To California, with love

An orange camper van driving on a highway.

When author, member and surfing enthusiast Nina Freudenberger moved from New York to Malibu, she found herself part of an unparalleled love story… with the great California terrain

As told to Maggie Laubscher    Above image: Brad Torchi. Below: Big Sur (Thomas Ciszewski)    Saturday 8 August, 2020    Short read

A mountainous coastline with a road and a bridge winding along it.
‘The first time I truly connected to California was when I was writing my book, Surf Shack: Laid-Back Living By The Water. It happened over time, I suppose, seeing how the people that I interviewed lived. Watching them surf. Surfing is a sport, but it’s also a connection to nature. There’s a certain simplicity in it: a board and some water. Water is so beautiful, and also so powerful. The danger is right there in front of you. You have to be thoughtful in how you handle it. You want it to live and thrive, and not just be there to serve your own purpose. 

‘I have two young boys and it’s so important for them to be connected to nature. It’s the first education in how to treat everything around them. Here in Malibu, we let them roam, let them pause, let them be in the mud. They dress up as marine scientists and spend hours exploring the tide pools where we live. Sometimes during low tide, we wander to Leo Carrillo State Park beach to look for starfish and hermit crabs. Other times, we hike. 

‘The mountains are the backdrop, but the kids are much more micro-focused on our hikes. We get down low with the boys, look at the bugs, go slow, listen to what’s around us. We might hear a rustle in the bushes to our left and, of course, I think, “Oh no, I hope it’s not a snake”. With the nature here, you have to work with it. You are at the hands of the terrain.
A popular beach with hills in the background.
A coastline with red flowers on it.

'I have two young boys and it’s so important for them to be connected to nature. It’s the first education in how to treat everything around them'

Top image: Malibu (Joel Mott). Above image: Cambria (Steve Wiesner)

‘Moving from New York, I had to transition mindsets, both personally and professionally. I’m also an interior designer, and at my company, Haus Interiors, we now work a lot with natural materials made from wood and stone, rather than synthetic or something that feels hard like glass. In California everyone wants to bring the outdoors in. 

‘Each area of California has its own personality. California is so large that the differences between north, south and central are enormous. You feel like you’ve really gone somewhere, even if you’ve only driven a few hours. Cambria feels untouched, open and a bit wild, tucked between Big Sur, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara. Big Sur feels more protected with the trees above you and growing around you; it feels insular, with smaller nooks and crannies to explore. 

‘The California terrain gives us so much. It’s always there for us, waiting, and I think people are realising that, especially right now. At the beginning of the pandemic quarantine, the coolest thing happened: bioluminescence came to Malibu. For about four days, it was the most magical surprise. It usually only happens in Santa Barbara, but for some reason it came down south. It gave everyone a little hope, I think. My husband and I went to the beach to see it at night. There were a handful of other people there, spread out for social distancing. Every time a wave would crash, the water would light up like neon; it was unbelievable. I think everyone needed a little bioluminescence in their life at that point, when things were pretty dark in the world.
A cliff face with a waterfall pouring onto a beach.
Big Sur (Kendal)
‘And then there are the threats of nature, like the wildfires. The ones in California are part of life here. They’re woven into the seasons, just as spring and autumn are. They’re a constant threat, one that’s always around us. 

‘Being a New Yorker, I didn’t grow up with wildfires. I had never experienced something like them. When the Woolsey Fire came in November 2018, of course it felt very scary to me, and I certainly wasn’t ready for it. But I was also in awe. It was really devastating, burning throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties, and destroying nearly 100,000 acres of land. Malibu and other communities really pulled together, which was beautiful. I remember seeing a photo of people trying to gather horses from their stables and lead them down to the beach where it was safer. Later, the owners were walking the horses along the beach to calm them down, because you could still see and smell the smoke so heavily. 

‘It was a reminder of the power of nature. Sometimes that power is horrifying. But you know, other times it’s beautiful. I remember right after the Woolsey Fire we went to Solstice Canyon. It has flat stretches for the kids and there are a few creeks that run through it. The boys love it. The fire had not long been gone and the butterflies came. All of these butterflies around us, it felt like a million of them. They were hatching and landing everywhere – on the trail, perched in our hair, fluttering onto tree branches. I couldn’t believe how many there were, it was remarkable. It was happening right in front of us. 

‘The California terrain has always been here. It’s beautiful and always will be. Let’s notice it.’
A bay on a lush coastline.
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