We live in a society of dreamers—a world full of nine-to-fivers with our heads in the clouds, visualizing greener pastures, far away from the confines of a cubicle. Most of us stay here, though, never moving past this phase of fantasy or taking action to fulfill these desires for freedom and adventure.
Jazmine Dean is not one of these people.
A competitive surfer and all around waterwoman, Dean has dedicated herself to the pursuit of surf and travel, far from the comforts of conventional living. She began competing shortly after first learning to surf in middle school, in events including the U.S. Open, NSSA Nationals, Mexilog Fest and the Puerto Rico Corona Pro.
A synergy of style, grace and power makes Dean’s surfing compelling to watch, as she displays an understanding and read of the ocean well beyond her years. With a style best described as “aggressively graceful,” the 21-year-old is adept at nonchalantly cross stepping across and locking into casual perches on the nose of her logs, and laying into forceful backside hacks when on a shortboard. Whatever board she may be riding, Dean’s approach makes for a show of elegant, relaxed control both of herself and the ocean’s energy.
After years of unreliable income from sponsors, the St. Augustine native has taken a new approach to fulfilling her dreams of living a surf-y lifestyle: Van life. Dean hit the contest scene, using her winnings from the Puerto Rico Corona Pro and the Salty Sweet Women’s Pro/Am to purchase the motorhome of her dreams with her brother, Tyler.
“Everyone just laughed at us and thought that we were nuts,” Dean says. “I think it’s a great thing. You don’t have to invest in rent. I can bring my home to the best beachfront properties anywhere in the world.”
First stop for Dean and her brother Tyler in their newly renovated van? Mexico.
“We had reached our climax in life,” Dean says. “We worked so hard to reach this goal of being good people and living simply.”
This dream life was cut short by a flash flood that took Dean’s van and the majority of the duo’s possessions along with it. The two were making their way along the Mexican coastline, as the country was entering its rainy season. After driving all day in heavy rainfall from a recent storm, Dean and her brother decided to find an area to sleep for the night, right outside of Barra de Nexpa, Mexico. The country’s mountainous terrain makes for perilous conditions when combined with heavy rainfall, as the water is funneled down to the coastline. It this combination of poor conditions that caused the flood that ruined the motorhome’s engine, leaving Dean and her brother stranded with no means of communication. After traveling to nearby towns to gather parts, Tyler was able to get the van running.
“So we get going and the electrical catches on fire. At first it was contained to the engine, so we started to pour buckets of water on it, but just couldn’t put it out,” Dean says of what happened next. “There was a Marine base about two minutes up the road so we jumped in a truck to go and get fire extinguishers. When we made it back, it had already blown up.”
The fire claimed whatever prized possessions Dean had salvaged from the flood, including laptops, camera gear, clothes, and surfboards.
“We didn’t even have clothes. I didn’t have a shirt, Tyler didn’t have a shirt, we just had shoes,” Dean says. “I couldn’t have thought of something that tragic and it was right after we had finally made it.”
Dean and her brother returned home to St. Augustine by way of bus to regroup. Following the tragedy, Dean began focusing on rebuilding, as she continues to strive to build a life for herself centered around surfing. It is this determination and tenacity that has made Dean a force to be reckoned with, in both women’s shortboarding and longboarding events.
“When I grew up women’s longboarding wasn’t a thing. Growing up as a surfer in middle school, I got ragged on so much and got made fun of,” Dean says. “I was not popular in high school because surfing was not cool for women.”
In 2013 and 2014, Dean placed in the NSSA Nationals, long before women’s longboard divisions were available. Following her success, women’s longboard divisions were introduced into the event. Dean cites female talents including Stephanie Gilmore, Leah Dawson and Malia Manuel for inspiration in her surfing, but credits her success to the deep passion she holds for the ocean.
“I think that a lot of girls that surf aren’t one with the ocean. They don’t know how to read waves,” Dean said. “They’re not natural water people and I think that’s where my advantage comes in because I always have been a water person, I always will be.”
Growing up in a male-dominated surfing community has provided Dean with both confidence and pioneering spirit. Undeterred by her past trials and tribulations with van life, Dean recently purchased a vehicle, which she plans to send to Puerto Rico to live for the winter season.
“You don’t have to be rich to travel,” Dean said. “You just have to find a lot of motivation and optimism. It’s all about the people you meet, staying optimistic and just really going for it.”
This article originally appeared in Void Magazine’s November 2018 issue under the title “A Nomadic Soul: Multifarious surfer Jazmine Dean experiences the peaks and valleys of living the Van life.