“The ocean taught me that no matter how big your house, how big your ego, at the end of the day we have little control over life but we can choose how we respond to life’s many challenges,” shares Angie Davis, a filmmaker, writer and virtual reality entrepreneur.
Originally from Adelaide, Australia, Angie’s early connection to the ocean’s lessons anchored her through the storms of natural disaster (fleeing her life in Japan after the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima), an abusive relationship, and witnessing her friend being bitten by a shark.
Despite all of that, she’s shirked judgment and the status quo of parenting (as a single mom) and has pulled her two beautiful boys out of school for an indefinite period of time to trek the Himalayas, board fresh powder in Japan, to surf all around Australia – to show them how to be citizens of the world. To show them what it is to be brave and open and engaged and not afraid to try. To show them that money is no excuse for not living well and living boldly.
Introducing "Passion Forward," a new series of short chats with inspired women, we caught up with Angie to chat more about nomadic motherhood, silent meditation retreats, and empowerment via technology.
By Angie Davis, as told to Lauren Hill.
Surfing is my intangible umbilical cord with Mother Earth. I have had periods of my life where I’ve surfed two or three times a day, then times where I’ve surfed twice a year. Yet even when I am out of the water for longer periods of time, everything I have learned from surfing and the ocean spills over into my day-to-day life.
When I was in the depths of abuse and violence during my marriage, the ocean was my respite. They say abuse survivors remember every single detail of what they endured, and this certainly is the case for me. The first time I was ever attacked in the home I escaped on a full moon down to the ocean in Japan and sat on the sand with my head sunk in my hands crying. I will never forget looking out to the ocean that night and watching the moon’s light glisten as the surf rolled in unridden. I found a courage to go on in that moment, and whilst it would take me almost a decade before I would eventually leave the violence, it was symbolically the ocean again—this time in Peru—that led me back to self.
When I fell pregnant with Ryder in my early 20s in Japan, I had a long-held dream to travel India with a surfboard very close to fruition. Air tickets were booked and a magazine editorial locked in. The doctor nearly choked when I informed him that we would continue our plans to travel across India and surf the Wild West coast. When we returned home from the clinic, my ex-husband suggested he go alone, as it did seem dangerous that I would travel, and surf, in my first trimester in India. I was horrified. I had already felt I had sacrificed life-long dreams to travel the world searching for surf in off-the-beaten-track locations, documenting my journeys and sharing the voices of the underprivileged yet so capable humans I would meet along the way. India, where my parents had traveled for 6 months in the ‘70s pre-divorce during their epic 10-year, 66- country global crossing, was top of my list! I knew if I sacrificed this trip, it would set precedent for the next chapter in my life, motherhood, and I was determined to be a mother that would live by example, guided by the heart and adventure and the joy of experiences.
Of course, I went on the trip, surfed almost every day, met India’s First Lady slider Ishita Malaviya who now, nine years later, I just got out of the surf with here in Bali. Funnily enough, when I returned to Japan from India at four months pregnant, my baby bump was so uncomfortable on the board and I didn’t feel comfortable surfing anymore. I switched to a $10 inflatable mat from the local hardware store and mat surfed every day up to the birth.
At that time of my life I was extremely yang and being in the ocean every day meant the world to me. Growing up in Adelaide, Australia, having to drive 30-60 mins for average surf, those early years in Japan living walking distance from the beach were medicine for my soul, especially with what I was living through behind closed doors.
With Hunter’s pregnancy, everything changed. We lived through the triple disaster in 2011 - the earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima contamination - and suddenly the ocean, my lifesaver, had become this incredible threat. I was unable to enter the water first for fear of repeated tsunamis, and then for fear of radiation contamination until we finally evacuated back to Australia just a few weeks before Hunter would be born. The first dip in the Pacific Ocean back home brought tears to my eyes. Yet those months living without the ocean taught me how to co-exist mentally without necessarily getting into the water every day. I spent a lot of time in swimming pools, went deeper into my yoga practice, but I was mostly busy surviving.
Hunter was born in the water just outside Byron Bay in 2011 and didn’t take his first breath for what seemed like 10 minutes. It was a truly magic water birth, and I witnessed again this incredible calmness that the ocean had taught me over the years, and how at home I felt in water.
I surfed more in those early years of the boys being born than I have probably ever in my life…isn’t that a trip?! Most mums are complaining they can’t get out for a surf, but I was out there as much as possible, tag teaming with my cousin who was a new mum and a surf coach.
