Meet Anna Ehrgott: Travelling the World, Van Life, Surfing Naked and the Death of a Loved One

Matt Rode

by on

Updated 655d ago

Anna Ehrgott might just have the best job in the world. As a freesurfing ambassador and model, her responsibilities are pretty simple—travel the world, ride fun waves and have adventures. We’ve been trying to link up with Anna for a trip for the past year, but with her itinerary so full, the best we’ve been able to manage is a few near-misses.

Anna is currently down in the Galapagos with her close friend and favourite photog Sarah Lee, and between surf sessions and nature shoots found some time to catch us up on her adventures.

© 2020 - Meg Haywood Sullivan

You must have the best job in the world, Anna. What exactly is your job description, and how’d you manage to land a gig like that?
My resume must look like a schizophrenic’s. I’ve done everything from working retail and sewing for other brands to assisting photographers, manual labour at plant nurseries, raising lions in a wildlife sanctuary, sales for surf magazines—more than enough to know how good I have it now.

I do the best when I’m my own boss, call my own shots, and don’t have anybody to rely on to pick up my slack. I need a little pressure, but I hate pointless tasks. I feel like I have a pretty good system now. I’m usually gone 10 months out of the year working on projects and getting to surf unusual waves, everywhere from Russia to Iceland and India

I’m a free surfer, which means I’m not tied to the contest circuit. Instead, I travel full time and produce content for my sponsors, magazines and tourism boards. I’m usually gone 10 months out of the year working on projects and getting to surf unusual waves, everywhere from Russia to Iceland and India.

Sometimes I envy people who have the financial stability to be buying land or houses, but I know these adventures will shape me and add depth to my life for as long as I’m around, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. 

© 2020 - Jeff Johnson

You travel more than just about anyone I know. Where have been some of your highlights over the past year?
I put Indonesian off for a long time, writing the island chain off as a destination for partying and surfing with hundreds of other sunburned tourists. But I ended up spending a couple months out there over the last year, and found a little bit of everything.

Islands so far off the grid that I could surf naked—alone and unnoticed—as well as flawless point breaks, like-minded travellers and the kinds of waves that push hard against your discomforts and force you to grow. Islands so far off the grid that I could surf naked—alone and unnoticed—as well as flawless point breaks

I fell in love with the Indonesian culture, food and textiles. Each time I arrived with a small backpack of just the essentials, and my surfboards—but left with bags full of fabric. It’s hard to think of travelling elsewhere, knowing how endless an expanse of empty, consistent waves exist around every corner in Indonesia.

Alaska was my other favourite trip this year. I nerd out on wildlife and nature, so anywhere where I can combine untouched wilderness with clean, fun surf, I’m a happy camper—even if my fingers never really thawed out the whole trip.

Coming to shore to rest on a snowy beach with bald eagles soaring above you is an opportunity I hope no travelling surfer overlooks. Wetsuit technology has come so far these days that our frontiers of what’s possible to surf have been expanded to the far north and far south. 

© 2020 - James Joiner

You are mostly known as a surfer, but over the past year it seems like you have started to branch out and find other interests as well. How has that come about?
For so long I went to sleep thinking about surfing and woke up frothing to get in the ocean, every single day. I’ve shaped my life around ensuring I always have the freedom to go in the water when I need to.

In the same way some people’s bodies get out of alignment, I feel I get mentally out of whack without hours of being outside in nature. Whenever the surf would go flat, I’d get restless and short-tempered, and I realised I needed to figure something else out. Whenever the surf would go flat, I’d get restless and short-tempered, and I realised I needed to figure something else out

My dad passed away last year, and in order to pay homage to him and continue to better understand him, I picked up his hobby of spending time on trails and running marathons.

Hiking helped, but getting into trail running and mountain biking really spoke to the things I love so much about surfing—making quick decisions, the feeling of moving and straining your body in different ways, and the sensation of wind from going fast, plus keeping up with the changing cycles and seasons of being in nature. What started off as something to keep me sane when waves went flat turned into hobbies that are equally as addictive. 

I competed in my first triathlon this summer, and really enjoyed the competitive aspect and energy of others, which is something I was never drawn to in surfing. It’s added diversity to my life and has become another way of connecting to the land and to other people.

I like to be at a level that I can at least enjoy most outdoor spots, so I can jump on trips with friends and have a good time while appreciating their talents and having context for the scale of difficulty.

Plus, I think everything is related, and having stronger legs has helped my surfing and overall reflexes and coordination. Everything seems to be complementary. I just want as much life experience as I can get. 

