We like our bubbles because we know what to expect: familiarity, safety, ease. Your local wave will break here. Your dinner won’t be too spicy. Your girlfriend will text you before bed. Sleep well <3 XOXO. So comfortable, our bubbles. But they’re also fragile. Walk to the edge and all you need to pop them is something new. Surf a novel wave. Taste an exotic dish. Embrace the urge to sneak out of your window, drive across town and tell her “goodnight” in person — Xs and Os in the flesh. Because every single time you do this, every time you feel the tingle of fear in your belly and do it anyway, your bubble bursts, and is forced to rebuild.
Only this time...it’s bigger.
The bubbles of Carissa Moore, 23-year-old three-time world champion, and Jake Marshall, 17-year-old blossoming talent, are naturally big. Their “professional surfer” title means ink-soaked passports (so foreign), riding waves of consequence (so scary) and being a public figure (so vulnerable). The more they travel and surf and expose themselves to the masses, the larger their bubbles grow until even Indonesia and Pipeline are familiar. The scary slowly becomes comfortable. Most people stop there. But Carissa and Jake are not most people, so they slap stagnation in the face, pop their bubbles and fly to Haiti. They land in a different world.
Haiti’s got that edge you feel when you watch two people talking and the conversation heats up and holy shit they might actually fight, but turns out they were just making plans for
this weekend. It’s got that grit. That heart. All the spirits of Africa are here on this island, one man tells us, and you feel it
in the streets. Taste it with every Creole spice. Hear it in every hand-slap drum beat. It’s got that darkness that comes with centuries of hardship, and the hope that comes in knowing your people led a successful slavery uprising, beat Napoleon, survived earthquakes, hurricanes and corrupt governments, and here you are — 2016, baby — rocking a smile that’d be the envy of every Crest White-stripping model on Santa Monica Boulevard. So byenvini, Carissa Moore and Jake Marshall, to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. May we take your bags?
Let us take your bags. Give us the f--king bags. Thank you. Please enjoy your time in Cap Haitien.
Carissa and Jake’s bubbles evaporate into the dust of the street. It’s scary out here. Loud. Busy. Confusing. What language are they speaking? English? French? Creole? No, gracias doesn’t seem to be working. They briefly consider a retreat into their old bubbles. But it’s too late. Those bubbles are gone and they’re here, exposed, and their new bubble won’t be finished for another 10 days.
In January 2010, Waves For Water (W4W) was two months old and Jon Rose’s humanitarian resume consisted of distributing all of 10 water filters in Indonesia. Then a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti and Jon’s phone rang. It was Sean Penn. “Can you do in Haiti what you did in Indonesia?” Sean asked. And while Jon’s disaster relief bubble was the size of a marble at this point, Jon is smart. Jon is able. Jon ninja-kicked the edge of his bubble, said, “Yes
I can,” and three days later he was on a plane to Haiti for two weeks. He stayed for two years. “All the work we do today,” Jon says, “is based on what I learned from my time in Haiti.”
A major teacher in Jon’s crash course in humanitarianism was Fritz Pierre-Louis, a savvy businessman who would have to walk many days to find the edge of his bubble. During Jon’s first days in Haiti, Fritz swaggered into Jon’s staging area like I need all your rice and all your filters. Jon had his guard up —this was a stranger in a desperate time. But Fritz quickly proved himself, sending pictures and updates of what he’d done with the few filters he’d been given. He soon became Jon’s fixer, then his friend, and eventually the W4W country director in Haiti. It was a lesson in trusting a large stranger.
Exactly six years after meeting, Jon and Fritz sit at a restaurant a few doors down from the Cap Haitien airport, sipping flat Prestige beers and awaiting Carissa and Jake’s arrival. They plan to spend three days with the surfers, educating them on W4W and leading a few initiatives, then return to Port- au-Prince, leaving Carissa and Jake with the resources to do the work themselves. But all that water filter stuff will have to wait.
A swell is filling in, the winds are light and, as Jon tells Fritz, “We can’t just take these guys away from good waves.”
One of the perks of popping your bubble and visiting offbeat destinations is if you find surf, you will be all alone. Carissa,
Jake and Jon are all alone. It’s glassy. Head-high. Everyone is relaxed knowing a truckload of travelers won’t show up to throw a stick in the spokes of serenity. And “serene” is the word. Just over the hill from the bustle of Cap Haitien, the lush mountains race toward white sand beaches and reef outcroppings in a visual that says, Don’t let the African vibes fool ya — this is the Caribbean.
“SHE JUST WON HER THIRD WORLD TITLE AND COULD HAVE GONE ANYWHERE. YET HERE SHE IS, STRETCHING HER COMFORT ZONE
IN PURSUIT OF SOMETHING GOOD.”
