We sat down with surfer and business owner, Anna Ehrgott, to talk about her nomadic life, surf escapades and what it’s like to own and operate her own business, Sagebrush Boardbags, while living a rich life on the road.
In a few sentences, can you tell us about the forces that shaped you as a young resident of Topanga? How did you get into surfing, nature and adventure?
I’m a firm believer that we’re a product of our environment. My hometown, Topanga, is a winding canyon with cabins and homes scattered among hills, oak groves and heaps of wildlife. You wouldn’t guess it’s only 45 minutes from Los Angeles. There isn’t much nightlife here, nothing’s really open past 4pm. That scares a lot of people off, but it’s what I’ve grown to love. The calmness, the stillness and the lack of commotion. I had one neighbor growing up, and really lucked out that she ended up being my closest friend over the past 20+ years. Her dad taught us both to surf as little kids. We’d tandem ride his 10’ longboards, mostly just bobbing around in the ocean, laughing the summer days away and occasionally paddling for a wave or two that would wrap around the cobblestone point break where Topanga Canyon Blvd runs out to sea. Somewhere along the line I got hooked and throughout my teen years, surfing was all I could think about.
As far as loving nature and adventure goes, it runs in my blood. Before my dad went by the name “Dad” he had driven the Pan American Highway in his Land Cruiser and had spent months on remote islands near Bali where he was often the first white person to stay. He was a rock climber, lived in his VW van for a couple years and brought his Pentax film camera on every dirt bagging affair. He later handed down that camera to me. My parents still travel regularly, and although they’re not surfers, there’s a common understanding of needing to see the world and admire its natural beauty.
Surfing has become a focal point in your lifestyle. How do you balance surfing with running your own business?
Luckily the beach is on my route to downtown LA so I can usually sneak a few waves before or after working. I do try to keep the two separate. It sucks to surf when I’m stressed out, and it’s no fun melting in the fabric warehouses of downtown when I know the surf is going off. I’d like to say I play hard and work hard, but inevitably, they’re both my “business” and where I gather pleasure. There are days when I force myself not to check the surf, and there are days when I force myself not to check my email. But somehow the two usually find a way to merge.
Can you share three points of advice that you might offer someone interested in starting their own business?
One: Think it through. Is this something people need and would want to support? Two: If you’re gonna go through with it, believe in it 110%. Three: Make lists! Write everything down from daily to-do lists to long terms goals and accomplishments. This helps the generally vague, nonlinear, and excessively expansive tasks involved with starting a business appear somewhat manageable. Everything is done the same way as a marathon; part preparation and part just putting one foot in front of the other.
Why is running an eco friendly business important to you? How does Sagebrush use repurposed and recycled materials to make your bags?
Everything that I am and that I have is thanks to the natural world. I am in awe, indebted and in love with the planet. I strive to treat the environment with respect through every decision I make. The coffee sacks are what coffee beans are imported in. Roasters often discard them, but I they are reusable for many things- like board bags! The fabric I use is either dead stock or vintage. There are several stockpiled warehouses in Downtown Los Angeles that sell the remnant fabrics from larger brands. This keeps more fabric from being made. There is so much waste and pollution involved with fabric production, yet there is a surplus of unflawed materials already out there! Why not take advantage of convenient conservation? It is so easy for small brands to adopt similar practices and use what already exists.
You spend a lot of time on the road, but manage to own a thriving business. What’s the secret?
At my core I’m an escapist. I’ve never been good at working the same job, staying interested in classes or sitting still. I haven’t slept in the same place for over a week in years. Sometimes I try to break those habits, but I recognize that every weakness I posses has an contrary strength of equal importance. I’ve had to learn through experiences what I can and can’t do. Starting a business was a last resort in a way. I could no longer handle working a 9-5, so I needed to believe fully that this would support me financially. I’ve put everything into it because I don’t have a backup plan. I found something I love, I want to do this for the rest of my life. I want to continue to design products that I see function in, and see them through production ensuring the sustainability of every element while still having the ability to step away from it all to travel and surf. I’ve found something that I can tinker with while abroad (customer correspondence and sketching new ideas) then come home and get into “grind mode” to replenish my inventory, update site, restock stores, develop new products, and get ready to take off again.
You’re basically a pro at living off the grid: can you share 5 tips for a healthy and happy life?
First would be having a vehicle you’re able to sleep in! Truck beds, vans and wagons can be perfectly comfortable with a few adjustments. Second: Simplify everything. The less you bring with you, the better. This goes for gear, clothing, company, plans, cooking, etc. Third: Say yes to things you normally wouldn’t. I think I’m on the road so much in the first place in order to collect experiences I wouldn’t otherwise get during my daily routines at home. I try to learn from locals whenever the opportunity arises. Fourth: Eat well. As tempting as it is to live off granola bars and processed drinks, fresh and wholesome food is what fuels our bodies and allows us to be healthy, mentally and physically . Fifth: Do something active everyday. I try to either surf, hike, climb or practice yoga every day.
What are 5 things you never leave home without
My trusty minolta film camera, dive fins, generally one surfboard or another lives in my car, my phone, and whenever possible, my dog, Gemma.
Any parting wisdom?
Being productive isn’t defined solely by doing a million things at once behind a desk. taking some quiet time or getting out in nature is just as important. Give the grind some space. `