When I look back now, I see that the ocean was probably my lifeline during those years of tremendous violence. Even when I was working full time as an editor with the kids at daycare, I would get to work a half hour early to jump in the sea, eat my lunch on the beach, and have a quick dip before going back to the office. Weekends were full-blown beach days.
And then I witnessed a shark attack, a friend dying at my feet having lost both his limbs to a nasty bite. That was a harrowing moment, and the incident took me out of the water regularly for a very long time. After the attack, I stopped taking the kids to the beach to swim, I stopped surfing, but ironically during this time I was directing an environmental surf film in Peru and bouncing back and forth to South America, surfboard and swim fins in tow. The irony is that the time out of the water at home got me super focussed on my work, and whilst I wasn’t physically surfing much and I was still dreadfully fearful of the ocean, I was surrounding myself with work relating to surfing and the sea. In this sense surfing never left me.
Over those years I began to internalize what surfing and ocean culture meant to me, and cultivate those principles across every aspect of my life. I stopped drinking, switched to a plant-based diet, directed films to raise ocean awareness and conscious surf travel, dove deep into my yoga practice, traveled to more places that didn’t have surf, and focused on becoming a more authentic person, a change maker, a compassion cultivator. The ocean taught me that no matter how big your house, how big your ego, at the end of the day we have little control over life but we can choose how we respond to life’s many challenges.
One of the very few times he hitched a ride. At over 4,000m altitude, where every step was a struggle, even I wanted a piggy back. I’m learning not to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders anymore, but sometimes as mums we dig to those deep warrioress levels and power through the pain to move our families over life’s hurdles and out the other side to enjoy the vistas. Let’s just not forget the look around on the way up; life is a journey (including all the bumps and piggy backs), not a destination. #crossingasia
Back in 2014, I was struggling as a single mum trying to run a production partnership with one son at home because I couldn’t afford daycare, and the other in his first year of school. I was on the verge of bankruptcy and even had a scary guy on a motorcycle named Mario come to the house on a Saturday to (almost) repossess my car because I was behind on my loans. I was working around the clock, in between films, and starting to feel myself slip into a dark place.
I just thought there was more to life, more to motherhood than this, so I actually went off to Vipassana again [a 10-day silent meditation retreat] for my second time for some perspective. I and came out with so much clarity. I knew I had to sell whatever possessions I had left and started traveling full time with the boys. They were young enough to miss school in my opinion and I felt Ryder and I in particular were struggling with healing from the domestic violence—he as a witness—and our relationship was on the verge of a breakdown. We had an opportunity to go and live in Colombia for a few months, so I bought one-way tickets. From there I think we’ve clocked up 10 countries in just under 2 years. Even when we headed home to Lennox Head for a 6-month stint I made sure we lived in tents so I could still feel like we were traveling!
My family has been really supportive actually. My mum is the most well-traveled person I know, clocking up 66 countries before I was born in the ‘70s. Whenever other family members ask her how she feels about me traveling, she always replies: “How am I to say anything?!” She gets nervous that I am taking her grandsons on these wild adventures, making up for my 20s when I had grand plans to backpack the world and stayed in Japan instead. I recently tagged her in a photo of me with the boys on the back of a motorbike here in Bali completed with skateboards we’d piled on the back. I love to tease her like that. In all fairness, she did go over a cliff in the Andes in Peru in a bus so she has good reason to be nervous of some of the places we go. The recent Road of Death from Manali to Leh in India, at night, was a wild ride that had me question my own sanity as a mother at times.
I tend to not take things too personally. My sons’ father disapproves of my life, but the kids and I are far happier and healthier in the way we live it now than we ever were in a violent household with him.
Most people who follow our journey or meet us on the road seem to be inspired, and that’s really the ultimate goal. I want to show others, especially single mums or any mum, that motherhood doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams. Whilst I understand that trekking the Himalayas unassisted with two kids under the age of eight for nine days in winter is not on every mum’s bucket list, I just want people to see that so much magic can come from traveling with your kids and the greatest educator in the world around us.
