; a nut job surfer in some sort of state of love or infatuation bordering between healthy and insane. My first thought every morning, despite being disoriented and sleep deprived, was the exciting thought of getting to spend another day with that Latvian traveling surfer girl. All day long, I was on a mission to get to know her better, practically to the point of it overtaking my original intentions for the trip. Maybe I’d find something I didn’t like about her and would snap out of this.

But the opposite was true. While I tried to keep an open mind and not idealize nor idolize her in anyway, I was completely smitten by her, and the more I found out about her, the more deeply I felt she was my soul mate. Was she feeling it too? Thinking it too? She could tell I liked her. I didn’t even try to hide it. Was she reciprocating? Possibly. Was I completely deluding myself? Also, possibly.

My thinking was: this girl is just a couple years younger than me (in her mid thirties), she’s a mature and serious person who does serious things with her life, she doesn’t want to have some inconsequential fling with a traveler, and probably certainly not right in front of her many local male surf peers; certainly she’s gonna make me come to her, and she’s gonna make sure I’m serious about this long after I leave before she really considers a relationship with me. And, that’s a relationship, mind you, with someone who lives literally on the other side of the world, as unlikely as that would be to work. Still, that’s what I wanted. Crazier things have happened I know. This, I felt deeply to my bones, was the person I was destined since birth to meet, and to later marry and start a family.

It was totally insane. It must have been the midnight sun, the jetlag… something, Certainly I couldn’t be this crazy, I couldn’t be this caught up in a girl I had just met three days ago. Maybe it wasn’t even fair to her.

A surfboard shed in Pavilosta
A surfboard shed in Pavilosta

Those next couple days, my classmates and I learned to create a lesson program and a beach analysis before teaching. We also learned an additional rescue maneuver utilizing a short surfboard, in case we needed to pull a drowning surfer from the water while out surfing ourselves. We had lunches at some sort of ‘social club’ which must be a popular and frequent business style in Latvia, because there were many of them. Basically, they were outdoor restaurants with bars, an entertainment venue for music and film, and camping facilities for travelers. Such places seemed to be popular all over Latvia, with ones in downtown Riga too, sans campgrounds. I saw firsthand how such venues were not just a center of socialization but also of political talk.

Among other frequent topics I overheard had to do with fears over Russia’s war in Ukraine. Similarly I heard more than once people’s concern and anger that citizens of Russian descent living in Latvia were proposing making Russian a dual national language for the country, meaning that all signs and texts would be changed from Latvian to include Russian alongside them. I could understand the outrage, personally, though as I overheard one person say, “If you tell people you want Latvia to keep its own national heritage and language, political opponents label you a Nazi.” I could understand that must’ve been the case. Another person told me that 30% of the nation’s population still spoke Russian from the old days of USSR occupation. Somehow, during my whole trip, I didn’t get to know any of these proud Russians, or Ruskis as I heard them called.

Our first lunch break at such a place, I was once again stuck to my love interest like velcro when she found a drum kit half set up on stage. She set up the remaining pieces, with me helping as best I could. Then she started playing the drums on the stage. She was a good drummer. She played the song “Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns n Roses. I was done for. Had I not already fallen for her, that would have done it all over again. I love Guns n Roses - apparently even more than I realized. I just watched happily and took some photos and video of her for myself. Occasionally she would look at me or the camera and smile big and genuinely.

Our first night in Pastilova, after class ended at 5pm, I asked her to do something with me. Anything, really, but I suggested a bike ride around town. No, she said, shaking her head. Maybe it was just too much too soon, being alone together like that. I didn’t want to make a move on her or anything, but I suppose she maybe wanted to avoid any such situation where we could end up kissing or something. She wanted to work from her laptop, which I needed to do anyway, especially since my shops were opening at that hour back in the states. So I hung out with her at the surf shop in Pastilova as we both tapped away on our laptops and cell phones. She was staying at her house, about an hour away and went home later in the evening. But the following day, the second to last day of our course, she told me that she’d arranged to stay with a friend in town, and that maybe we could meet for dinner. I tried not to show it, but I was over the moon as she gave me her number.

