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The Drifter Journals

Glen Casey | Exaltations

On paper, Glen Casey could be misconstrued as your average surf industry suit.

At the age of 20, after a particularly impressive wildcard performance at a Bells Beach event, he joined Rip Curl, first in retail, then taking to the road as a brand wholesaler. 20 years running his own surf distribution agency flowed into a role as founder and general manager of Patagonia Australia, before opening his own retail store in Byron Bay in 2015.

All fairly business-minded and career-motivated. Yet under the surface lies the antithesis of the corporate drone, a soul that yearns to wander and a mind that has crafted a life that allows him to do just that.

Drifter talks to Glen Casey about higher purpose, giving back and an exalted Saturn:

When did you first find your love for the outdoors?

Glen Casey:
I was brought up in the city, so a fairly densely-populated western suburb of Melbourne. I guess I first found that feeling when I started skateboarding, in a minor sense, but when one of my mates got his driver’s license, we began exploring down the coast.

I’d touched on surfing earlier in my life, though not much. I was a competitive swimmer, so I always felt fairly safe in the ocean, but once we got down there and we were hitting the Great Ocean Road, sleeping in the back of the car, camping out and finding perfect waves with no one around, that instilled a sense of freedom.

I was talking to an astrologer a while back and asked: “why have I got this restless soul? Why am I always craving to get out there?”

He told me, “it’s because of your Saturn. You have this exalted Saturn and you’ll never be comfortable where you are.” So it might be something deeply embedded in my destiny or in my make up.

Photo: Johanna Beach, VIC, 2008 - Wayne Lynch single fin - Steve Ryan

For me, when I have an adventure, it definitely pulls back the notion that I am a free spirit and that I’m here for a short time. It reminds me not to get too focussed on the things that are temporary, that aren’t going to last. You can’t take your million bucks into your six-foot box. Just get over all that stuff and keep building memories that are reinstating why we are here, which is to enjoy the planet, have fun doing it and, in the long run, reroute back into looking after it, and helping people and brands that look after it.

Essentially, the restlessness comes from deep in my soul.

Did you find that being outdoors, whether in the surf or simply in nature, gave you that sense of a greater purpose to life?

Yes, absolutely. You know, the Indians talk about prana, the Chinese talk about chi and we talk about the life-force, but as soon as you hit the ocean, you seem to get another 20,30, even 40 percent of an energetic blast. So in that space, your mind seems to get really chilled and in a very happy place.

And so that sets up a little safe cave, where you go for a surf and when you come out of the water you’re in this really nice place - what I would call a soul connection - where you’re out of your head, you’re out of your thoughts.

Surfing did that for me very early on. I have a great connection with the ocean. One of my great gods is Varuna, lord of the rain and the ocean so, going back to astrology, I get these huge amounts of prana, of energy, by dipping into the ocean.

Not everyone feels that same effect, but I think it’s similar. Some people may get about 20 percent, I seem to get about 40; I starve, I die if I don’t get a hit in the ocean within at least 36 or 48 hours. I’m shriveling up, I’m drying out, I’m feeling really crazy, my head’s doing me in, I’m starting to feel depressed, anxious…

Winki Pop, VIC, where Glen learned to surf at the age of 14. He is attributed with riding some of the biggest waves ever to be surfed here.

So the ocean is very important to me to set up those adventure wheels and the reasons to be in places, to experience country, so I can find that safe place, that soul connection where I belong.

Has that sense of connection, or primarily the ocean itself, ever helped you through challenging circumstances?

Totally. The greatest love of my life was a girl called Tutti Frankenberg. She came to work in the Rip Curl shop where I was working in 1981. I completely fell in love with her, but she ran off with some other dude within a couple of weeks of me hanging out with her! I was only 20 years of age, but it broke me in pieces in a way that I still haven’t ever recovered from. 

Photo: Rip Curl Days...

But I was getting up before light and going for a surf no matter what; howling onshore, shitty conditions. That was at the earliest beginning of what I would call ‘recovering from a great loss’. The ocean filled me, it got me through a month of wanting to kill this guy for ripping my girl out of my arms [laughs]. I diagnosed this sort of medicinal, oceanic therapy that saved me.

Since then, in every part of my life, whenever I have had some sort of relationship drama, often I will head to the ocean and continue that therapy where I sit out there and turn my head off.

The head is still the great mystery; it’s either full of shit or guiding you in some sort of special way. Most of the time it's like a busy market with people trying to sell you stuff all the time. I find that, if I don’t get in the ocean and calm the mind, I’m not getting the true, intuitive information I need.

The ocean has definitely been like a workshop for me, a place I can go to sit down, let go and sharpen the axe of life.

You mentioned Rip Curl. Was that your first ocean-oriented job and did you pursue it specifically for that connection?

I first took an apprenticeship as a toolmaker in the Western suburbs of Melbourne. I was living in Torquay to surf and be near the ocean, but was driving back and forth to this job.

One year I made it through the Quiksilver trials into the main event at Bells, surfed against Shane Horan in the main event and got 17th place.

I got the job at Rip Curl after getting this little bit of semi-fame around Torquay which led into a year and a half in retail and almost nine years wholesale on the road as a salesman.

