Sakae Patrick grew up admiring California from the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Though he was born in San Francisco, he moved to Japan at age 3 and wasn’t sure he’d ever make it back. “It’s where I was born, so I feel special about it,” he remarks while driving his van turned residence through Malibu via the Pacific Coast Highway.
About five years ago, surfing and board shaping brought Sakae to Southern California, so it was a surprise when he confessed to spending most of his childhood afraid of the ocean. “When I was little, I almost drowned in the ocean,” he explains. “A wave crept over me. I couldn’t get out. After that, I never liked swimming. Not even shower.”
But aquaphobia didn’t shelter Sakae from the lure of West Coast culture. “I grew up skating and snowboarding,” he recalls. In high school he got a job at a board shop and started getting bullied because he couldn’t swim, so naturally he took up surfing. “At first I hated it. Hated it,” he admits. “It was scary. But little bit by little, I just feel good after getting in the ocean. Just spending time in the ocean, at the beach makes you appreciate it and realize we are part of nature. Surfing changed my whole life. It’s really hard to explain. Sometimes people ask, ‘Why you spend so much time surfing?’ Maybe I can be more, but while surfing I’m happy. It’s freedom.”
After discovering his passion for surfing and graduating high school, Sakae left his home in Nagano, Japan, and lived on the beach while saving up money to chase waves all around the world. He spent the next few years traveling to Hawaii, Australia, Indonesia, back to Japan, Mexico, and eventually California, coming full circle.
“Music fashion, surfing, skating, snowboarding, beautiful beaches, beautiful waves, weather. A lot of things here,” he says playfully with his signature smile. “Always sunny. Everybody’s doing something. Really positive energy. Nice people. It’s like everything is here. Everything you want: nature, culture, lot of different people.”
Today he is relatively settled in Malibu, where (when he isn’t surfing) he works in a surf shop, shapes his own boards, and volunteers with the Mighty Under Dogs, a non-profit that provides surf and ocean therapy to children struggling cognitively, physically, and socially. “I always want to help kids,” he says. When Timmy Hazelip, a local surf legend and founder of the organization invited Sakae to help out and teach these kids to surf, he knew he had to do it. “I feel like we give to [the kids], but actually they give us way more. Everybody should try to teach kids, feel the energy. You’d be like, ‘Whoa! This feels good.’”
Mellower than a Bob Marley song and sunnier than the beaches of SoCal, Sakae seems to have mastered happiness. “Some people see me and say, ‘Oh he’s living in a van! No good!’ Or some people say, ‘Yeah! Living the dream. Go!’ Everybody has different opinion,” he says. But those opinions don’t mean much to him. “I’m loving my life, my van life.”
When asked for his secret to happiness, he shares it as readily as he would anything else. “I think if you can be true to yourself, you’ll be happy for a long time. I feel like school, earth, planet, life, living is just school for how to love. Everybody seeking for something. Everybody wanna be loved, everybody wanna be warm. Just a little love, little caring. Love, love, love. As much as we can try.”
Show Sakae some love on Instagram: @sakaepatrick
*Some quotes have been edited for clarity.