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How was your 2017? Did you accomplish what you set out to? I look back on the year and it blows my mind to think we started it living in Colombia, I then walked in the incredible Women’s March in Washington D.C., did a snow season in Japan, lived in a tipi for 4 months in Lennox Head, traveled 8,000kms around the north of Australia cutting didgeridoos and camping, then kicked off the giant #crossingasia journey from India to Japan, covering 6 countries with no plastic bottles, almost no planes, trekking the Himalayas, and ALL with the kids in my care 24/7 and ZERO financial support from their father. Somehow I also met the love of my life @remsrd and together we’ve grown radically in just a year. I’m not quite sure how to top that year but I’ll give it a good crack! Remember the sky’s the limits, every problem has a solution, and you only have ONE life to be wonderful and create impact. Now, your turn, what are you proud of from 2017? #liveoutsidethebox #mumswhocan #mercibocoup
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Technology is what has allowed me to travel full time for most of my working life. Now, it is enabling my kids to study distance education. Their work is sent via the cloud and they read books on their tablets and watch project videos online. They still write, draw, build and play the good old-fashioned way, but it doesn’t have to be within the confinements of the four walls of a classroom.
A year ago I met a like-minded woman from Montreal via Instagram, Paula Toledo, who, like me, had been a single mum with two sons having been through some challenging times in life since losing her husband to a mental illness that took his life. We both wanted to explore how emerging tech could be used to help empower every individual on the planet, particularly by creating Virtual and Augmented reality experiences for mental health, education and humanity. We recently founded WellTech Innovations which is an arm of a greater storytelling studio we are building, and have teamed up with a developer in Adelaide Daish Malani to work on our first VR ‘Brains and Neurons’ experience for the upcoming Liminal App that will launch across major VR headsets worldwide.
There are many concerns around tech and safety, security and if it will take us away from natural environments. But I see it as a huge opportunity to deliver wellbeing experiences, education, skills training, and powerful stories that cultivate compassion to every corner of the globe. I also feel that VR takes storytelling to another level when it comes to cultivating compassion. When you watch a film like Sybil Steele’s ‘Mothers of the Atlas’, or Eliza McNitt’s ‘Spheres’, you spend three to five minutes in an uninterrupted headspace fully experiencing the story. This has a lasting effect unlike traditional video, and I envision that once VR goes more mainstream it will be more commonly used as a powerful tool to generate empathy and create real change for the important issues we face in the world today.
It is so imperative we have more female developers and storytellers in this space, for the tech world is so traditionally dominated by men and yet women have profound ideas that can literally transform communities and cities. I actually think we are living in a very exciting time, with more girls aspiring towards careers in tech and dreaming up future worlds where tech is used for good.
I was recently in Bali with my little family. I have a fabulous new partner and my boys are now 6-years-old and 8-years-old on a short transitional trip before moving to land-locked Montreal for a stint. I’ve been at The Practice yoga centre in Canggu religiously not missing the 4pm Yin Yoga class. After three weeks here, this morning Ryder asked if I would take them surfing. My rule is never say no if my sons ask me to go surfing with them. We rented a 6’5 mini mal as I couldn’t moto with my shortboard under my arm and two kids on the back, and after pushing Ryder into three delicious wavelets I did what all good mamas would do, I went out to give the board a spin. I had, hands down, the funnest surf I’ve had in two years. Perhaps it’s all the Yin, or perhaps it’s just the perspective that time out of the water can give. I was on every wave I could find yet surfing with ease and grace, trimming and sliding on the longer board in a way I haven’t been able to do on a shortboard for many years. Ishita and her partner Tushar were in Bali too and they were out the back whilst I was on the inside catching all the sneaking peelers…I looked up at Ishita and Tushar sharing a wave, then into the beach at my kids jumping in the shallows, and I literally shed a tear of joy.
It reminded me of a moment late last year when I swam in -1C water at 4,500m in Gosainkunda Lake in the Himalayas. I had been practicing the Wim Hof Method for 10 weeks prior to our ‘Crossing Asia’ journey from India to Japan with no planes and no plastics, and my goal was to enter the lake at the peak of the trek. It’s not necessarily the joy of sitting in freezing water—that shit required so much focus—as it was that moment I came out of the water and hugged my partner Remy and cried in awe at how much joy I felt. The Wim Hof Method puts you back in connection with your body, through breath work and cold exposure, where you build up your inner fire and take charge of your participation in life to a point where you overcome fear of the cold so you feel any other fears in life are laughable. You’re not immortal, but you become in tune with the whole and you just can’t stop smiling.
I drew a parallel with the WHM and surfing when I think of how much surfing has influenced my life in and out of the water. I’m a better human because I surf even when I can’t surf. For that I am so grateful.
Follow along with Angie's on Instagram: @TheAnnicaWay