Her text to me shortly thereafter told me that she wouldn’t be coming. I’d been hoping she would show me around town, since she knew this place, but really I was just wanting to get to know her more, and so to me, the dinner was a date. And this seemed like the lamest excuse to get out a date. I was pissed. Not really pissed. Sad? I guess sad. Frustrated? That too, but less so. Mainly just sad. I mean, I really liked this girl. I’ve been smitten with someone before, have even entered into a relationship thinking the other person might be the one for me - but this girl I knew was really special. As far as I could tell so far, she was everything I wanted in a life partner. I knew that for sure because I had made myself a checklist some months prior, and she met every wonderful and obscure quality on the list. What was on the list? I prefer to keep that to myself. At that moment, she checked them all.

I felt like I’d been waiting all my life to meet her. Was this for real, or was I just chasing a shooting star, running after a rainbow? Am I just the type of animal who might forever chase the carrot on a stick? Was I too enamored to express myself as I ordinarily would, or even too enamored to see things with normal clarity?

More surfboards of Pavilosta
More surfboards of Pavilosta

Biking around Pastilova, looking at stuff

There were no waves I could find along the sandy and seaweed covered beaches of Pastilova. Even with the help of those in our surf instructor course, There were simply no waves. I had been in Latvia four or five or six days - I couldn’t even tell the time - and there hadn’t been a single surfable wave. Everyone was in agreement, there were no waves presently, and that looking for them was a waste of time.

As sunset finally began, with no surfing to do and my would-be date now cancelled, I peddled around town on the bike I’d been so generously loaned by Dagnes.

Pastilova was a beautiful place for biking. Rural farm land abutting the coast, a little village of businesses and homes here and there. They had “social club” style businesses of restaurants/bars with entertainment space and camping space - the type of place we’d been eating lunch. In fact, Dagnes was part owner of one such business and the following night I ended up staying as his guest in a guesthouse made out of an old train car.

My lodgings night 4 in Pavilosta
My lodgings night 4 in Pavilosta

Stopping at these places, (sometimes after a little awkward standing around) people talked to me in English about the history, culture, and politics of Latvia. The people were friendly like that and very hospitable. It seemed pleasant novelty for them to have an American in their midst, especially an ignorant surfer willing to soak it all up like a sponge.

I ran into one of the surf shop owner’s friends, to whom I had been introduced a night or two previous. The man, about 6’4” and built like a cuddly bear, was a realtor, car dealer and business investor. He was walking home drunk, alone after dinner with friends, planning to stop at a bar or two along the way when he saw me peddle by on my bicycle and called out to me. He recognized me and greeted me with a huge “Hello!!!!” and a hug. He enthusiastically brought me into some conversation he was already having with himself in his head.

“You have to understand, we here in Latvia, we have been between two big viscous countries - Russia on one side, Germany on the other. Two World Wars, a cold war with US. It’s like being caught between two huge gears that are spinning and we are like meat in between just trying not to get ground up. The only way we exist is by being flexible. You understand? Anything rigid gets ground between the gears, only the flexible can make it out in one piece.”

I didn’t take any notes while he was speaking or anything. That’s just what I remember him saying, those phrases in particularly.

“Two viscous gears. To avoid being torn apart, one must be flexible.”

Shortly after saying goodbye to him, I ran into my crush walking down the street! She spotted me and shouted my name across the dirt road.

“I was just texting you now,” she said, as I wondered to myself if she was being honest. “I’m going to dinner after all. Come along!”

Confused, I happily obliged and just like that was walking down the street with her, pushing my bike as she excitedly told me about a flamboyant local restrauteur whose bar we were passing, and how he run for mayor with outlandish ads that had brought him more business, though not an election victory.

She led us to an outdoor bar and restaurant where we unexpectedly ran into some of her friends. I met other surfers there. They all agreed there hadn’t been a wave the whole time I’d been in town. Except my crush’s friends! They had been surfing nearby that day!


“Yes, it was nice,” the female half of the couple told me.

I had missed it. I only had one more day on the Latvian coast. Perhaps had I searched harder or done something differently, I would have been able to have surfed that day too.

“It was tiny waves, right?” my crush said. “Not even worth surfing. We didn’t miss anything.”

But I would’ve liked to have surfed it - regardless how small. I couldn’t believe I was all the way out in Latvia and I had not found the one little surfable wave of that day. I still feel a little crushed writing about it now.

“Oh well, there’s still tomorrow,” I told myself.

