Keep Paddling, Keep Pushing

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Keep Paddling, Keep Pushing

All I initially knew about Lou was that he was a man that wore many hats; an artist, yoga instructor, surfer, and was in the process of going to school to be a barber.  The biggest thing that stuck out to me from following him on social media was the vibe he exuded.  Somehow it was just the right mix of positive encouragement, creativity, and hardcore surfer/skateboarder mentality.  One might assume that this optimistic and expressive lifestyle has come easily to him, but his journey to this point has been anything but clear-cut and smooth.  But as he says, “everything makes sense in hindsight.”     

My first impression of Lou was that he is kind hearted and genuine.  As he began to share his experiences over the past few years, he jumped around a little, fast forwarding and then rewinding and joked, “I really should have started from the beginning instead of doing this ‘Inception’ style.”  I told him I could follow along.  He laughed and said, “Well I do love that movie so we’ll do it that way.  I’m good at linking everything back together, you’ll see.”  In his own unique way he looped back and forth, gracefully connecting the dots and painting me a cohesive picture of his life so far.  However, for us mere linear thinkers, here is his story…

Growing Up

Lou grew up in Cape May, New Jersey surfing and skateboarding.  He says, “There are pictures of me on a board with wax and I can barely stand yet.  My dad was showing me how to wax a surfboard.”  In fact, his father (known as Loudini) was somewhat of an East Coast surf and skate legend.  “Everybody knows him, he’s been in magazines too.”  I notice he gets emotional as says, “He’s always been a legend to me, but I guess he’s a legend to everybody else as well.”

For most of his life Lou has been creatively inclined, building and making art with his hands.  He credits his love of woodworking to his father and grandfather who were general contractors throughout his younger years.  “I grew up in and around Victorian homes.  I was so used to seeing old wood and paint chips as I watched my dad and grandfather work on them.  I crawled under them with my dad as a kid.  Woodworking is in my blood.”

Though Lou always loved art in high school he didn’t do very well in the subject because he received poor grades.  “I thought I was terrible at painting then.  I didn’t draw like the other kids in class,” he says.  Now Lou has come to realize that he has let go of comparing himself to others.  “I don’t care now.  For the longest time I didn’t understand that art is really just pure creative freedom.  The more that you don't compare [yourself], the better artist you become.  All you have to do is just keep practicing being creative.”

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As for the rest of his high school career, Lou says he was very bored.  “I thought it was stupid and I didn’t do well academically.  But now I realize I was much more intellectual that I gave myself credit for.  I just had a different way of thinking and learning.”  There were parts of his day where he would be engaged and would do well because he was fully invested.  For example, he recalls his favorite book in school was 1984, by George Orwell.  He says it was the first book he ever read that made him think differently.  “I was really intrigued that these books were telling me there’s another way to see everything.  I’ve always felt like I have to answer all the questions.”

One of the questions that plays all the way in the back of Lou’s mind is how he ended up here, and what’s been passed down to him through his family.  “I listen to the stories of my father and grandfather’s lives and the things that I know about them.  I try to learn from all of their mistakes as much as I can.  We are all our family’s good attributes, but we can also learn from the negative ones and shed them.  It’s like you’re cleaning the energy up, it’s more of a fresh start.”  

Awareness and confidence in his abilities were not always the guiding force that they are now Lou says.  For most of his twenties, he did not feel connected to the life he was living.  Lou worked for a Mercedes dealership in their parts department for fourteen years.  “I was doing really well on the surface, but underneath it all I was a total mess.  I was living a life that was filled with ego, and I was hanging out with people that are teaching me that the more you have is how you show who you are.  I didn’t love that life and I knew it wasn’t me.  It just never landed right.”  He laughs and says, “I did at one point always say I wanted to be a rockstar, though I have no inclination to play any instrument.  I never understood why I said it.  But now looking back I realize that I had something to say and I wanted to be heard.”

