Climber, surfer, skateboarder, writer, photographer, and filmmaker—Jeff Johnson’s talents are many. In the film “180° South,” he traces a 1968 trip to Patagonia undertaken by his heroes, Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins. He recently published a book on skateboarding called “Way High Kick Turn.” Jeff lives on the North Shore with his wife and daughter. As a former North Shore lifeguard, and a frequent traveler, I was curious to hear how he and his family are holding up. I wrote him, and here’s what he wrote back—
When the shit started hitting the fan last week, at least for Americans, my whole family was sick. It started with my daughter, then my wife, then I was nailed the hardest. Gnarly head cold, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, aches, sweats, chills, etc., but no fever. It has also been raining over here for something like two weeks straight, real heavy rain, lots of mud, everything in the house is damp. Even in Hawaii, this can get a little depressing. It’s easy to start going down that paranoia path. We were looking at each other going, “Do we have the corona?” But I wasn’t worried. It’s the flu. I had the flu a couple months ago. It was really bad. But it’s the flu. You just hunker down and deal with it. If I had the corona, which I really didn’t think I did, but if so, I would just hunker down and sweat it out, just like I’ve done with the flu dozens of times in my life. Out of social responsibility, we called the hotline and told them our symptoms and they did not want to test us since we were low risk and didn’t have a fever. Well, I know some people that had the corona and didn’t have a fever, but oh well, we tried. I’m 51 years old. I guess I’m on the cusp of risky age? Still, I was not worried at all if I had it, I still am not worried. If I was over 60, maybe. Over 70, for sure. I don’t want to get controversial here, because there is so much information out there it will make you crazy. But I would rather get the corona now so I can build up antibodies for next winter when it returns. Anyway, I am obviously not an expert on this.
I’m not trying to make light of this thing or be insensitive to those that have been horribly affected by this. We’re all receding back into our little nests. We all have our own realities. We’re all doing what we can do. I’m more worried about the financial implications of all of this and how just about everyone will be affected. That’s another story.
You asked if I am leaning on any skills I learned as a lifeguard. Yes, one: stay calm. This is one of if not the most important things I’ve ever learned. I’ve also learned this from climbing and surfing. You can’t panic. If you panic, it all goes to hell. Your mind is your worst enemy. And your mind is really the only thing in this world you can control, if you try. I’m not saying I have mastered this—far from it—but I try.
As for inspiration… It’s inspiring to see my wife being so damn strong and calm during this and being so light and positive. And my little girl… children are just inspiring 24/7. They’re the best.
This is such a great excuse to read all those books on your list! I wish I had my whole library over here but it’s in a storage unit in California, so I’m diving into the books I have here, and The Surfer’s Journal and Alpinist magazine, some of my favorites. I have been on Instagram but trying to limit that—as we all should be doing more of anyways, regardless of the corona. Some stuff on Instagram can be inspiring.
Aside from social distancing, my day-to-day is pretty much the same. I wake up before the sun, meditate for 10-20 minutes, brew some coffee, and read or write for a bit. Hug my daughter when she appears in the living room. Start making her breakfast. And hug my wife when she appears in the kitchen. Are we breathing? Check. Arms and legs? Check. Food? Check. Water? Check. We’re not on lockdown yet so I check the surf, maybe go for a run. I’ve ramped up my yoga routine. I’ve been drinking less beer, and eating less food, drinking lots of water. Three days a week I’m doing that trendy intermittent fasting thing, where I eat dinner at around 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. and don’t eat again till about noon the next day. I have no idea if it does what everybody says it does, but I feel really good doing it.
One day at a time, one step in front of the other.
For more of Jeff Johnson go to http://www.jeffjohnsonstories.com/
Follow him at @jeffjohnson_beyondandback