You seem to be jetsetting around the world every time I talk to you, but rumor has it you are in the midst of building up a van as well. Are you planning to be based more in North America in the near future, living the van life?
Well, I’m still trying to figure that out. I recently purchased a Mercedes Metris cargo van—in part to facilitate my needs for my business, with all the loading and unloading of fabric. But I also have every intention of building it out and spending more nights sleeping in nature.

I love travelling, so much so that it’s become insatiable. I’ve been searching my whole life up to this point for the thing that would make everything make sense, and for me that’s travelling the world to surf.

Meeting people from all walks of life, stumbling across empty waves, finding things to trust when everything is new, and taking home photos and stories to share are all experiences that speak to me. I have found what I love, but now I need to figure out how to find balance and not let this thing that I love absolutely consume and destroy every other aspect of my life.

I have a really hard time imagining my life without stepping onto planes and always planning new adventures, but I also want to see more of my backyard and spend more time with my friends and family at home.

I want to bring the parts of travelling that I love into my daily life in Southern California. I like the person I am when I’m travelling: interested in everything, intuitive, constantly learning and absorbing new information and feeling like anything is possible. I get into ruts anytime I’m stuck somewhere. And I want to treat my home the way I treat parts of the world I’ve never seen.

I have some wild plans to drive around the US and spend more time in the Pacific Northwest, but everything is up in the air for now. Mostly I needed a work vehicle, wanted to keep more gear in my car and be able to camp out when I need to. A van seems to suit my lifestyle, but might also add some new adventures to the mix. 

© 2020 - Chris Burkard

I know you are from the Malibu area, and grew up surfing First Point. That must have been pretty sketchy when the fires hit Malibu last month. Were you there at the time, or away travelling? And was your family affected at all?
I was in Baja without cell reception when the fires broke out. I was about 10 hours south of the border, so at least 1,000-miles away from home. I remember one sunset being particularly orange and hazy.

I pointed it out to my friends and wondered what could be burning in the land of green cactus and minimal brush. Four days later I got Wi-Fi at a restaurant and received the news in the form of dozens of texts asking if I was ok, if my home was still standing.

I just wanted to be home to help. I quickly accepted the idea that all my belongings could turn to ash. A fresh slate didn’t sound that bad. It would be hard on my business, I’d lose the last 10 years of film photographs, and I’d miss my surfboards, but at times like that, those things don’t matter.

You just want to support your friends, help ranches evacuate their horses, and bring donations to those who need it. And there I was on a shoot, feeling stuck and useless. The fires went on for a week, taking the homes of many close friends. Luckily the flames were eventually contained and the road to my home in Topanga Canyon was reopened the night I came home. I’d never seen so much gratitude in our community. 

© 2020 - Chris Burkard

In addition to your work as an athlete and model, you also have your own business making unique board bags from upcycled materials. Tell us a bit more about that.
For the last five years I’ve been making surfboard bags from recycled coffee bean sacks and vintage or remnant fabric, under the business name Sagebrush Board Bags. I first realised there was a gap in the market when I wanted to buy a board sock and all I could find was ugly, monotone, and made out of that stretchy towel material that falls apart and sticks to surf wax.

I kept wondering how nobody had made a functional board bag, and then it occurred to me to start making my own. The business has grown a bit since then, but holds the same values to heart. 

Those bags must come in handy when you are dragging boards all over the world! Have you been scoring this run of north swell down in the Galapagos Islands?
Yes! I bring them everywhere. For travelling I put my boards in one of my board bags, then stick that into a travel bag stuffed with towels and wetsuits, and that seems to do the job.

I arrived in the Galápagos Islands two-days ago. I heard there was surf here about five-years-ago, and more recently befriended one of Galapagos’s first female surfers when she visited California.

We stayed in touch over the years, met up in Spain, then planned this passion project when we both had some free time. Our mutual friend Sarah Lee came out as well, and together we’ve already gotten in a fun couple days of surf and watching wildlife.

The swell period is supposed to max out in a couple days, so we’ll see what we’re dealing with as that comes. But for now it’s fun and playful waves, walking distance from our hostel, with sea lions, iguanas and turtles everywhere we look. 

Wow, that sounds amazing! And where’s next for Anna Ehrgott? Do you have any trips planned for the near future? And when we are we going to link up for a trip?!
Next up is Mexico and Hawaii for February. And I’m hoping to get the van build completed in the next few months as well! Let’s plan something! Malaysia? Chile? Norway? More Indonesia? 

They all sound great! You just let us know when and where, and we’ll meet you there. In the meantime, enjoy the Galapagos!