Years before Jamie Brisick’s writing showed up in high-end outlets like The New Yorker, he toured the globe as a professional surfer. Maybe that’s why his pieces — from 300-page books like Becoming Westerly to biographical articles like “A Surfer’s Perspective on Malibu in Flames” — ebb and flow with a water-like fluidity that evokes the surf itself.
As the newest guest on Chris Shiflett’s Walking the Floor podcast, Brisick talks about a life logged atop the board and behind the writing desk. Along the way, the two Californians also talk about their own creative processes, turning this week’s episode not only into a discussion about chasing waves, but about chasing the muse, too. We’ve collected several highlights from the hour-long episode below, followed by the podcast’s premiere.
For Brisick, a looming deadline can be great for productivity. Simply put: the busier he gets, the more inspired he becomes.
“Producing a couple of pieces every month, drawing on memories, finding something interesting in the current events of surfing. . .just producing content has been a really fun thing, and it’s sharpened me as a writer,” says Brisick, who writes regularly for Huck Mag, The Surfer’s Journal and The Wall Street Journal. When Shiflett compares the process to a timed songwriting exercise, Brisick agrees, adding, “There’s an urgency to saying what you need to say, and not polishing. It’s probably like over-produced music — there’s a rawness, and with a gun to your head, sometimes what comes out of you is your deepest, truest voice. You don’t have time to be mannered and try to make it how you want it to be. . .It’s like your truest essence comes out.”
Brisick attributes his drive to succeed to a childhood spent in California.
“Growing up in Southern California, we’re careerists,” he says. “We define ourselves via our careers. That’s what we champion. That’s what we value. If you do it at a high level, you get the respect of your peers and you feel good about yourself.”
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That said, he’s been guilty of letting that drive consume him. . .and learned a tragic, life-changing lesson when he lost his spouse earlier this decade.
“My wife died suddenly in 2013 in a cycling accident in Rio, and it ripped me open,” he remembers. “But I also had this strange realization. The last five years of my wife’s life were me not being fully there because I was bummed because my writing career wasn’t going better, and I wasn’t getting he validation from the New York publishing world I was hoping for.” He coped with her loss by returning to his longtime passion: the water. “After my wife passed away, nothing felt good to me except for going surfing,” says Brisick, who had since found a way to combine his surfing experience with his writerly ambitions.
Brisick’s interest in higher learning was cemented by a childhood spent amongst academics, scholars and the like.
“My father was an intellectual, and he was a writer and he was a publishers’ rep, selling textbooks to all the colleges in greater Los Angeles,” he remembers, recounting family dinners whose guests included college professors and enlightened conversation.
Even so, his parents had to encourage their children’s academic ambitions.
“I remember at one point, when we got really into surfing, my dad said, ‘You know, I grew up in Jersey, and there were seasons,'” Brisick recalls. “‘Four to six months a year, you were summoned indoors, and that’s where you read. That’s where you watched movies on television, and you cultivated this inner life and this intellectual curiosity. You kids, you guys just play in the sunshine 365 days a year!’ He came to California because he loved California, but he was seeing his kids get too Californian.”