24 year-old Lewis Smith’s father is a criminal lawyer at his self-owned law firm. His mother, a general practitioner, and his older sister a double major in engineering and law. Lewis recently completed his degree in civil engineering and is currently chasing after his second degree in environmental engineering.
But for the Smith’s, “success” doesn’t require scrubs and a stethoscope, or polished shoes and a briefcase. It comes from something much simpler.
Lewis’ stumbled upon “success” at 18-years-old on an ordinary lazy Sunday afternoon after a morning of surfing in his hometown Wombarra, New South Wales. Lewis laid on his couch and flipped the television to “Before 30”, a show highlighting the things people ought to do before they turn 30. Most often, Lewis mindlessly watched the show, but that day, his eyes were glued to the episode’s topic: Become a surf instructor in France.
“I saw it and a immediately thought that sounds like it would be really fun and something I want to do one day.”
That night, Lewis researched surf camps near his hometown and came across Essential Surf and Skate, a surf instructing company. He recalled seeing the Surf and Skate van perched up at beaches he surfed at. He dialed the company’s contact number. The owner, a friendly man named Pete, answered and Lewis inquired about the necessary steps to become a certified surf instructor.
The phone conversation gave birth to a mentorship. Pete took Lewis under his wing, guiding him through the process of acquiring his life guard credit, completing an online Academy of Surf Instructors course, and completing 25 instructing practice hours.
By 20, Lewis’ desire to travel resurfaced. He returned to Google and searched “surf camps France. ” He drafted an email expressing his interest in becoming an instructor and blasted it to over 50 programs. He heard back from a few, and chose to reach out to France’s Star Surf Camp.
His email spurred a series of exchanges involving background checks, criminal records, and surfing photos. Lewis passed the test; the camp wanted him.
Lewis knew very little about the camp, but a few days after his final exams he boarded the plane.
For the next six months, Lewis lived in a beachside tent nestled in the forest.
On a typical day, he woke up, chowed down breakfast, crafted himself a sandwich for lunch, then ventured to the beach to teach a group of campers how to surf. He spent eight hours in the water, from 10:00am-6:00pm. Once the day’s activities were through, he returned to the tent for dinner, and engaged in a evening activity with the campers.
Each week, Lewis hugged the 40 campers goodbye, and welcomed in another set.
Lewis lived this beach bum lifestyle for the next six months. After his employment with Star Surf Camp ended, Lewis saved up enough money to travel. He met up with a friend to travel throughout Europe, from Amsterdam, to Prague, Portugal, the Canary lines and ended in London to catch a flight back home.
Two days after touching down in Wombarra, Lewis was back immersed in civil engineering courses. Months passed, and something felt off in his life.
He asked himself a simple question, “When am I happiest?”
His mind instantly shot back to the France surf camp.
“It was so cool. I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, living the life I want to live, and getting paid for it. All of the staff was family even though they were from all over the world.”
Lewis couldn’t ignore his gut feeling.
He decided to postpone his studies next semester, and flew back to Star Surf Camp .
From there, he went on another traveling escapade to Portugal, Norway, the Canary Islands, and on to Sweden to study engineering for a semester.
Lewis saw these solo traveling experiences equally as valuable, if not more so, than his school courses.
“I think it was way better by myself. I didn’t know what to expect, but that made it was way more of a challenge. When you put yourself out there, you learn a lot. I loved it.”
Now, after three years of exploring the world, Lewis is back in Wombarra for more than just a quick trip home. He’s pursuing his second major in environmental engineering, teaching surfing, and enjoying family time.
He sees himself making a career out of his double major and is especially interested in ocean engineering, which involves harnessing the energy waves to use a renewable energy source.
But he’s not ready to settle down just yet.
“I think we have this idea that we have to rush into things. Like jobs. There’s a time and place for everything. I want to experience things while I am young. I wanted to enjoy my life do what makes me happy.”
The Smith family have high standards for success. Yet their definition of success doesn’t mean becoming an engineer, a lawyer or a doctor.
“My parents are really supportive. They want me to do what makes me happy.”
For Lewis, that means a surf trip to Central and South America in the future. After this big trip, he thinks he will be well-traveled and ready to make Wombarra his permanent home and pursue an engineering job.
“If I’m not ready to be a grown-up by then, I never will be.”