Carissa is not in a heat, but she’s winning. Her session is filled with powerful, on-rail surfing punctuated with the odd blowtail. She lands almost everything, finishes almost every wave. Jake has a much grommier approach, scrapping into every ankle- high wave that crumbles off the exposed reef. He races down the line as they grow into headhigh walls and lays into coil- sprung cutbacks or launches Kolohe-esque air-reverses. Carissa asks Jake for advice on doing “real” airs. “You have to focus on launching toward the beach, rather than up,” he explains. As for Jon, he’s just happy to be in the water. With the overwhelming success of Waves For Water in recent years, surfing hasn’t been his top priority. But he still rips, easily maneuvering a borrowed board into smooth cutbacks and even letting his fins feel the warm Haitian air. The three friends surf till their skin prunes, then it’s back to the hotel to refuel.
The Waves For Water mantra is, “Do what you love and help along the way.” Carissa, Jake and Jon love surfing. They did it this morning. Now it’s time to help along the way. After a square meal and some guidance from Jon and Fritz, everyone piles into a van and drives two hours to the mountain town of Dondon. There, beside a muddy dirt road, 20 families sit in the shade of a sheet metal structure.
Jon delivers a presentation he’s done a thousand times. Fritz translates and adds a little flair. But Jake and Carissa? They just sort of stand there. Sure, they help distribute buckets and pantomime assembly where they can, but in reality, they’re window dressing.
“It’s hard with trips like this,” Jon later explains, “Because no matter how into the program the surfers are, if I’m there, it comes back to me doing everything and it’s a less valuable experience for them.”
It’s hard to truly grow your bubble when you’ve got bumpers on the bowling lane, but knowing that Jon and Fritz were only staying for a few days, Carissa and Jake take diligent mental notes. They ask questions. Smart, we’re actually going to do this alone questions. Where do we get the buckets? How do we drill the holes in the buckets? What if they say their water is clean? What if they ask why we don’t have more filters? How do we find a translator? What if we mess up the presentation?
This is music to Jon’s ears. It shows that they’re aware
and it shows they give a shit. And offering this guidance, this leadership, is how Jon is trying to grow his personal bubble.
“I’ve found that sometimes you think you’re leading but you’re really just driving the car,” he says. “I want to get better at giving people the keys and putting them behind the wheel. Only then will they get fulfillment that I’ve gotten from this work.”
And with that, he hands the keys (and 10 filters) to Carissa and Jake, and flies away to Port-au-Prince.
Another perk of popping your bubble and visiting offbeat destinations is that once you are there, you are interesting. You are somebody that’s rejected the status quo and any foreigner you meet has done the same. There is no boring answer to what brings you to Haiti? Stephan, heir apparent to the Cormier Plage Resort, likes our surfing answer very much. Most of
his clientele are aid workers and UN, so he saw our visit as a positive indicator for Haitian tourism. And to demonstrate the full extent of Haiti’s potential, he invites us for a Saturday of leisure on a private island, just a short boat ride away. While our expectations are a bumpy panga ride and a mosquito-filled chunk of sand, we accept the invitation. Because the longer you stay outside your bubble, the easier it is to say yes.
“It’s like Haiti’s Tavarua,” Carissa says as we disembark onto the white sand and make our way to the lounge chairs beneath palm trees. The afternoon that follows is like something from an Entourage vacation montage. Free-flowing drinks from
a pop-up bar. Bottoms up, there’s no tab. A buffet of fresh caught crab and lobster. The secret is boiling them in saltwater. Snorkeling among swaying fans of colorful coral and massive rays. Relax, these ones don’t sting.
Attractive young expats lying out, enjoying their weekend away from the Cap Haitien hustle. So, what brings you to Haiti?
“Is this real life?” Jake asks, mouthful of lobster tail. It feels like we’ve been rewarded, for braving the gates of Ominous Haiti (earthquakes, crime, fear) we now find Paradise Haiti (beaches, waves, fun). And it is real life because life is f--king weird, and the payoff for popping your bubble and exploring the outer reaches of this world can be of Powerball proportions, experientially speaking.
The forecast said today was going to be the best day of our whole trip but the forecast is a big fat liar. There’s too much swell. Storm surf washing through our rippable right and making a session all but impossible. But...“We could do the filters today,” Carissa suggests in a characteristic look at the bright side. (Oh. Speaking of which. If anyone ever wondered if Carissa’s on-camera sweetness was an act, I’m happy to report it’s not. And while her perspective is usually delivered through some sort of rainbow filter, she is quite capable of talking about real shit, or laughing at an off-color joke.) That she’s on this
trip at all further solidifies her character. She just won her third world title and could have gone anywhere, with anyone. Yet here she is, bursting her bubble and stretching her comfort zone in pursuit of something good. She’ll tell me, in reference to her surfing, that, “[her] biggest fear is becoming complacent.”