The two of us finished our beers and left to walk home. I grabbed my bike and pushed it alongside as I walked her home. I couldn’t believe how much fate had seemed to turn. Here I was now walking her home after a night out, the two of us down a dusty unpaved road in this beach town…

“Oh, those are my friends,” she said suddenly, pointing to a couple unlocking a Volvo. “They can take me home!”

Just like that she darted off and was gone.

Inside of my train car lodging, night 4 Pavilosta
Inside of my train car lodging, night 4 Pavilosta

Last day of class

There were no waves. Not even enough to bother paddling out - but I paddled out anyway, especially after hearing someone had caught a wave the day before. I accepted just being happy to flow with the waveless tides of the Baltic Sea.

We had to give our surf lessons simulated on land. It was anticlimactic. I passed the class. I learned a lot. I was glad I had taken it.

I said goodbye everyone. I said goodbye to my crush. I told her how I felt in no uncertain terms. She seemed like the most incredible woman I had ever met. I would love to get to know her better, make a romantic life of adventure together and that I wanted to raise a family with the right person.

She said we would keep in touch and that she thought we would meet again somewhere… there was no shortage of ambiguity to it. We would indeed meet again somewhere most likely. We would keep in touch. We were on good terms. No point in putting stress or expectation on the communication of two people six thousand miles apart.

There were no waves. There was no love connection. It would never have made any difference no matter how hard I tried. I had been jousting at windmills all along.

International Surf Association, Surf Instructor Level 1 Class Photo
International Surf Association, Surf Instructor Level 1 Class Photo

The Ukranian Military Commander, Final Day in Latvia

For my last night in Latvia, I elected to stay in the nicest hotel room in town - by my standards anyway. My standards are a balcony with a view (ideal for smoking), high ceilings, a comfortable bed, and a big clean bathtub for soaking. Bellhops are a preferred touch (though service seems harder and harder to find in our new electronic era). Since my arrival, I’d been staying in places for less than $60 per night American, not just because thriftiness is a value, but also because nothing in Latvia was particularly expensive. The ‘best hotel room in town’ (according to me), went for just $300 per night American,  a balcony suite at suite at the Hotel Monika , overlooking Kronvalda Park.

Dagnes, kind soul that he was, had driven me and another surfer the three hours or so from Pastilova back to Riga on his way to pickup his child from his ex-wife. I hadn’t selected my hotel at that point yet so I had him drop me off at the park near all the luxury hotels. Nearby I had located both a yoga studio and the cannabis dealer contact of surf friend I’d met earlier in the week. I was able to utilize both service providers after booking my room and dropping off my backpack, guitar and surfboard. For dinner, I found a Mexican restaurant intentionally within skateboarding distance of an English speaking bookstore I had found online because it was stocking a copy of my first book, Land Of The Free. It’s a hobby I have - visiting bookstores where I know they are selling a copy of my book. It feels sort of like going to stop in on an elderly relative in convalescence home somewhere. “Oh you’re looking good.” I think. And, “This is a nice place. They are treating you well here. That makes me happy,” And, in this case, “I don’t really know how you ended up here. I couldn’t even believe when I found out you were here. I had to come see you. I am so happy to see you.”

For me, my first book has a lot of emotional ties. Not because I think it’s a particularly great book, but because researching it, writing it, completing it, and moving on from it allowed me to move on… and eventually do this. It was nice to see the book. The Mexican food was exciting to try in such a faraway land - an okay try and a worthwhile experience, especially for a margarita.

The yoga class I took before all that was a killer! By far the most challenging yoga class I’ve ever taken. I’d found the studio on googlemaps, amongst myriad others but this one was the only one with a website and a schedule I could halfway navigate. Still, I couldn’t read the name of the class, since it was posted in Latvian and had no idea that I was attending the Advance Arm Stands Yoga Class. In my 20 years of practicing yoga, I had never taken an Arm Stand class, so the Advanced class was exceedingly fatiguing. The instructor was a drill sergeant of an older woman who would immediately correct anyone falling out of pose, let alone discipline anyone stopping to rest. I hadn’t been around such an instructor in as long as I could remember and finally I had to just tell her in English, my body hurts, I’ve been doing open water rescue drills all week and have hardly slept.

