My First Year in the Surfshack

And how I learned that I'm wealthier than Bill Gates

The past week has been sunny, warm, and delivered beautiful fall swells. The water is cooler but I’m still surfing in my summer vest. Photo: Per Håkansson.

Happy Halloween / Día de los Muertos!

Today I’m celebrating my first year anniversary in the surfshack. I still remember the day I moved in last year like yesterday. I drove over from the local surf motel a few blocks away where I was staying until the renovation of my new abode was finalized. It was delayed several weeks, as often construction projects are, but in time for Halloween last year I got the keys to my new unfurnished home by the beach.

I parked my car on my new drive way and emptied the trunk: one backpack, one duffel bag, one sleeping bag, and one thick blanket. I then brought in my eight-foot funboard, later replaced with a nine-foot performance longboard, and my Patagonia wetsuit on a special plastic hanger with a carabiner hook so it can be hung anywhere.

The first night I slept in my sleeping bag on a folded blanket in my new bedroom. I kept the door to the patio open and fell asleep to the sound of breaking waves and woke up eight hours later to the sound of singing birds that had taken up temporary refuge in what was now my newly pruned backyard tree.

I made coffee on my camping stove, put on my wetsuit, and waxed my board. I then walked barefoot the five minutes it takes from my new house to the lookout and then down the sandy serpentine pathway to the beach where I laid down my board, looked out at the early morning soft breaking swells and did the usual stretching to warm up. It was now 7 am with a slight offshore wind. A new beginning was hanging in the air.

A year later I’m reflecting on the past and musing on all the new memories I’ve created here thus far. I fondly remember the moving truck arriving from my storage the second day in the shack with about fifteen small boxes of books, photography equipment, and some additional clothing that I had kept stored during the nomadic years. It felt nice to now have everything I owned in one single place.

I found, yet again, that starting from scratch in a new place with a few basic and essential things is a very revitalizing experience. My past is not a straight line experienced in one single place but a multitude of wonderful experiences and memories from all over the world. I never collected memorabilia in things on my travels but I immortalized every experience with my precious Leica camera.

I made a budget of $1,000 when I moved in to turn the shack into the perfect beach house and began to acquire used furniture and kitchen essentials right away. As I made friends around the neighborhood and my story became known I was also gifted – these days called freecycling – used outdoor furniture, kitchen tools, and plenty of plants. But I also brought in beach finds, like washed up diving fins, broken off surfboard fins, drift wood, and lots of different kind of shells and pebbles.

One weekend when visiting the City of Angels I ran into a Swedish guy in Studio City who was moving to Australia with his partner and he offered me his old desk and a spanking new printer for free. I was up there to pick up a daybed for the living room that I had found on Craigslist for a steal and strapped everything tightly to my surf rack on my little Mini and then drove back home through a city I once used to live in.

Six months into living here I expanded the budget to $1,500 so I could install a flatscreen in the bedroom with a built-in Apple TV, make an outdoor shower to wash off sand and salt in the sun (a magical experience), and create a green backyard jungle with banana and avocado trees and lots of fender grass. I also created a small herb garden that is now growing like crazy.

The shack is an A-frame with high ceilings but in the back there is a big attached shed with a flat roof which is now my new all-day sun terrace thanks to a wooden ladder that I found on the side of the road. I only have a refurbished teak lounge chair up there for now but plan to add raised soft garden beds made out of recycled fabric to create my own all-year around makeshift veg garden.

The only thing missing are solar panels and a system to store and use grey water and my carbon footprint and waste would be reduced to an absolute bare minimum. I bring in very little into the shack that I need to throw away or recycle. It’s mostly organics that can be composted or paper and plastic wrappings from grocery shopping that can be recycled. I rarely buy anything online anymore and don’t receive any unsolicited mail. And I’m emptying my under the sink trash cans every two weeks.

I’m finally living the dream I had when I was first tinkering with the Internet so many years ago. I now own everything I need and have access to the whole world via a fat broadband pipe and a high-speed cell plan. I only use the Internet for the most essentials (see last Wednesday’s Digital Cleanup edition) and I control my own time that I’m filling with the meaningful and fun stuff in life.

I’ve patiently and very inexpensively with a minimal impact on nature created a very powerful physical, digital, and intellectual platform that empowers me to mindful living in harmony with people, planet, and technology on my own terms. There is nothing Bill Gates can do from his 66,000-square-foot mansion that I cannot do from my small surfshack, probably no bigger than one of his many bathrooms.

Just think about that statement for a second. Technology has become so incredible powerful and democratized that we can now live on the same terms with and at the same quality of life as the people that once ruled our lives and destinies just a quarter of a century ago. And I would even argue that we can live on better terms if we appreciate what it means to control our own time, privacy, and solitude.

Being physically, mentally, and financially healthy and happy beats being rich and famous every single day in my book. Real wealth is living life on our own terms, controlling our own time and destiny, knowing that the best is yet to come. Real wealth is to appreciate how lucky we are living today and not hundred years ago. Real wealth is to sleep well at night and at dawn jump out of bed to face and enjoy yet another glorious day. And it all begins right now.

For the next Wednesday edition I plan to share the story of how I’ve designed the financial formula for living life on my own terms and controlling my own time. You can subscribe below if you’re interested. I appreciate your support.

Warm greetings,

Per Håkansson

Encinitas, California