Wishing we could have a proper interview over a surf, Anna Ehrgott settled on patching me in through a crackling FaceTime connection. "Morocco is amazing," Anna said over the dogs barking in her background. It's no surprise that we had to catch each other virtually; one week, Anna's road-tripping to Oregon, the next, she's in Russia. In June, it's the Mentawais. Anna's always on to the next adventure, she's always hunting for waves, she always has her vintage ’70s camera, and she's always searching for fabrics for her business: Sagebrush Board Bags.
Anna is based, rather than settled, in Topanga, California, a community nestled into the woods just outside of Los Angeles. It's a quick shot from these hills to idyllic point breaks that, since her childhood, induced unrelenting surf stoke. "I started surfing when I was nine and would go whenever I could get a ride, but it wasn't until I turned sixteen and started driving that I got really into it," Anna said.
Like most California kids, her driver's license sparked a whole new stage of exploration. Saving up for road-trips however she could, Anna worked wherever she could: from retail at surf shops to modeling in photo shoots.
Shooting with professional photographers sparked her interest in the dark room process. "I just loved how all the accidents turned out kind of beautifully," Anna said.
After slicing her foot at a local break, Anna was out of the water for a few months. She spent her landlocked days behind the camera, photographing her friends surfing. "I got so into it," Anna explained. "Even when I could surf again, I was torn between paddling out and shooting photos." Her talent as a surfer, her eye as a photographer, and her clever use of film created her own social media brand that soon attracted sponsors.
New sponsorships meant more surf trips, and Anna needed a board bag. She wanted one with more support than a sock that wasn't as heavy-duty as a travel bag, but she couldn’t find one that satisfied her needs. So, Anna decided to make one, and by sewing together some old burlap and canvas that she had lying around, her first board bag was born.
After a few friends saw it stuffed with her log and strapped to the roof of her car as she cruised up and down the coast, she got requests for orders. Her hobby turned into her small business: Sagebrush Board Bags. As orders built up, a coffee roaster suggested she ditch the burlap. "Roasters get their coffee beans imported in sacks that say where they're from, so they feature these cool, unique designs, but they’re usually thrown out as packaging," Anna explains. Repurposing sacks from fair-trade, organic coffee importers, Anna created her trademark.
"The first year and a half, I was just pouring time and energy into something, hoping it would pay off," Anna reflected. "But it was like surfing, I knew if I worked really hard at it, I could do it." She was working odd jobs five days a week and sewing seven days a week. Sagebrush is an exclusively handmade board bag company, and Anna eventually realized she didn't need to be the only one sewing her product. She soon employed the help of a friend, which not only expanded her business, but also gave Anna the freedom to resume her surf expeditions. These adventures became the artistic fodder for envy-worthy Instagram posts, which attracted bigger brands, and sponsors, that wanted to display her content.
"Travel photos look so idyllic," Anna said, "but there's always stories behind them." From pickpockets, muggings, mosquitos, brackish waters, lost boards, and "grizzly, drunk, gnarly poachers," Anna has experiences that fill all these horror categories, in addition to her epic ones.
Besides her stories and photos, Anna also collects artisan fabrics during her travels. She incorporates these fabrics, like the sarongs she purchased from a local fishing village in Sri Lanka, into her board bag designs. By buying artisan fabrics, Anna supports local communities and gives her board bags a unique feature: it's a win-win. Her time in Morocco is inspiring a new collection of African rugs, which she hopes to use for both her board bags and her new line of travel essentials. But our FaceTime conversation, static and all, made clear that she wasn’t ready to return home for business just yet.
"I just love the architecture and the colors here. And the waves have been really, really fun."
[Featured Photo by Haywood Sullivan]