Back at the hotel that night, as a door man opened the polished door of the old stone building and a chandelier’s lights reflected off the marble floors, I noticed someone watching me. I was carrying my skateboard as well a book bag and my mini guitar - so I’m sure I was hard not to stare at - but I had noticed the man outside the hotel bar smoking cigarettes when I was checking in earlier, and he was eyeing me then too. What was most remarkable about him was just how incredibly unhappy he appeared. He looked mad, almost like he was mad at me personally. And he clearly was on his second or third or eighth cigarette. He stood beside an ashtray and finished one cigarette and lit another all without taking his eyes off me, leaving me curious and even a little afraid.

My very comfortable and affordable room at the Hotel Monaka, Riga, Latvia
My very comfortable and affordable room at the Hotel Monaka, Riga, Latvia

The next morning I was to find out why. I had gone to bed around 11pm and had pulled the blackout curtains and turned off my phone to sleep as long as my body wanted in an effort to minimize my fatigue when returning home to California.

As a consequence though, I woke too late to visit a medieval castle before my 1:30pm flight. So instead I enjoyed skateboarding through the park in the sunny morning, playing my guitar on my balcony and smoking the last of the Latvian weed I’d so enjoyed pricing. Afterward, while waiting for my rideshare car to the airport, I took a table at the hotel’s outdoor garden restraunt and enjoyed a much of fresh vegetables and locally caught fish - the kind I can’t remember. As I was enjoying my lunch and reading a book, I saw the dark eyes of the anry-seeming hotel guest who again was staring me down. I wiondered what could be going on.

Seconds later, he had walked up to me. He stood just before me. I looked up from my book and there he was, so close I could hardly see around his frame. He wasn’t a big man. Maybe 5’8 or so. Not thin, though not in great shape by any means. His face - and his entire being for that matter - wore the look of someone who was deeply stuck within he couldn’t seem to think his way out of. He bore the look of a living being trying to escape from inside a maze. Why he had fixed himself upon me, I knew not. He was wearing shorts, sneakers, and short sleeve collared shirt, sort of like he could he easily walk onto a golf course. It seemed appropriate for the hotel, far more so than my boardshorts, t shirt and sandals.

“I’d like to sit with you,” He said. “And buy you a drink. May I?”

Surprised, I felt wrong to turn him away.

“Certainly, sit down,” I offered. “I’m not interested in the drink. But you can sit. I’m about to leave.”

“I’ve been looking at you,” he said, “and I think you might be the happiest person I’ve ever seen.”

I was shocked.

He continued. “I came to sit with you so I can ask, how are you so happy? I want to be happy.”

I didn’t know what to say. I suppose I was pretty happy. What was not to be happy about. I was on the other side of the world from my home, on a trip to explore new waves as a surfer and meet new people. I was leading a team of people making our livings by serving people things I use and believe in. I didn’t say anything. I just looked him I the eyes and told him I was sorry he hadn’t been feeling happy and that I understood very much what that is like, regardless of how happy I may be or appear at the moment.

He went on to tell me, after looking over both his shoulders, that he had just deserted as a commander in the Ukraine army fighting against the Russians. I looked around for a camera. I felt like I was being punk’d. Either that I’d wandered into a Graham Greene novel. His story got more interesting. Not only had he deserted but he had previously been an officer in the Russian Army.

“What?” I asked. “How is that possible?”

He went on to tell me that he was born and raised in Latvia, right here in Riga in fact. That his family was of Russian origin and had come to Riga during the soviet days. His family owned a large chain of department stores, he told me. “Think ‘Walmart’ like in your country,” he told me. My family has money.” He told me that his father was murdered, beheaded actually, in some sort of political thing after the soviet union collapsed and Latvia regained independence. He told me that the police came to his house when he was seventeen and asked him to identify his father dead body, detached head and all. The horror. I could hardly believe what I was hearing.

He had joined the Russian Army shortly thereafter, had served honorably through the middle of the Crimea invasion, had met Vladmir Putin himself personally, he claimed. But during Crimea he had defected.

