Do you love what you’re doing? If not, you might want to follow Charlotte van Berkum’s example and choose to live your dream instead. Enjoy the Algarve meets the surfer girl on Praia da Cordoama and talks about the spirituality of surfing, the energy of mandalas and having the confidence that life will flow like it should.
See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine July 2017
Her house is a van; her garden, the beach which has the best waves. She spends her days surfing and her evenings drawing mandalas. Charlotte van Berkum (19) is literally living her dream. “A few weeks ago I came across at a picture I downloaded and printed off the internet some years earlier. It featured a surfer and artist who was living in a van somewhere on the coast. It was my dreamlife and I wrote on the print that one day, I’d live just like that. Now, it’s my actual life, for which I’m very grateful.”
With the Atlantic Ocean on both sides, Charlotte can’t imagine living anywhere else than in the southwest Algarve. “We went to Madeira last winter, planning to stay there for at least three months. After one month, we came back. Here, you have everything you need: waves, weather, and nice people. Life is so easy here; which is why so many people live in a van.”
Charlotte (who’s half Dutch, half Belgian, but has lived in Portugal since the age of 6 and thus feels more Portuguese) and her boyfriend, photographer Gabriel Rosa (31) from Brazil, bought their white van about 1.5 years ago. Slowly, they made it into their home. It’s a small house, but the couple has everything they need. Comfy and cosy, it has a wooden floor, a sink, cooking equipment, and closet space. On the walls, dreamcatchers hang next to Charlotte’s mandala drawings and Gabriel’s surf pictures. No less than eight surf boards take up the room underneath the fixed bed.
Starting by taking some lessons as a kid, now Charlotte is completely into surfing. “We’re always on the beach, waiting for the waves. Without waves, we’d be lost.” She’s in a pretty good location then, currently based on a piece of land in Vila do Bispo, which is surrounded by beaches with great swell, including Praia da Cordoama, one of her favourite spots. She explains: “It’s a sandbank, so it always changes. In the southwest Algarve we’re spoiled for choice with surf beaches anywhere between Lagos and Aljezur. It happens maybe two times a year that there aren’t any waves at all. The end of summer is the best time; when the water is still warm and the waves are getting bigger.”
She used to take part in surfing competitions, but they aren’t really her thing. “Too much pressure and expectations.” Instead, she spends entire days on the beach and in the water, living a hippy surfer lifestyle and basically enjoying her life as much as she can. It was an easy decision to make: “All my friends were going to study, but I didn’t want to get into that life yet.” With a big smile she adds: “I chose the good life. I realise how lucky I am to be able to choose this lifestyle where I can do what I love and I’m at the beach the entire day. It’s amazing to be in the water whenever you want and have the freedom to do whatever you want.”
How to pay for this awesome lifestyle? The odd model job. With an amazing body, long blond hair, blue eyes, and a smile that makes you want to smile in return, it isn’t hard to see why the 19-years-old works great on camera. Although, she admits, “It can be hard faking passion or enthusiasm for shoots that I don’t like.” Also, the couple sells Gabriel’s photographs and Charlotte’s mandalas on Algervian markets. “It actually goes very flowy; when I need work, it comes.” An architect spotting a picture of her self-decorated surfboard, led to Charlotte being asked to paint a huge mandala in a room of the Martinhal resort in Sagres. Afterwards the Sonel hotel in Lagos followed; each of their nine rooms now features a 1.5 by 1.5m mandala on the wall.
“Drawing is very calming. I mostly do it after a long day at the beach. It’s when I sit chilling in the van, looking at the waves, that the inspiration comes. You can’t force it.” Charlotte’s mandalas are all hand-drawn. Using a compass to mark the points, she starts from the middle and works her way out. “I just start drawing, don’t even think when I do it, but somehow the picture is in my mind.”
Whereas most people in her situation would worry about where to find their next job, how to pay for their future mortgage or what degree would offer the best career chances, there seems to be nothing of that with Charlotte. Instead, she radiates a calm confidence. “You have to believe in life and it’ll happen. It’s just how it flows. Believe that you’re good enough to live the life you want and then it’ll come to you.” This self-fulfilling prophecy almost seems too good to be true. “Of course I worry sometimes, that’s a part of life,” she admits. “But if I’d have wanted to have a fixed income, I should have taken an office job. There’s this saying in Portugal: ‘Quem não arrisca, não petisca’ (Translation: ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’).”
Same goes for her surfing. “Of course I’m sometimes afraid when surfing. Last week in Zavial, at the end of an amazing session there came a big set. When I then got these waves, I realised ‘when this one gets on top of me, it could go badly’. If you see a perfect wave that’s 2m high, you know there’s a risk. You can sit there and let it pass. Or you can just go for it. I recommend the latter: riding a wave is amazing, it’s just you and the sea.” Being close to the ocean is of utmost importance in her life “It’s so energetic and powerful, it revitalises and recharges me. I need to be close to the ocean every day, feel the salty water on my body.”
“You have to believe in life and it’ll happen. It’s just how it flows. Believe that you’re good enough to live the life you want and then it’ll come to you.”
Also her mandalas are connected to the ocean and its tranquillity. “It has been proved that you get energy from looking at mandalas. I can’t explain it exactly, but I can stare at them for hours and feel the energy coming off them.” Drawing a big one takes Charlotte 5 to 6 hours. “After working out the outside points by compass, I just start directly by drawing the paint on the wall. With the first one I was a bit afraid to mess it up, but when you just let go, it all flows. It’s completely the same with surfing, which is very spiritual as well. If you’re thinking about problems when you’re in the water, you won’t be able to get any waves. It isn’t until you let go of your worries, that all works out.”
During our conversation, the surfer girl has been checking the waves with one eye, pointing out good ones and explaining how the swell changes with the tide. When we’re finished, a surf school arrives at Praia da Cordoama and heads for the water. “They always come here around this time. That’s why in high season we mostly go very early or late at night, when there’s hardly anyone in the ocean. It’s quite quiet today actually. What day is it again? Monday? No, wait, Tuesday?” For Charlotte and Gabriel, who quickly change into their wetsuits and grab their boards, it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, as they have nowhere to go apart from where they want to be. So, any last one-sentence advice on how to live your dream life? “Trust in your destination; in what life is for you and just go for it.” And with these words, Charlotte runs into the sea, ready to catch her first wave of the day. Like the ocean, she flows.
See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine July 2017