with Cyrus Sutton
Interview & Words: Elisa Routa
“Beneath the fear lies the pure-hearted stoke of doing what matters.“
Surfer and filmmaker Cyrus Sutton is not a full-time farmer, he makes films and, most of the time, travels the world for work. We called him up in April during the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak, and found him home around the Columbia River Gorge near Portland, growing his own food and consuming from his land. However, he was not so alone since he was surrounded by fruit trees, an herb garden, five chickens and two goats named Beavis and Butthead.
Best known for his films and his nomadic lifestyle, Cyrus has been living sustainably for the last ten years. Today, he sees the Coronavirus Crisis as a symptom of a deeper problem in our society and a great wake-up call. “What we can do is live a life that doesn’t require a lot of money—one that is far from the country’s depressed consumerism. Despite the suffering, we cannot ignore that this is a calling to align our lives with the shit we really care about.” He says. “Deep down we all know we don’t need much to be happy. That tickle of excitement or curiosity is our tap root to a richer world. Beneath the fear lies the pure-hearted stoke of doing what matters.”
Straight from his remote paradise located in Skamania County in Washington State, Cyrus shares with us some personal thoughts about social distancing as well as some advice for “affordable, simple, fun pleasures for everything, from cooking to small-scale gardening and building skateboard ramps.”
What does your experience of social distancing and the local environment look like?
I’m on the Columbia River Gorge, near Portland. It’s the massive river that comes down the west coast. It’s away from the coast but it’s a nice place. It’s carved by ten-thousand-year-old glacier lakes that versed in Montana, it’s rolled to the sea. It’s a pretty remote area. I usually travel so much for work but I live out here a lot. This is a very hard time but I’m also very grateful that I get to be in a routine. I wake up, feed the chickens, I look at the cows, the goats, I look at the garden, come back inside, do emails, do some editing, go back outside, take the goats for a walk up the hill, come back down and eat some food, have a phone call, talk to my mum, talk to my friends, then do something in the yard. We have four acres here so I pick up berries and take branches for a few hours, then come back, do some more work and meet with my assistant. Then, I eat dinner, work on the computer, put the goats in, put the chickens in, water the goats, then do more work until midnight. I wake around 8 am and do it again. There’s so much to do here. It’s springtime, there are constantly animals around, it’s a lot more work than people think. I’m running around all day, either working on the computer or constantly fixing something. There’s a lot going on and it keeps me pretty sane during this time.
“This is the least bored I’ve been in a long time. I’m actually pretty psyched on this time.“
Are you currently turning this constraint of social distancing into an opportunity?
I think this is the least bored I’ve been in a long time because I’m finally able to do the stuff I want to do. I’m usually working for clients all the time but these days I have my own personal projects that I’m passionate about and that I’m usually always pulled away from, so it all gains the momentum. I’m using the opportunity to work on old footage and it’s awesome. I’m also restarting my blog Korduroy, shooting around the house, doing little “How To’s” on more rural stuff. I’m on a million projects.
I know there’s a lot of fear and a lot of illness and that’s scary. It was tough coming up here in the beginning because my mum has had a history of asthma and she broke her leg a couple of weeks before the quarantine. I was in the hospital with her. Then I had to do a shoot right before we started quarantine so we decided with my mum that I should come back up here because she had good support but it was a tough thing and I was very concerned at the beginning. As the weeks rolled on, I was pretty stoked. I’m actually pretty psyched on this time.
“I was an only child and grew up learning how to be self-entertaining. Social distancing is kind of a guilty pleasure that I have.“
You’re used to a van life. Does the van lifestyle have anything in common with how we’re currently living? And in which ways will spending time alone change our life?
Social distancing is kind of a guilty pleasure that I have. I guess some surfers are very social and party hard but surfers in general, we all know that. I see social distancing as pretty normal. Now everybody is doing that so it feels more imposed on me but it’s something I’m working on in general.
« Does spending time alone change our life ? » Yes, or it can make you a weirdo! To be honest, it depends. Being alone helps you to not take yourself too seriously. For me, it helps me to be creative and it helps me to figure out what life I want to live. I’m also easily persuadable. That’s my nature but I found I was not really happy fitting in. Some people are like « I know who I am, I know what I want » but I’ve always struggled with that.