That freedom behind the wheel probably set up a bit of the thirst for on-road adventure that I have now. I’m not scared to jump in the car and drive from Byron to Cactus or chase the swell back to Bells - I just get in the car and go. Maybe the sales repping days instilled that.

Photo: On the road - Jeff Johnson

Were you searching for a more meaningful role prior to starting work with Patagonia?

I went from Rip Curl to running my own distribution agency, with two showrooms and offices and about five brands. I did that for about 20 years, but I could see the surf industry drying up - there was all this greedy activity. Just like in Phil Jarratt’s book, Salts & Suits, I could really feel when the suits started to come in and build systems, and basically create this huge divide between human activity and a deep respect for your retailer. That relationship dwindled.

Outside of seeing that crumbling, I’d bought land in the rainforests of the Otway Ranges and was fighting a logging coup that was going on and joined a little environmental team down there. I’d always had this activist mentality. I always wanted to butt the system; I hated school teachers that were really arrogant, I hated anything that was coming from the top down - I just wanted to take them on, I’ve always had that fighter in me. I always wanted to protect nature, to look after it.

Photo: Glen's Otway Rainforest sanctuary, built in 1990 when Glen fought and overturned a 5,000-hectare clearfell logging coup.

Patagonia came into the picture via a few people, but in the end it was through Wayne Lynch [a close friend of Casey’s from the Rip Curl days in Torquay]. Patagonia were approaching Wayne to become an ambassador for Australia as they were looking to make a move over here. I wanted to get out of the industry, because I could just see it crumbling, and ended up talking to the Chouinards [Patagonia founder, Yvon, and his wife Malinda] and their general manager and put a team together.

When I flew over to California for our first meeting, sat in on a few of their initiatives, went round and saw a few of their retail stores and all their products, and really began to understand the brand, I thought ‘this is it. This is the brand that is a soul brand.’ It had a completely different management style, everyone was so quiet and considerate and genuine. I fell in love with the Chouinards, the whole family, and that relationship just grew.

Photo: early days of Patagonia Australia with (r-l) Fletcher Chouinard, Yvon Chouinard, Keith Malloy and Belinda Baggs

It was like someone had just given me an energy pill. I just couldn’t believe that I had this brand and this was the work I was going to do, and for several years I was so happy.

Did it give you a sense of liberation and purpose?

When I first saw the brand, I thought I could initiate it into surf, as well as it already being established in the outdoor market, but I knew that the environmental essence, the soul, the heartbeat of the brand was what was going to change the psyche of Australia; not just surfers, but whoever it touched, including how it touched me and changed me.

Australia was really dumbed down in that department. There were a lot of unconscious people who were just hanging to be lifted up and to understand that we’re in nature so much that we should start protecting it, to the point where people like Heath Joske and Sean Doherty were instrumental in stopping oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight. That’s about 12 years after we started.

The first $2,000 we gave away as a company, was to a little creek out the back of the Otways. Yvon Chouinard gave this guy $2,000 to buy a printer and paper, so he could fight the damming of the Barwon River, and he managed to stop it.

All those little things are just meaningful ways to live your life, you know. You want to go out the back door, you want to leave the planet feeling as if you’ve done something for the children, and not left all this crap behind for them.

Photo: Surf check with Yvon Chouinard (L), Dave Parmenter (R) and Wayne Lynch in the car

That’s been my whole mission, both pre- and post-Patagonia. I’m still in that environmental space. I’m not too far left, not too far right - I sit somewhere in the middle where I have a conscious agreement with myself to continue to stand up and fight for tomorrow. I’m not fighting for a brand anymore - Patagonia is off doing its thing, there are a hundred other great brands doing their thing… I’m standing up as Glen Casey saying, “this doesn’t work for me”, and through social media and through films and marketing and other ways to have a voice - that’s my whole mission now.

Has Willow (Glen’s almost-9-year-old daughter) given a more tangible purpose to your activism?

Absolutely. I’ve recently done some work for a philanthropic family called the Prior Foundation in Melbourne. They’ve given away, like, $25 million to environmental causes. David Prior has done a lot for the reef and he essentially gives money towards Greening Australia regenerative practices. We did a film called (Re)Generation for them and I took Willow with me on the whole trip.

The film was based around going to the reef and seeing its decline, and then we came down and did some surfing, but then saw all the fires and did a segment on that, and looking at regeneration and the CO2 effects. It was only a seven-minute film, but he said, “go for it - here’s the money”. Then he put a charity together, and then he gave $300 grand to Greening Australia to continue its work.

(RE)GENERATION Patagonia Aus x Greening Australia from Monique Upton on Vimeo.

So there’s all these little people out there doing amazing work. It really opened my eyes and made me feel really good post-Patagonia. You think you’re going to be with a brand and die with a brand and it means everything to you, but really, it’s where you go as an individual after you’ve been educated by a brand and what you can do and where you can make a difference in the world.

It’s almost as if you’re continuing Patagonia’s work, despite leaving them.