Fear not, Champ. We’re doing filters today.
Back at the Cormier restaurant to strategize, Jake’s got a bucket and a filter and stands in front of our team practicing
his presentation delivery. There are no awkward stutters or insecure, sarcastic quips. Ironically, he handles it like a man. Because while Jake, 17, retains so many teenage qualities — social media-fueled giggles, second helpings of ice cream, laughing at the number 69 — in more important ways he’s intelligent and mature beyond his years. He is not the center
of the universe. He does not know it all. As he sits down to let Carissa take a pass at the presentation, he says, “It’s like getting ready for a presentation at school.”
Our target neighborhood is on the road to Cap Haitien, a group of decaying concrete houses with metal roofs. We’d made contact with this community a few days ago, when we met
a woman walking home with a bucket of water on her head.
We stopped her, gave her a filter, showed her how it worked.
A few people gathered around to watch and that’s how we
met Alembi, who offered to be our liaison into the community when we returned with more kits. So today, on our first mission without Jon and Fritz, we go to Alembi’s house.
He answers the door wearing a shirt that says Party. No Sleep. Repeat. and before we know it he’s set up a table in the dirt, gathered 10 families and voilà — it’s show time.
Now, it’s one thing to present to five friends in the bubble of our hotel, and an entirely different experience to be in front of 30 strangers staring blankly back at you like, Whatcha selling, white boy? But if Jake’s nervous, it doesn’t show. He launches into a presentation that’s almost identical to Jon’s. Who we are, why the cameras are here, we’re not selling anything, etc. Jake makes their dirty water dirtier with some dirt, filters it through the system and takes a sip. Mmmmm. Then Carissa takes the stage and demonstrates proper filter cleaning to a crowd that’s quickly turning from skeptics to believers.
Having seen many of these presentations before, I’m tempted a few times to chime in Don’t forget to tell them...but I bite
my tongue, letting Carissa and Jake take the wheel, and
they eventually address every single point I wanted them to mention. I have no place to be proud, but I am. This is no longer a magazine trip, or choreographed dog-and-pony show with pro surfers in the background as decoration. This is two privileged kids giving back to a place they’re visiting for surf and play. I take a picture and send it to Jake’s mom.
Back at the hotel, feeling high on fear-facing and do-gooding, we reflect on our morning trip to the neighborhood.
“Everything felt a little unorganized,” Carissa says. “But we spoke from our hearts and eventually got our point across. And everyone got their filters, which is all that matters in the end.”
I ask Jake if he was nervous.
“It took the pressure off knowing that we couldn’t really mess up,” Jake says. “Jon really emphasized that just by giving them the filter, you’re improving their chances at a successful life. Obviously some places are going to need it more than others, but no matter who you end up giving it to, it’ll make a difference.”
“I was scared at first,” she says. “But it was also really empowering to take ownership of this part of the project and do it ourselves. One of the things that Jon said to us before he left was, ‘Everyone is uncomfortable and awkward at times, but beautiful things happen when you step outside your comfort zone. So take that chance. Be uncomfortable. Push yourself.’”
The afternoon winds down. Some of the crew goes to take a nap. Carissa disappears to work out. Jake calls his dad. I pretend to read, but eavesdrop on his conversation.
“...Yeah, the waves have been fun...we went to this private island...no, the swell is too big today. We went and did the
water stuff...it was rad, we gave away 10 filters and did the presentation...yeah, super fun...hey, is there a water problem
in El Salvador?...I bet Francis would know of some good neighborhoods to do this...we could go when it’s small and I could do the demonstration...it’d be so easy...”
Later in the trip, I’ll hear Carissa talk to her cousin about doing a clean-water project when the CT goes to Rio. Will she and Jake save the world with these extracurricular activities? No. But they might save a life, and they’ll definitely improve a few. Not to mention the personal perks. “Selfishly, it feels good to be here and make a small difference,” Carissa tells me. “I’m so thankful for this experience. My life has been changed forever.”
Ten days ago Carissa and Jake’s bubbles burst and they wandered around Haiti feeling vulnerable. But they made new friends. They surfed good waves. They went from oblivious
to educated, surfers to helpers, nervous to comfortable, handshakes to hugs. Their spirits grew and so did their realities. What was once foreign is now familiar. But now it’s time to go home. CAP-MIA. MIA-LAX. LAX-HNL. With three dreadlocked drummers playing their exit song, Carissa and Jake stroll on the hot tarmac toward the plane, encased in new experiences. New truths. New bubbles — big and comfortable and fragile — ready to be popped.