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Sarah Hughen

Surfer & Entrepreneur

Why She’s Amazing

Sarah Hughen doesn’t want to be a princess. She wants to be more.

Getting lost in the woods at age 10 turned out to be an “ah ha” moment in Sarah’s life. Needing to rely on herself and being forced out of her comfort zone was exciting for Sarah and kick-started a love of adventure.

After moving to Southern California, Sarah took quickly to surfing. Not surprisingly, she turned surfing into an adventure as well. This time, however, for a cause. After watching three loved ones battle breast cancer, Sarah created A Wave a Day. She surfed every day for a year to raise awareness for the prevention of breast cancer.

Sarah’s life has come full circle as she now lives her dream of guiding people through experiences outside of their comfort zone. That philosophy, along with a love of travel and surfing, led Sarah to found Sea State. The organization’s mission is to create study abroad programs that combine unique and dynamic course instruction and community engagement with immersion in coastal communities.

We had a chance to ask Sarah a few questions. Something tells us this modern day trailblazer’s adventures have only just begun.

“I feel strongly that all things in my life have lead up to this, and it is a perfect combination of all my passions.” – Sarah Hughen

Q & A

Q: When you were a young girl, what did you want to be when you grew up and why?

A: There was a pivotal moment in my childhood around the age of 10 or so that I remember so vividly… I literally got lost in the woods near my house. I was probably only a few hundred yards from the road, but for a 4ft tall person all alone, I felt like I was in the middle of the never-ending forest with thousands of trees that all looked the same. I stopped for a second and realized I had to figure this out on my own. Retracing my steps and using the sun as my guide – I found the trailhead. It was just then, as I stared at the road home, that I knew I liked being put out of my comfort zone. I had an experience – one that would shape me forever. I wanted to be a guide. Maybe like a National Geographic Guide.

Q: What did people think when you told them that?

A: I don’t ever really remember telling anyone what I wanted to be when I grew up – but I am sure that I told people a million different things – as I always dreamt up wild adventures I wanted to go on.

Q: Did people call you “princess” when you were a little girl and, if so, how did that make you feel?

A: People never really called me “princess” when I was little, but funny you should ask! The name Sarah actually means “princess”. Someone told me that when I was very young, and I was like, “Princess, what, me???” With knotted hair and holes in my jeans and dirt under my nails… I was no princess. I was me! And I went with that.

Q: How did you become interested in surfing? What inspired you to turn your love for surfing into “A Wave a Day” for breast cancer awareness and then founding Sea State?

A: I moved to Southern California 16 years ago. A mountain girl at heart, now staring at the big wide-open blue. My husband surfs, and he was going every day, so I started tagging along. The beginning was rough, but really no matter how badly I got worked – I always felt better afterwards and my love, my addiction for surfing slowly set in.

After I had kids that were spending a lot of hours at school, and struggling to find a way to make my passion (photography at the time) my work, I knew I needed to push myself a little. There were a few months where three people close to me all were diagnosed with breast cancer, at a young age! My Granny had it young, and I have three beautiful sisters and a mama that I want to have around forever. When I look at health – I try to focus on prevention. So, I thought why not combine all of this into a project, and out came “A Wave a Day”. I surfed every day for a year to raise awareness for the prevention of breast cancer and living a healthy life. I supported the Keep A Breast Foundation whose goal is to also focus on prevention as the cure.

Being the water everyday gave me a time to reflect and focus on who I really am. I thought about combining my 10-year-old dream to guide people in experiencing things outside of their comfort zone, traveling and surfing; and, Sea State was born. I feel strongly that all things in my life have lead up to this, and it is a perfect combination of all my passions.

Q: What did you have to do to accomplish this?

A: “A Wave a Day” taught me many lessons, but the one that stuck the most is that we really can do anything we want to do. There were many days I didn’t feel like surfing, the waves were huge, the wind was blowing 30kts, I had fever/flu, my kids needed me – but I made a commitment – and I went. No matter how hard it was to get myself out there, I did it. It gave me strength that I often tap in to now, even if something is really hard, seemingly impossible – I just do it.

Q: Did you have a mentor or role model who inspired you?

A: My kids inspire me. They give me all the purpose in life that I need. They are my role models and continue to teach me so much about life and dreams every day.

Q: Did your family and friends support your aspirations?

A: Since I live 2,000 miles away from my family, my friends have become my family out here in California. I am constantly amazed at the community we have. I wouldn’t have been able to complete “A Wave a Day” without them.

Q: Did you think about being called a “trailblazer” for choosing this path?

A: Sometimes I forget to take a step out of my life and look at it from an outside point of view. I like to think of myself as part of the movement of people who are making a living doing what they love.

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Q: What motivates you?

A: I may sound repetitious, but my kids motivate me. They make me the best person I can be. Also coming in a close second, people who live their dream motivate me. I love reading stories of people on wild adventures. Honorable mentions to the North Wind, calm waters and Audrey Sutherland.

Q: Of what are you most proud?

A: I can honestly say that I am most proud of the fact that I feel like my lil’ gents are on the path to finding out exactly who they are. I can only hope that they find their own passions, what drives them and what sparks their eyes wide open! I can see it a little already and, for that, I am proud.

Q: What would you like people to learn from you?

A: If anyone learns anything from me, it is to get out of your comfort zone. Whatever that may be, jump out, you won’t regret it. It offers up the deepest most rewarding experiences, and those experiences are YOU!

Q: What three words would you like people to use to describe you?

A: Hmmm, that is a tough one! Ha. Adventurous.

Q: What do you want people to know about you outside of your professional accomplishments?

A: Not sure! Aside from all the travel and fun parts of my job, I am really just a mom! I’m at every baseball game, I love to cook healthy meals, we eat together every night, I garden when I can and surf when it is good and sometimes when it’s bad!

Q: If you could eat lunch with one person, who would it be?

A: Wow – tough question. Maybe my husband! Ha! (He travels with his work too and is currently in New Zealand.) No, but really, probably Audrey Sutherland. She has passed now, but she has always been a great influence for me with adventures and adventures in parenting! I like to think we have some of the same kind of wind in us.

Q: Which woman would you choose to have on U.S. currency?

A: Great Question – but hard! My mom. Just cuz.

Q: What advice would you give to a girl who right now wants to be just like you?

A: It is most important to find out who you are! There are many ways to do that so try them all! And don’t wait. The cliché statement that life is too short is true! So get after it!

Bonus Question: What question would you ask the next Modern Day Trailblazer we interview?

A: Would you do it all again?

Fun Facts:

  • The last book Sarah read was Wildflower by Drew Barrymore. She likes Drew’s honesty and how she is testament that life can take you in many directions!
  • Sarah has actually never done karaoke. But maybe a Neil Diamond type of song because those are the only ones she knows all the words to since her family listened to those 8-tracks for too many road trip hours growing up.
  • Sarah’s favorite sports team is the Packers. (She would be banished at home if she said anything else.)
  • Her favorite quote is “What we most regret are not the errors we make, but the things we didn’t do.” by Audrey Sutherland.
  • Sarah prefers vanilla over chocolate!