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Waking Up

I should mention that from the second I sit down with Lou until the end of our conversation, it is more than apparent how much gravity his wife Lisa holds for him.  He goes out of his way to tell me, “When my wife and I first got together I was not a great person.  And she totally saw past all of that.  She was the first person that really believed in me, which helped me believe in myself.  If it wasn’t for the fact that she has stood by me, and behind me, pushing and shoving me (laughs) sometimes to get me to do things… If it wasn’t for her actually really seeing me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

While they were dating he and his wife rented a house in Ventnor, NJ, right by the beach.  They lived there through the beginning of their married life.  He says it was one of the best decisions they ever made.  “I started surfing everyday, sometimes three times a day when I could.  It felt so good.”  During that period Lou began painting again for fun, primarily focusing on waves and oceanscapes.  Lou says true expression is about letting go of the “this isn’t good enough,” and “it is supposed to be this way,” and just going with how you feel.  “The more I can get in touch with my emotions and paint from that place, the better off I am.  That’s the cool thing about painting waves.  To me, no two waves will ever look the same, so you can never paint a wave wrong.”

Shortly after Lou’s self-expression started to take flight, he and his wife were washed out of their beloved rental home after Hurricane Sandy devastated much of New Jersey’s shores back in 2012.  They bounced around for a bit and Lou recalls, “That’s when the depression stuff gets real.  That shit was no joke.  That’s when I started getting big into skateboard again, to get out all this aggression.  So I had all these skateboards lying around.  The creative side of me started looking at them thinking, man I really have a lot of these things I really should do something with them.  One day I came out of the garage with this “skate heart” that I made and showed it to my wife and she was like, ‘Get back in the garage start making those.’”

Lou began selling his skate hearts at local art shows.  “From that point on, I cleared out the whole garage out to make room and just started cranking things out.  I just ran with it.  I started making stuff out of everything that was lying around…leftover wood, skateboards, you name it.  It was go time.”  The extra money Lou made from his art helped them buy a house in Northfield, where they currently live.

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The Catalyst

Just as things started going more smoothly, another major bump in the road came up.  Lou was let go from his job at Mercedes.  In hindsight, this was what ultimately led him to his yoga practice.  He says now, “It was one of the best things that could ever happen to me.”  Initially, he was far from seeing the larger picture.  Though Lou was busy making and selling more artwork than he ever had prior, he still did not feel confident enough to make a full time career from his artwork.  He decided to take a job with Interstate Batteries, where he had to take a big pay cut.  “I was freaking out.  I was at rock bottom and I was losing it.  I was struggling with not knowing what to do because I only had a high school education.  I wasn’t in a good place with my self- esteem at all.”

During the same time, Lou was in the process of helping Lisa build and open her own hair salon, The Aqua Chair, located in Northfield NJ.  “Things were so uncertain and scary for me during this time.  I wasn’t feeling good, I was yelling and taking all of my own frustrations out on everyone.  I didn’t like who I was becoming.”  He explains, “Looking back, I was being totally selfish.  I was living with anger and resentment, but something like that that will never happen again.  I learn my lessons through mistakes.  In the midst of all this chaos, my wife was like, ‘You are being a total ass.  I really think that you should go try some yoga.’”

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A Change In Perspective…

Lou was open to Lisa’s suggestion, and from his first power yoga class he was in love.  Though it was new to him, it drew a parallel to his experiences surfing.  He says, “ I knew right away as soon as we got through savasana and I opened my eyes.  I thought, ‘I feel like I just went surfing.  I can surf out of the water... this is amazing.’  I now realize what surfing had given me my entire life.  It was my yoga.”  He notes, “My surfing has totally changed since I started practicing yoga, it’s so much more controlled.  Now I take time to admire the wave that I’m on, and not just try and get through it.  It’s such a different experience.”

“At this point this whole yoga thing is just completely blowing my mind.  And I’m thinking, ‘I have to teach yoga.  How weird is that?’  I realized that if I was going to change my life, I had to change everything.  My teacher training was a part of me figuring this out.  I didn’t even know I was lost the whole time.  But from sitting with myself and really tuning in, I learned so much about how I feel and how I act.”

When Lou had all these new emotions and realizations come through during his teacher training, he says it was like opening a can of worms.  “I decided I needed some help and I decided to go to therapy because I couldn’t compartmentalized all these things.  It was one of the best experiences.  In therapy, I found out I had ADHD.  Discovering this made me feel so much better because then it made sense [how my mind works].  I just have to pay attention and figure out what it’s doing.”

