It was 2008, a cold January in California and the Topa Topa Mountains behind Ventura were snow-capped. The mustard yellow head office of Patagonia sat amongst some old warehouses on Santa Clara Street, and there was a stream of people outside in mountain jackets, heads down in their laptops, sitting under pergolas with solar panels for roof cover. Even back then, the carpark was full of electric cars and outside the building was a long line of pushbikes. As I walked past, they all remained in a Zen-like state with their work. It was a bit like entering a Buddhist temple.
This was my big moment, my first meeting with Yvon Chouinard. I was greeted at reception by a guy known only as “Chipper Bro” who walked me up to Yvon’s office. I met his PA, Mike who was well into his seventies. Yvon was on his way. I learned that Yvon didn’t have a mobile, or email and the only contact for him was Mike. I turned around and there was Yvon. He sidestepped a formal intro and relaxed the moment with a joke. I’d shaved my head the week before and Yvon quipped, “Mike, I thought we were meeting the Aussie guy… this bloke looks like a US Navy Seal.” We shook hands and talked.
A few days went by and Yvon walked over to me one morning in the company café. He whispered, “Hey, you wanna come for a surf?” I jumped at the chance. Outside, his old Subaru pulled up. “We’re going up to Hollister.” I’d read about the incredible uncrowded waves up there and here I was, Yvon’s wingman for the day.
We pulled up at the surf; a chunky six-foot righthander called Razors. It looked a bit like my home break of Winkipop, but with only two guys out. Yvon told me it’s like time has stopped in the ‘70s around there. We quickly whipped the wetsuits on and walked to the jump rock. Yvon goes, “Be careful here. This place will work you over.” I just made it off the rocks between sets and looked back around. No Yvon. I sat up and eventually spotted him; he was getting pinballed through these big rocks. I panicked, before I saw that he’d picked his 70-year-old body off the reef and walked back up to the jump rock for another go.
He was smiling like a kid as he paddled over. I noticed blood on the bridge of his nose and spilling down his cheeks. “I think you’ve cut yourself,” I said. He looked at me dismissively. “It’s all good. It's just a scratch.” We paddled out to the take-off where we were met by Yvon’s son, Fletcher and his best mate, Jason. Fletch quickly paddled over to his dad, concerned. “Hey, your face is cut bad. You’re gunna need stitches.” Yvon told him not to worry about it. “The waves are pumping. Let’s surf.” Yvon had climbed and surfed and adventured all around the world. He wasn’t going to get stitches. He swung and took a wave, and we surfed for the next couple of hours.
We hit it to Yvon’s Ranch house after the surf for a bite of lunch and a patch-up job on his nose. We turned off the road toward a humble, old grey farmhouse. Nearly everything in the house was made from recycled materials. The beams and windows were all repurposed. The grey, rock walls were actually concrete footpaths that had been broken up in a big Californian earthquake in the ‘80s. Yvon got it trucked to The Ranch and a stonemason friend built the house from it. Yvon wandered off for a beach walk and returned with a bucket full of seaweed. He then headed out the back and pulled a lettuce from the veggie garden to make us his favourite salad. Yvon spoiled me that day, and on the way home I invited him to come to Australia sometime and I’d try and repay the hospitality.