When I was a kid, my mum was a teacher and she would teach until late so I was alone a lot. I was a lonely child, I didn’t have brothers and sisters so, after school, I got used to skateboarding around the streets alone. There were some kids but there weren’t many in my area. I grew up learning how to be self-entertaining. So what’s more uncomfortable for me is being around people all the time. I didn’t have many hours in that situation as I have just being alone. But it doesn’t mean that’s the best thing for me. It exaggerates some aspects. I have a very hard time keeping a normal sleep schedule alone. For example, I’ll just go to bed later until the sun rises.
“When I was younger, my ego and my identity was wrapped up in my surfing. Today, the coast is closed but I’m totally used to it.“
The coast is currently closed. Do you miss surfing?
When I was younger, my ego and my identity was wrapped up in my surfing. It was like I always needed to surf to feel good, it was a subconscious thing. Then I moved up here. I’m paddle boarding on this big river, I’m hiking, growing food, working on land. Yeah I’ll surf, I’ll go out to the coast and take some waves but I’m not beating myself up anymore because I’m not surfing. I don’t compare myself to other surfers. I never really did but when I was younger, I tried to be a good surfer. When I was sponsored by Reef and these other companies, I felt the pressure that if I got to keep it legit I got to surf good cause all these kids were ripping. Today, the coast is closed but I’m totally used to it. I care but I just surf because it’s my thing, water feels good, you get to move around, it’s like a dance. Today, I like to dance but I don’t need to do it everyday. Going out to the river and gardening are different kinds of dance.
“This is exactly the life I want to live. I feel what I know is how to have simple pleasures.“
Would you say you found your rhythm in life?
This is exactly the life I want to live. Honestly, I don’t want or need much to be happy. I don’t really want anything other than to just be in nature, healthy and relaxed, which doesn’t seem to happen with capitalism these days in America. I just try to work with that system and wonder: How can I do the best shit possible that I think is gonna be good for myself? What are the ways for people to make their life better and funner? That’s how I’ve been raised. I feel what I know is how to have simple pleasures. I try to share how to do that and make it affordable through films and on Korduroy.
Korduroy is affordable, simple, fun pleasures for everything from cooking to packing things, to making stuff, to small-scale gardening, to starting worm composting bins, to surfing, to natural building, to building skateboard ramps. I meet a lot of amazing people who are really good at doing a lot of these things, interview them on the phone and then create articles. It’s a way for me to learn because I’m not an expert. I grew up in San Diego, in Consumerville where you just buy everything. It makes you have to work super hard and make a lot of money to live.
Despite the suffering, we cannot ignore that this is a calling to align our lives with the shit we really care about. What sumptuous weeks to stew in what we’ve created while frantically hustling shit we don’t need so we can buy more status symbols to shove down the creeping suspicion that we are worthless. We are not worthless, just worth-less. Deep down we all know we don’t need much to be happy. That tickle of excitement or curiosity is our tap root to a richer world. Life is too short to “should” our way through it. Beneath the fear lies the pure-hearted stoke of doing what matters.
“I’m optimistic in people, in their power, in them disengaging in things that don’t serve them.“
How do you envision the future and do you see any positive outcome to the current situation?
I’m optimistic in people, in their power, in them disengaging in things that don’t serve them, but I’m not at all optimistic with the future of politics, how corporations run our government. I think it’s all pretty sad but what we can do is live a life that doesn’t require a lot of money—far from the country’s depressed consumerism.
Do you see your life as a form of activism?
I don’t really like the word « activism » because to me, it means you’re protesting against things you don’t want, opposed to doing things you do want. What I’m trying to do is the opposite of activism honestly. I’m not against anything and I don’t want to waste my energy on being against things. There’s not enough energy in my life to take all the problems. I did it for a bit, trying to understand both sides, and I do care about the issues. I’ve learned about more so that I would share about them in an authentic way, but other than that, I’m not watching the news everyday, talking shit about the politicians, and having too much of an opinion. It’s like the Kardashians, it’s a game show, it takes your energy away. I don’t like drama, I just like to do fun shit. I have to take care of my own life. There isn’t anything else I can do.