The Riverview Project: Episode 3

“This is a place that’s magical.” Kristian Gustavson and members of Below the Surface find peace and a sense of connectedness to the river in episode three of this four-part series exploring the Sacramento River.

KEEN: Why is it that you’re so passionate about water?

KRISTIAN: I’d like to thank my momma for that! She taught me how to swim right around the same time I learned to walk so the two have always been pretty much one and the same. This has made it easy for made it easy for me to combine lessons, passions and interests on land and apply it to the water and vice versa. Water is universal, it’s on a different plane, and it’s something we all need to survive. It’s also something that is never in a constant state. Bruce Lee once said, “Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

I played a lot of sports when I was younger but never really got too fired up about the next football game or track meet. I had coaches telling me all the time how much better I could be if I applied myself, but I didn’t really care. Our high school football practice field was right next to a lake that I found myself staring at more often than not. I made some good friends, met some girls, and had fun but just went through the motions. I was on the swim team and even spent a lot of time on canoes and kayaks growing up, but when I started to surf and began to get a sense that I knew what I was doing, something clicked! It was an ability to accept energy in the most raw form and ride it.

KEEN: How long have you been surfing and how did you get started with it?

KRISTIAN: I’ve been surfing regularly since I moved to San Diego in 2004. I bought a couple used boards and just went for it. I’d explore different breaks from Baja to Santa Barbara and never miss an opportunity to challenge myself. Probably the best lesson I learned was you can’t surf when it’s calm (I know about SUPs and the like, but just go with me) and that for every challenge there is a proportional opportunity. I’ve always been pretty comfortable in the water, but surfing presented a lot of new challenges. It still does, which is one of the greatest thing about surfing. No matter how good you are, there’s always a new challenge: a new place to ride, a different board to try, friends who help push your limits—it’s enduring. The ocean is also one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong; I really look up to some of the coaches and instructors I’ve had, but the water always keeps you guessing. One day you could be in a state of zen on a longboard cruising along small waves and the next you’re scratching to make it over a mountain of water only to see an even bigger wave about to detonate right in front of you!

KEEN: How are you able to maintain a balanced work and play lifestyle?

KRISTIAN: This too is enduring but it’s all about balance and it’s definitely a lifestyle. There’s nothing certain about any job and every career path has its struggles, so I decided that I might as well do something I care about. Because I’m passionate about what I do, I draw that passion from where I am and who I’m around. If I put too much time into work or play, the other suffers. I need to make sure things get done, but the moment I start lagging or hit the wall on something, I try to use that as a time to step outside and reset. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing, but I want to do it well and stay true to our core ethos of ‘being the solution.’ Nature is the most efficient and creative force, so there is much to learn! Having a solid team like we do also helps keep the tempo up and ideas flowing.

Kristian Gustavson is a KEEN Ambassador and Founder of Below the Surface, a non-profit organization dedicated to the exploration of, and education about the issues surrounding water.