“Crimea I learned too much,” he said, or some other similar thing. So he had defected and then joined the Ukranian army to fight against Russia only to become dissaluisioned by that too. I asked him his rank and he told me Commander. He also told me he’d been wounded in a bombing, showed me some scars that disappeared up his shorts and told me he was impotent because of it. He went on to tell me of his marital troubles since he’d defected. Ever since then he’d been living at this hotel, while his wife lived in a house he had purchased for them just blocks away. He didn’t want anything from me. He claimed to have plenty of money. When the waitress came, he ordered two fingers of vodka. When I told him “no thanks,” presuming one was for me, he must have just heard ‘thanks’ because he turned his eyes to me, said, “Oh you wanted some?” And then said “Two more!” To the waitress. He insisted on treating me. He was genuinely grateful to have someone to talk to.

“How do I become a happy person again?” He asked me. “All day long I think about these awful governments and awful leaders and this hatred that has followed me all my life.”

“I can see why it feels that way to you,” I said. “I have never experienced any of the things you have experienced. But I have felt like the world was against me before. And I have felt like I was stuck in a hopeless unhappy situation before that I would never get out of. I do know what it feels like to feel like your life is bad and won’t get any better.”

We shared a nice moment together. “I also know that life can get better if you wait around long enough, and that eventually you’ll probably get so focused again on something that makes you happy that you’ll forget all about the bad things.”

He smiled and looked at my guitar. “I’ve been watching you play.”

I’d been playing off and on from my hotel balcony and strumming a little while skateboarding around in the streets. He asked me about my life, and I had to laugh before I told him. It was so different than his story. And I had to tell him that there was a certainly a time in my own life, just a decade or so ago, when things seemed so bad for me that I could never imagine my life as it is now. None of those things that really bothered me a decade ago really bother me anymore, though they still exist and are not very good. My life is just about other things now.

Our shots arrived. All 4 of them. We toasted two of them apiece, then I played “Lawyers Guns and Money” for him, by Warren Zevon, a song about a man who stumbles into a communist plot while out on a drinking bender. My ride to the airport arrived. Within three hours I was airborne, headed back to el porto.

It was a big stone building with marble entrance ways - what I would expect of a European hotel in a city that dates back thousands of years.

With my new friend, the Sun Also Rises guy, in the different worlds of life, feeling like I’d wandered into a Graham Greene novel.
With my new friend, the Sun Also Rises guy, in the different worlds of life, feeling like I’d wandered into a Graham Greene novel.

Back Home

When I got back I knew I could never hook up with any of the people I had been seeing before the trip. Whatever vow of celibacy I had made to myself almost two months earlier, I felt twice as strongly about it with my Latvian crush surfing in my head.

I couldn’t get her out of my thoughts - but not in a gnawing desirous way. Moreover I just felt inspired by her. Like I had to take seriously my own desires for a mate and I couldn’t settle for anyone who didn’t seem up to her caliber. I started forcing myself to greater discern qualities I was looking for in women. And I realized that these type of girls I was genuinely scared to death of meeting. I didn’t know why. It was like I heard voices yelling at me in my head whenever I was around such a woman and had an opportunity to meet someone I might want get to know as a potential life partner. Everyone else was easy to talk to. It had nothing to do with physical beauty or sexuality but more upon how realistically I much I might see someone as a potential mate, and how much I desire them to fulfill my needs for love and connection.

What was the noise in my in my body and brain I was hearing when I wanted so badly to be getting to know someone? I made myself slow it down and listen to it. I wrote it down. I had a lot of negative thoughts about relationships. That’s the conversation I was hearing within myself whenever I was getting close to one. The more I thought I might like someone, the faster and louder the ‘voices’ seemed to ‘shout’ at each other. I was having conflicting desires. On the one hand, I wanted to get to know someone, meet someone I admire that’s a good match, and create a life together around all the great things I enjoy doing with my life. And on the other hand, I was having sudden, PTSD style psycholocigaligal flashbacks mid-conversation with girls remembering every reinforcing painful dissapointment of my parent’s marriage infused with a lowlight reel of my own relationship history. Suddenly I was like a frightened first time skydiver at the open door of a plane afraid to jump - my mind racing at a million miles an hour with every reason why this might be a bad idea. But now that I could slow down my mind I could hear all the frightening thoughts, and now that I heard them I decided to write them down and question whether they were true and I wanted to live my life by them.

When I questioned my frightening thoughts, I then started asking myself: “When I feel really scared, when I feel really upset, what are the thoughts in my head?

