The sun trades places with the moon over the ocean on one of the hottest days of the summer. Anna Ehrgott meets us at Malibu, jogging lightly across the street with her longboard and woven slip-on sandals that I admire out loud. She greets us with hugs and smiles soon to be followed with a conversation full of wisdom, kindness and eloquence. The horizon shifts from blue to pale purple to dark navy as the waves continue to roll in and the full moon lights up one of the best breaks in Southern California.
Anna founded Sagebrush Board Bags to create sustainable and environmentally conscious board bags for the mindful surfer. She travels the world to explore, adventure, surf, take film photos and cultivate awareness about the human impact on nature.
At one point during our interview, a man walks by carrying a slingshot -- not your typical tourist toy. "Clear out the lineup!" Anna says with an authentic laugh. He laughs and jokes with us before continuing on. After the interview I reflect on her ability to connect -- with nature, with different cultures, with her home break, with people she doesn't know. She's a friendly and visionary spirit with a wise understanding of the world, what truly matters and how we all exist together.
On having a relationship with nature:
I had an interesting thought recently about how some people think of themselves and nature as separate. They may think if they're going on a trail, don't get off the path and don't touch nature. And that's kind of a good idea but at the same time, we're a part of it and we should be rolling around in the dirt. So I thought, why do I feel like that and others don't? I think it’s the way that grew up in Topanga, California -- the suburban areas here aren't separate from nature. There aren't paved sidewalks and gates and then nature but houses built out of wood under oak tree next to creek and dirt lot. I don't know what we're doing right but there's no separation here and it makes me feel that nature is my home and I must take care of nature because it innately supports me in every aspect of life.
On starting a sustainable company:
Some horrible advice I got from somebody was a quote that said, "don't try to save the world with your first business." And it just ate away at me. Maybe in some regard that was good advice because I'm definitely not making a lot of money and perhaps I'd be a lot more financially stable if i took that advice, but it would just kill me to know I'm making a product that’s degrading the earth. It all started as a consumer— I was looking to buy a board bag and everything was made in China, cheaply made and I knew it will fall apart within a year. That was when I decided that I needed to step up and do this.
On the making of Sagebrush bags:
Initially, it was me with an industrial-grade sewing machine on the floor of my house throwing out my back.
The bags are half coffee-bean sacks from roasters around Los Angeles that import coffee from around the world. I try to use ones from fair-trade, organic coffee because I feel like that's a nice sentiment to put into the board bag. And then, any remnant fabric i can find, which makes each one a little different. I've started working with a seamstress and she's basically become my third grandma. I'm learning so much from her.
On women entrepreneurship:
In general, it's such an empowering thing to own your own business. I had a really hard time working for bosses and I would get frustrated if they asked me to do things I didn't see value in. Taking on your own rules, you'll learn for yourself what's important and what isn't and you learn to pace yourself. It does take a certain person to really hold themselves accountable and find reasons to be inspired and work harder. I'm definitely not the most organized person - time included in that - but I've gotten better at doing things instead of putting them off. The most challenging part is socially.
It gets to me when people envy your life and think your'e having fun all the time. Sometimes I work 3-4 hours a day and sometimes I work 16 hours a day. It's not all rolling around on the beach in the sand - even though there's that too.
Surfing taught me not to be agist or really any kind of prejudice. I make friends with people from all different kinds of backgrounds, social statuses, colors and age groups. And I learn from everyone and realize there's no right or wrong path -- everybody is doing something really special and different.
On allowing enjoyment:
I had a stage where I felt really guilty about surfing, thinking, "I should really be working and saving for a down payment or something else responsible." Then i went to Indonesia for a month and met all these girls who surf all day and I realized they are having so much fun and they will figure it out at some point. So why feel guilty now? Feel no shame in enjoying every day.
On unusual travel destinations:
My parents are super adventurous so would book tickets to places where we would just backpack and get on local buses. That taught me to trust strangers, not be afraid of third-world countries and to really trust my intuition. I learned the world isn't a place to be terrified of, and I'm very lucky in that.
I remember thinking, "okay I'm not the best surfer, I'm not the best model -- how do I set myself apart?" Now I think it's planning really strange surf trips to interesting destinations a lot of people don't have on their radar. When planning, I really like research and spending hours on Google Earth and finding remote surf breaks.
The main thing I don't like is cities. Knowing that I will be able to do things on my own schedule and explore is important -- there are countries where it's really hard to do that. For example, I went to Egypt and it's illegal there for tourists to go out of tourist areas. Things like that I have a really hard time with.
I'll go anywhere I can admire nature. Nature is the grand architect - the best artist I know of.
On having a routine:
I'm a morning person so I usually wake up at 5 a.m. -- that's my most productive three hours of the day. The last couple weeks I've been super mountain biking on the trails around my house as the sun comes up. I don't always have the best surf, but riding my bike I always come away feeling good. From there I'll usually work for a few hours - checking emails, mailing board bags, checking in on shops that carry them, feeding my dog Gemma -- and surfing in the early afternoon, typically.
On getting out of a rut:
In the past it's been solitude that pulls me out of a rut. Long hikes and long bike rides always help too. Recently though, I feel like I'm getting more into a place where I realize people have really good advice and calling a friend or going to see a family member is equally helpful.
On the presence of anxiety:
I wouldn't say I'm immune to fear. More than anything it manifests as anxiety.
I feel like I'm probably the most stressed, anxious and fearful in the states, which is weird. But in other countries I just feel like people really bite off what they can chew and are closer with their friends and family and happiness seems more real.
On the loss of a parent:
If you think about it, physically humans become nature again. I can only believe the same is true spiritually. My dad passed away over a year ago and in the beginning I was like, "okay, this is the worst thing to ever happen to me." I just bottled it up because if I didn't I would just cry and I needed to get through the day. And I think that was the worst thing I could have done.
I feel like I was always the happy positive person and it’s so hard to then be the one that needs love and support and hugs and learn how to ask for that.
Just to have one catastrophic event in my life really isn't that bad -- there's people who have had their entire family separated or worse. It puts you in this club of people who have really suffered and felt extreme pain and you get closer to people who have lost people they love.
I still feel like I'm chipping away at it -- every day I'll spend like a good amount of time really thinking about the kind of person he was, what he meant to me and what he taught me and things I'm going to miss but also things I'm going to learn from. I think the main thing I'm learning is to be more gentle with people and realizing you do't know how their day was. Now I realize you have no idea what happened to them that day, that week or that month.
On personal evolution:
What I seek from travel has changed over the years. At first it was definitely a selfish pursuit of surfing good waves, eating good food and coming back tan. In retrospect I forget all the things I did for myself and what I remember most is my connection with a kid or stumbling across a Buddhist temple or learning something from people I met. That's what's most powerful to me and where I want to put more energy moving forward.
I've never been a people person, but in the last year I'm like, "wow, people. I'm one of them!" I just was shy and hid behind things, like a camera, or I'd go surfing to avoid social situations. Now I feel part of nature and also part of humanity.
On wearing a lot of hats:
Not to sound too hippy, but everything is connected and every skill set you acquire has a place in your life. I think trying really hard at anything translates to everything in your life. Having all these skillsets aren't all really separate but joining.
My message to anyone would be to start a creative venture or some hobby that is your own thing and pour your energy into it. Even if you don't get monetary value from it, it adds so much into your life. That in itself is valuable beyond measure.