As a paddleboarding expert and lover of the outdoors, it’s clear that Ana Alarcón’s grade school experience made an impression on her.
“When I was eight, my favorite teacher sat me down at lunch and told me that even though she knew how much I loved to learn, read, and be good at school, there was more to me than that. She asked me to try things, to play in the dirt and explore. At the time, it didn’t make sense to me. It was weird that a teacher asked me to not be good at school — or so I thought. Something must have stayed with me, because now that I look at my life, I can see that I did what she suggested. I got out there. I explored, and I’ll continue to do so.”
Sometimes, Ana finds new beauty by hiking across winter snowscapes. Other times, she soaks in the excitement of her travel companions when she introduces them to the culture and hospitality of her familial roots in Mexico or any of the 30 countries she’s visited. And she overflows with joy when recounting her discovery of paddleboarding and the feeling of release as she learned to maneuver herself in an unfamiliar and unpredictable physical situation.
From her first attempt while she was on a family vacation in Oaxaca, Mexico, to the frequent sessions she and her partner Matt enjoy around their home in Portland, there’s beauty and thrill in being on the water. While she stayed on her knees most of the first day, she eventually stood up and maintained her balance long enough to enjoy the view. That achievement gave her a boost of confidence and the determination to keep trying. Now, she feels like she’s in her element on the water.
“What I love about paddleboarding is that it’s a challenge. It’s always different. It’s never the same.”
“What I love about paddleboarding is that it’s a challenge. It’s always different. It’s never the same. At the same time, you feel comfortable and confident in it. Just standing up is a great feeling of confidence. You’re like, ‘Yes, I’m doing this. I can take control, and I can keep going.’ You can go as fast as you can or want, and there are so many things you can do with a paddle. It makes you feel more in your element — turning around, trying all these new things. I love that it can be shared with people. You can make it a solo thing, or you can make it a team thing or a community thing where you can show someone else how fun it is.”
A lifelong traveler and adventurer who’s never been afraid to push her boundaries, Ana’s world travels have often helped her make significant shifts in her life in motion. One such pivot occurred after a backpacking trip in Europe, where she decided to embrace the “tiny living” movement, opting to move to New Hampshire, where she purchased a tiny home.
Ana says her trips help widen her perspective and introduce her to new opportunities. For instance, she and Matt made the decision to sell nearly all of their possessions so they could travel across the U.S. and Mexico in a van. The chance to have so many new adventures and live a life of possibility was too great to miss.
“I like to travel, and many other people like to travel. I speak two languages, and many people in the world speak two languages. I don’t think there’s anything that’s different about myself, but talking to friends and coworkers about a trip I had over the weekend, a younger coworker said, ‘I didn’t even know you were about to turn 31. Your energy is so playful, and you’re so cheerful. I just thought you were out of college.’ I’ll take that as a compliment.”
As one of her newer passions, it doesn’t take much to get Ana espousing the virtues of paddleboarding. Just as she conquered feelings of uncertainty in getting better at the sport, she has absolute faith that friends who follow her out onto the water will have a similarly affirming and soul-opening experience. That “try anything” philosophy that sprouted as a youngster extends to all her adventures and new experiences.
“I love bringing people in and just making them feel like they can do something. A lot of people make it a scary thing to do. They think you need to be super fit, or they worry about core and balance. You can make it as easy as sitting down and just enjoying the water,” she said.
“And seeing friends trying it for the first time and their face going from, ‘This is so hard,’ to, ‘This was awesome,’ ... I love seeing that transformation at the end of the ride or after an hour or two. And I love trying to bring people in with me and show them how fun it can be. It’s a simple thing you can do on the weekend for an hour or all day, and I love sharing that with other people.”
When she’s out on the water solo, Ana can create the perfect soundtrack with a portable speaker. The open interactions with nature already get her spirits moving, whether she’s on the move or resting calmly to enjoy the moment, and music on the go heightens the experience further.
“Music plays a big role in my life, and I love making playlists for a specific day or specific people. I taught fitness classes for a while, and I’ve noticed how music can make a class or kill a class completely in the mood,” she said.
“I grew up listening and dancing to music, and having different types of music — not just for myself but for everyone — is important. Music can make a moment so different, and how you can play those moments differently depends on what music you have on. I like listening to music when I’m getting ready, when I’m on the road, or when I’m camping. We have songs that just play so many times in our Spotify playlist that, at the end of the year, I’m like, ‘Yeah, that song has a million plays, and it was probably all me.’ Music just has such an impact on our life and our relationship.”
“Music plays a big role in my life, and I love making playlists for a specific day or specific people.”
As inspired as Ana lives during her travels and excursions into nature with music on the go, she’s also willing to open up to strangers and show the vulnerable feelings and insecurities she often deals with. In a way, she said, her dedication to including others is born of her desire to find comfort in a hurried and often tumultuous world.
“I naturally want to relate to everyone, and I want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable because I’ve been in situations where I don’t feel comfortable. And that’s the worst thing you can do for someone — not make them feel welcome and comfortable,” she said.
“If I see someone sitting alone, I want to go to them and say, ‘Hi, who are you? What are you doing here?’ I want them to leave the place thinking we’re best friends. And if that turns into a friendship, that’s awesome. That’s pretty cool. I have many friends around the world, and it’s because I want them to feel welcome and comfortable around me so they can never experience what I’ve experienced before.”
Certainly, that kindness and sense of curiosity would earn her an approving smile from a certain elementary school teacher, whose words still shape Ana to this day.