“When I found out I had ADHD I started using it to focus and really dive into what I’m doing.  If I wake up at 4:30 or 5 am, I get up and start making art instead of going back to sleep just because I think I have to.  I use those times.  Yoga and meditation have taught me to pay attention to whether it’s my mind telling me I’m tired because it wants to quit or because I’m truly physically tired.  I’ve learned to not only listen to the thought, but to how my body feels.  So I’ve found that half the time when I’m up, I’m inspired.”

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Your Dreams Are Calling…

As Lou continued to practice and teach power yoga, he began to realize that his job at Interstate was way too much on his body.  It involved moving and delivering roughly 60 to 80 heavy car batteries per day.  It took a toll on him over the three years he worked there, he even lost feeling in three of his fingers for a time.  He went through a battery of tests to discover he had carpal tunnel.  His doctors were suggesting surgery, which Lou was not happy about.  “Mentally I think I was making my injury worse and it was driving me nuts.  I finally thought, ‘Screw this.’  I'm just going to start stretching I'm just doing what I can.  I stopped practicing Power Yoga and start doing more Yin Yoga.  My job was so crazy that power yoga was just too much.  Yin Yoga is more calming, still, and meditative.  It was helping my mind and body in a different way.  So I began teaching a Sunday night slow flow restorative class.  It gave me full creative freedom.”

Around this time, Lou also decided to work towards becoming a licensed barber at his wife’s salon.  “I want to help people look how they feel, it goes hand in hand.  What I’ve learned from all of this is that the more I can use my gifts, the more I get back in return from everything.”  He notes that when someone is in his chair, they tend to share their troubles and worries with him.  “Now that I have this new mindset, I can possibly help them work through some of their daily crap they are going through.  Or I can just be there so they can unload whatever it is, and then maybe I’ll just sweep it up with their hair and throw it away.  That’s what I say during my yoga classes too… ‘Leave your sweat and bullshit on the floor and I’ll mop it up when we’re done.’”

Riding the highs and lows up until this point always seemed to bring Lou to the next step.  He shares a great analogy with me: “All of the things I am doing, and of the passions and interests I’m pursuing are in front of me (holds his arms in front like a ‘V’).  And as I plow forward and move along, I might pick up new things.  When it gets to be too much, and my arms are too full, some things will start to fall off.  And that’s ok.  That’s what makes room for the new.”

What would fall off next didn’t become apparent until Lou helped co-lead a yoga retreat in Puerto Rico this past winter of 2017.  When I came back from the retreat, everything that was gray had color to me.  All of the sudden everything became really clear and simple, and I saw the next step laid out in front of me.”  That step involved Lou finally taking the plunge to leave his full time job this past June 2017, much sooner than he had originally anticipated.  “I knew I wanted to teach as much yoga as I could.  I want to give myself to all of my passions.  I want a life where I can create all day, from the moment I get up.  And I want to be able to give back to everyone in the process of doing it.”

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The more I hear, I realize that Lou is the true epitome of someone who's living their dreams.  Many times we are scared to step out and pursue a passion that we think we don't have time for, or don’t think we are good enough to do.  I share this sentiment with him and say:  You’re constantly recreating the life that you want to live.  You keep pursuing no matter what.

Lou says, “That's the thing, I'm not going to quit on myself.  I feel like it hurts too badly when people quit on me so why would I quit on myself?  I'm the one person I know I can count on and I have control over that happening.  I ask if this has been his outlook his whole life.  He answers and laughs, “Yeah I have ‘Keep Pushing’ tattooed on my leg.  And that's been my attitude.  Why quit?  What's that going to get anyone?”

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I counter, even if you don't know the next step?  

“Well you're not going to know because the next step doesn't unveil itself until you are present to it.  It's just like surfing down a wave, right?  I can't guess whatever the wave is going to do until I get to that point in that specific wave at that specific moment because every wave is totally different than the last wave.  So how is anybody going to be able to judge or plan anything?  You just have to be in the moment.”

Surrender? I ask.

“Yes, surrender.  Know you're going to be in the right spot when you get there and you're going to know what to do then.  And if you don't?  You're going to wipe out.  And then you're going to paddle back out and you're going to catch another wave and see what that one's got to offer.  And really that's how it is, day in, day out. Keep paddling, keep pushing.”

Click HERE to view Lou's complete portrait gallery.

Lou currently teaches at Grow Yoga in Galloway New Jersey.  Be sure to follow him on Facebook and his Instagram accounts: @local_lou_fermonte and @artworkbylocallou

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