Name: Lewis Smith
Hometown: Wombarra, New South Wales, Australia
Occupation: surf instructor/student
Years at profession: 4 years
What was your first thought when you woke up this morning?
There’s construction going on by my apartment, so I thought “damn these guys are still making noise. But then I knew I was going to go surfing so I thought “get out of bed and go shred.”
What is your morning routine?
If it’s a surf day. I’m pretty manic. I want to find out what the surf is doing and if it’s going to be good. Surfing is really temperamental and there’s a really small window. So I’ll head out quickly with a banana and a sandwich in my hand.
On days I’m not surfing, I’m the slowest person ever. I’ll spend an hour making scrambled eggs and doing nothing. I have an addiction to music so I’ll put on some music-anything from gangster rap to Al Green-and make breakfast.
What did you love most about where you grew up?
The beach culture, community, and the quality of waves.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
My granddad told me “if you do what you love, then you’ll do it well, and then you’ll succeed.”
Who is your definition of successful?
For me, it’s not about money. It’s people who chase their dreams. People who make a career out of what they want to be doing and inspire others to do similar things-especially healthy things like sports or things a bit off the beaten track.
Why do you do what you do?
I think your mind is really powerful. It’s important to keep yourself happy and not do what society expects of you. At the end of the day you only have to answer for yourself and ask have I done stuff today that I am happy about?
Is this where you thought you’d end up?
When you grow up around here, everyone is really territorial and proud of their own place. I never thought I’d leave Wombarra for Wollongong. But other than that, I’m glad about how life has turned out. I owe a big part to my parents. They always made sure I studied. That’s given me so many opportunities which I’m really grateful for. I feel like i am in a really good place, but also have lots of other options which is really nice. I still have time to have some fun while I’m figuring things out. One of the best things is to travel to learn and it’s made me realize how lucky I am to grow up in a place like this.
How are you different than the average?
I’m taller than the average [he laughs]. I’m not really in a rush for everything. I have goals, but I can be patient and work towards them step by step. Sometimes good things you have to wait for.
How do you spend your free time?
I am a big fan of being by myself when I have free time. One of the reasons I like surfing so much is that it gives you time to think. I also like reading books, going for a bike ride, and looking at nature.
What’s been your biggest setback?
When I try and pick up chicks [he laughs again]. Just kidding, don’t put that. I’ve had a lot of setbacks with injuries. I’ve perforated my ear drum 4 times, had a shoulder ankle, and knee injury, broken my finger and elbow, thrown out my back, and had some reef cuts. I hate them because I feel like I can’t do what I love doing, but I think failing is a really good learning experience.
What is your most rewarding accomplishment?
Most people get satisfaction from working, but that’s not me. For me, it’s been from traveling and doing it by myself. I like having a challenge and throwing myself in the deep end a bit.
I also think having good relationships in your life is a really positive thing. It’s good to be open and nice to the people you care about. I’ve held onto the good ones and believe that’s a big accomplishment.
What do you wish you knew as a kid?
Nothing. It’s a whole learning process. Maybe one thing would be to recognize that hobbies and sports and passions can be really influential in your life. Apart from that, every mistake is vital to help you learn in your own time.
What’s your dream meal?
I like eating healthy food with a lot of nutritional value. I’d say a poached egg with smoked and avo on toast. I like something hearty and healthy where you feel really full in a good way. And then a coffee.
Who are three people you’d ask to dine with you?
David Attenborough because I reckon he would know some stuff about everything. He would be old and wise. Then, I’d have my grandparents because they are funny, wise, have life lessons, and they are happy which is cool. And lastly that girl from The Rum Diaries [Amber Heard] because she is a babe.
If you could trade lives with one person for an entire day who would it be?
I’d like to be a dog for a day or a dolphin. Dogs have heaps of energy and are always happy. They run around when they want to run around and sleep when they want to sleep. And dolphins are cool.
If you could only keep five possessions what would they be?
Definitely my surf board. My wetsuit, passport, laptop, and boardies so I don’t have to be in my wetsuit all day.
What skill would you like to learn and why?
I’d like to be able to speak three languages fluently and be able to play three instruments. Speaking would be cool to be part of the culture more and learn to express yourself in different ways. And instruments would be cool.
What is your favorite mobile app?
I try not to use my phone that much, but I like Wind Guru which tells you the surf report and Google Maps because I always get lost.