Surf Bums & Kama'aina Rates: How to Live Cheaply in Expensive Places

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Jim had had enough.

After countless hours glued to a non-ergonomic desk chair, eyes cemented to the computer screen, he’d looked up. Out of his office window he spotted a woman trudging through the December snow on the way into a nearby yogurt shop, a lei wrapped loosely around her neck.A lei? In Minnesota? In winter? His thoughts raced.

The vivid, softly-swinging flowers hypnotized him as she reached the shop, a wide smile on her face.

Jim came to a decision.

It may have been the fact that the woman had the deepest tan he’d ever seen. It could have been the suitcase she lugged behind her. It may have been his subconscious mind’s last desperate pull for the preservation of his sanity.

Jim put his home on the market that same day.

Now, Jim knew he needed to move on a budget. He made sure he’d found the cheapest flight and scoured websites for hours to find the most economic region possible. Ostensibly, he was set. He was headed for Hawaii.

What Jim didn’t know was that despite going to great lengths to ensure smart investments, he’d end up spending 2.5 times his goal budget, because he missed out on the vital local secrets that allow others to get by on a dime.

“Kama’aina” is the Hawaiian term for a local. It applies anywhere, but has a special rooting in beach culture.

Having knowledge of your own area’s kama’aina habits is invaluable, and the longer you call someplace home, the deeper those habits grow - often out of necessity.

In a world where 70% of monthly salary is eaten up by rent, concessions are made. While outsiders might visit a scenic region, frequent expensive bars and drop $50-60/night for dinner and drinks, those well established in that same region might spend $5-10 for the same experience.

It’s not lavish. It’s nothing luxurious. Every person who makes the decision to embody this lifestyle is sacrificing…if that’s what you want to call it when you wake up to the sun rising on the water every morning.

One notable and time-honored resource is friendship; more specifically, the friend that works in hospitality. Drinks come half-price, if not triple the pour for the cost of one and free beers are passed around with ease.

This is a community: locals won’t provide loyalty and patronization to big-budget chain restaurants and the neon-lit Chili’s bar down the street. There’s a natural cycle of give and take. We want to support the mom and pop shops that need our cash most, because they are us.

It grows into a natural routine; choose the right bars on the right nights and your dollar goes 3-4 times farther than it would anywhere else. Bartenders know who the locals are, and there’s an unspoken agreement. If someone recognizes your face, you’re going to get discounts. Often you have a surf buddy or significant other who works at these establishments. There are nights you’ll barely pull $5 out of your pocket.

Often, food budget is miniscule; $100 needs to provide sustainment for a full month. This is when specials, sales and local privileges are most vital. Going out to eat is a treat, as most meals are eaten at home - top ramen, barbecue, sandwiches. A diet reminiscent of a college kid. But on those rare nights, you’ll most often find natives at the tiny taco stands that mark every corner; they also serve as landmarks when giving directions:

“Yeah. Yeah, turn left at Alberto’s, bike straight until you pass that bright red stand with the great salsa and take the funny diagonal street where Bert’s stand is on Friday nights.”

Taco shops mean survival. At $3.50 a meal, they’ve become a staple in local culture - often 2- 3 nights out of the week.

What beats two fish tacos, rice, beans and a drink for $4.50? You couldn’t make this meal at home for that price.

As a local, you explore the surrounding area. Simply by virtue of this organic experience, everyone knows the best ways to get by. (Wing night is also a godsend.)

It’s true that most people are living paycheck to paycheck. It’s a tradeoff. There are no exorbitant frills, but when you wake up on your days off, walk three blocks, turn the corner and find yourself on the beach with the sand at your feet, you don’t often question your way of life.

You won’t see many families in the community. The demographic is most often comprised of singles, college kids, surfers and people experiencing life’s later stages; they’ve had a big house someplace cheaper but have migrated back to the beach to retire. Families are expensive.

Some people don’t want their kids running amuck at the beach - they want more structure. But the Hawaiian culture is a great example of a life built upon experiencing everything nature has to offer with your family. Raising a “beach bum,” in any negative sense of the term isn’t a given. Work ethic is something instilled by parents.

The beach “bum” concept was coined years ago in the 50s and 60s; the early surf days, when the kids on the beach were the ones rebelling against The Man, against their parents and against the generation. That’s not the reality any longer. It’s most common that surfers went to school, got regular jobs, had kids, but chose to live this lifestyle because they wanted to live close to the water. They wanted to experience the beach at the drop of a hat; go put two feet solidly in the sand at a moment’s notice.

Adopting the “surf bum” mentality is more about community and nature than anything else. It’s a re-organization of priorities that may be baffling to some. But imagine walking down your street and recognizing every face. Dialing the “secret” number for the cordless in the back of your local grocery store to ask Marge whether or not they got those mangos in yet.

You may not know everyone in town, but everyone says hello. Outsiders come in without knowing how to take it down a notch; hustle and bustle is their existence.

Tourists think locals are able to identify them based on their clothes, cameras and sun hats, but it’s the behavior - the idea that everything can be facilitated and controlled by a few thin green notes. Flashing money in our establishments and shouting, “HEY!” while waving cash in the faces of workers - that’s all the identification necessary. Life here is lax, and money doesn’t reign supreme.

We don’t want to wear a suit and tie to work, or commute an hour every day. We’re on that beach time.


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Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and NoMiddleman.com, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.