Stephie Buergler surfing in Indonesia. Photo by Deni Firman.

Walking on Water

Once upon a time, actually in 2009, I celebrated my graduation with giving myself a very special present: 3 weeks in a surf camp in Bali. Ever since, my life totally changed. My newly lit passion got me into traveling the world, meeting wonderful minds and collecting invaluable memories…

It’s really weird and at the same time mind-blowing, how surfing overwhelmed me and created my addiction to the ocean. I’ve always loved the sea, especially after spending a summer in Cyprus when I was 7 years old. (My dad was a UN soldier back in the day.) My mum said that she had a hard time spotting me in the Mediterranean – next to watching my then 3-year-old sister – because I spent whole days literally underwater. Diving around, doing handstands (which always looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa) and chasing fish. I lost this passion for saltwater over the years. There were more important things to do for an Austrian girl, like going to university, studying and volunteering.

When I finally graduated from university after a very hard time in my personal life, I went to Bali for three weeks. I only wanted to know what surfing is like, although I cannot remember why I thought of such a trip in the first place. There were no surfing friends around. I didn’t see a surf movie nor had I seen anything else that inspired me. But somehow, I felt a very deep need to try it.

Oh, I’ve been so nervous; traveling alone for the very first time. At the airport in Frankfurt, I asked myself, what the heck I’m doing? In Hong Kong everything wasn’t so bad anymore and in Denpasar, everything was so new and different and interesting that I didn’t even have the time to worry anymore.

I had to wear a white helmet in the first week in surf school which was awfully embarrassing. We looked like Calimero – you know, the little chicken with half of his egg shell still on the head – and not much like surfers. But the first seconds standing on this big boat they call a soft board left me stoked. I tasted blood and wanted more…

The three weeks in the surf camp were really expensive but definitely worth it. The local coaches were awesome and with surf guiding every day and video coaching once a week, I improved really quickly. When I caught my first green wave, my life totally changed. I came back home to Austria and already planned my next trip. I started working – for a music magazine and afterwards for a radio station – but the times in Austria have always just been a more or less just necessary evil in between my surf trips.

Stephie in Indonesia. Photo by Deni Firman.
Stephie in Indonesia. Photo by Deni Firman.

I have explored Sri Lanka, the “real” Indonesia, Fuerte Ventura, Portugal and then I hit Morocco… I fell in love with a local surfer, I quit my job and I had lived there for two years. It had been a beautiful, cruel, awesome, intense, fantastic and confusing time of my life – I wouldn’t want to change a thing. Unfortunately, the love between human beings sometimes doesn’t last as long as the love for the ocean, so I found myself back in Austria again, landlocked and depressed.

It wasn’t just love that went away, also my biggest client declared bankruptcy (I had been self-employed, texting for several sportsmen, marketing agencies, surf camps and sports companies). In total frustration and confusion, I tried to find new clients to keep my business alive, but failed. The only way out was to leave freelance work behind and go into nine-to-five again, which in Austria is more like nine-to-seven and sometimes nine-to-nine. Still I’ve been lucky, finding a seasonal job in a marketing agency, working 8 months a year in winter and still being able to travel 4 months a year in summer. The salary is low, but I don’t need much on the road. Just my board, board shorts, a rash guard, palm trees and a beach hut. And who knows, maybe everything will change again after this summer. For the first time in my life I will surf the waves of Central America, starting in June with “Las Flores” in El Salvador, inshallah.

I’d be honored to keep in touch and share my yet to be told travel stories with you. I don’t know why this all happened and I don’t know where it will lead me, but I’m willing to believe in the “swell direction” of it and try to surf every wave that’s coming in – whether it’s glassy or choppy.

Your #austriansurfergirl ???? ???? ????

About the writer
Stephie Buergler grew up in the Austrian Alps but that didn’t stop her from chasing a dream as a surfer girl. You can follow her adventures on Instagram. Check out photographer Deni Firman on Facebook and Instagram.

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