I told someone recently that I feel like one of Yvon Chouinard’s soldiers! If you just focus on all the things that don’t work with a brand or a career, you’ll just die there. You’ll sink into that mud and suffocate in that place. But if I take six of the best things that Patagonia gave me and work with those, they are the fruit - they are the fruit of my action. You’ll always do good things, just as you’ll always do bad things. I know I did some things that weren’t so great, but the offshoot of that for me is that I am now using all the best things that I was given. It’s really powerful for me now, knowing that I ground my teeth in one of the best companies in the world, but I’m also very happy to be free of that and to be independent and autonomous in the world, and I’m definitely on that projection into that space.

Photo: The journey never ends. Prepping for another adventure with Dan Malloy

I’m kind of in the ‘spinning wheels’ motion at the moment, making a few films and so on, but I do feel that there are big things to come after that great period of working with that great company.

The immersion in nature can be somewhat of a selfish practice, or rather self-indulgent. With you, it seems very much balanced with the environmental aspect. Do you see them as one and the same?

Our passions work through different gates of perception. Some people are much more power-orientated, some want as much joy and experience in their lives as possible. I think I have that Peter Pan, never-ending aspiration of ‘what’s the next surf trip or the next snowboard trip’ or whatever. I think you have to be careful that you don’t miss the shadow side of joy. The shadow side is that you ignore and you miss some of the people or your responsibilities as a human on this planet along the way. So the blind spots and the cataracts for some people who are on this adventure-joy mission can be horrific. They can have really dried up, lifeless families, that are sitting around hoping that dad walks through the door. You just have to be aware in anything, whether you’re a power-hungry businessman out there making huge amounts of money or whatever. There’s going to be a dark side to it, there’s going to be a shadow side that you’re not seeing because you’re so passionately intent on driving your whole life this way.

Photo: A collection of Drifters (l-r) Glen, George Greenough, Dan Malloy and Dave Rastovich - Jeff Johnson

I’m definitely a drifter, but I’m also 58. So I’ve got through this energetic, relentless kind of drive and will to have joy in my every day, but I can also just sit very deeply with my responsibility and my intent to survive in a really wholesome way - in balance. Not to be too blinded by passions.

There’s a burn factor. If you’re burning so bright in seeking joy and seeking adventure, there’s always some sort of burnout; someone’s getting scorched over here or your body’s getting scorched, and you’ve always got to be careful of this other side.

That’s where I have found in about my 50s that I had to settle back down. So I do a lot of yoga and I do a lot of stabilising stuff where I’m not moving, where I’m grounded and I just sit at home and read, and just do stuff that isn’t feeding, as I said earlier, that exalted Saturn aspect of me. I’m not always running and looking for that next adventure - I’m stable, I’;m actually working against the flow at setting and resetting things that are locking me in and I’m not moving.

I’m just finding peace in the boredom, in the very benign way of life, because that’s life too. Life can be very dumbed down.

OUTDATED CHIDREN from Little House Productions on Vimeo.

It’s almost as if you’re paying back your debt.

Yeah, absolutely. Another great concept from Yvon Chouinard is the Earth tax. We’re out there enjoying the whole thing, but we’ve got to give back our one percent.

What do you see as the road onwards?

For me, it’s a much deeper step into soul work. Outside of everything, it’s about having self-love, but also having love for all the things that I’m doing, so that connection with Willow, and the environment and with surfing. Truth changes and my love for surfing has changed. I used to wake up at 4 am, run out the door and try to find an early surf. I don’t do that now. I can, and I’ll choose my battles, but my whole thing is to find the divinity much more in my life and have a much deeper connection with nature. I do a lot of work within myself, a dance with Mother Divine, moving into this voice and oneness with the absolute - whoever or whatever that is - that’s where my zen is at the moment.

I’m slowly walking into a deeper relationship with myself and the great love that’s out there.

Photo: Campfire chills with Heath Joske (r) and Dan Malloy, softening the abalone from the afternoon's dive - Jeff Johnson

Is that in a sense of feeding self-compassion to empower your ongoing actions?

Yeah, because in the end, once you start getting up into your late 50s or whatever, your energy changes, so you’re not dealing with this overly energetic space where you can be a grommet and run around - you’re becoming refined by something else. Everything has to be motioned in a way that you’re not going to waste your time and energy. So a lot of your choices become about the preciousness of time and not spending time wasting time!

I stopped drinking, I live a pretty simple, yogic life and try to help the right people in my life and try to work for people who want to do the right thing by Mother Nature and all her little creatures.

I’ve always had this incredible big picture thing, and that’s why in my early days I was searching so hard for the big reasons why we’re here in this earth suit and why we run around being dickheads for a long, long time until finally, something drops. So for me, it dropped a couple of years ago and I realised I needed to prepare for leaving the world. You’ve got to set up some good behaviour and some good work so that, maybe, people will think that you weren’t a bad bloke while you were here.

Photo: Glen and daughter, Willow, in Glen's former Patagonia Byron Bay store.

Photo: Johanna Beach, VIC, 2008 - Wayne Lynch single fin - Steve Ryan

Photo: Desert camping alongside Heath Joske's old yellow bus.

Photo: Glen Casey, New Zealand - Jeff Johnson

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