I wrote them down. I thought through them. I resolved them. I wrote down what now made a lot more sense knowing that when I got to the door of that metaphorical plane again I would be besieged by such voices, but I couldn’t be fooled by them now. I had already won these arguments. I knew how paper thin the logic of these fears were and could tear threw them now when popped up like monsters in front of me. I saw through those illusions now.

Life opened up again. I started talking to girls again. I enjoyed their attention. I got their phone numbers. I didn’t meet anyone I wanted to call back but I could feel a change in momentum - luck was swinging my way again and I could feel it. At least I was fully enjoying my life.

Weeks later, a female friend I had been hooking up with for over a year told me she was moving away. We enjoyed spending a couple days together before she left and broke my vow of celibacy. She was the most intimate friend I had in my life at the moment. And she was going away. I would no longer cross paths with her and chat every few days. I had been keeping a sort of platonic distance from her (and everyone else I’d been seeing) since shortly before leaving for Latvia when I had come to the conclusion that maybe I should pursue exclusively the type of girl I wanted to date, rather than just date or sleep with anyone I found attractive who wanted to sleep with me.

I missed the company of my intimate friend - much more than just sexually. I was really fortunate to have such a person in my life - and such a sexy, smart, and attractive person. I felt lucky to have had all the people I’d seen romantically in the last year or two as part of my life. It didn't hurt that she looked like a pornstar - with these little perky tits and tight little waist with a hear shape ass she liked to let hang out of her thong-like jean shorts. And she like to watch porn together, or even better just talk dirty to me and act out all the main parts of doggystyle and blowjob scenes.. I wondered: over what I had been stressing so much? And if I wanted to be in a long-term, life-partner type relationship, why not do that with my very attractive and very easy-to-talk-to friend?


Weeks later, my very talented sign painter finished the mural on my surf shop. I decided to have him add surfers on the wave, and we needed a couple of models for three of the figures. In the center of the wave, the only character on the mural actually standing up and surfing is a blonde girl surfing through the center of the wave, with people falling off and duck-diving all around her, with me paddling out toward her with no wetsuit on. Across the side of the mural, in bold bright letters the color of the sunset reflecting on the water.

Is it my Latvian crush? Is it my intimate friend I let move away? Is it some girl I couldn’t get, an old girlfriend I loved, a girl I would always be pursing but never met, or the love of my life I would meet just around the next corner? Yea, all of that, probably, and a lot more I don’t understand I’m sure.

The mural brings a smile to my face, as I’m glad to see it does for others, especially when they take photos of it. Across the center of the image I had him paint the words “Life Is Beautiful.”

Perfect, I thought as I looked at it. Just perfect. I had him paint it on the bus too. And loaded the vehicle up to depart in it with my dog for Florida - destined to surf and visit friends and family along the way.

I went out with some friends that night, before driving out in the bus the next day. While I was out I ran into someone… not my Latvian crush - but another girl I was apparently gaga over, an LA based comedian and actress with a tv career.

It was like I hadn’t even remembered the way I melted around her until I ran into her and she said hi to me and we talked for a few minutes and then afterward I reran the conversation in my head over and over again, wishing I had said this or that and wondering if she’d be with me right now had I just said or done something differently.

I went home that night feeling just like I had those days in Latvia, and hit the road again the next morning, feeling just as confused as ever. I was talking to this person. In my head she should be welcoming me with open arms. A self-made, financially and professionally free man, fit and What was this feeling I was having around certain people? Like if only this girl or that girl could see what a great person I was - then she would like me or fall in love with me. What was this awful feeling telling me? I wasn’t sure, but it was telling me something, and something too big to ignore. I felt terrible about myself. I had to figure that out and straighten that out.

As much as I wanted to retreat into past relationships where I felt good and comfortable, there was something pushing me on. There were no waves. Not in Latvia, not with these girls that I hardly knew that I was letting steal my heart. It wouldn't be for about another six months when I felt like I understood what was going on and began to turn things around.

The new mural on El Porto Surf Shop, featuring my Latvian surfer girl crush, or my friend with benefits that moved away, or my dream girl yet to be met.
The new mural on El Porto Surf Shop, featuring my Latvian surfer girl crush, or my friend with benefits that moved away, or my dream girl yet to be met.


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