Born in Illinois, Jessica Fern Kamm is a world traveler and Los Angeles-based designer. Her luxury, artisan clothing label, Jesse Kamm, is a collection of tunics, dresses and capes distinctive for their minimal design, clean lines, and classic shapes. Dedicated to sustainability, Kamm reduces her label’s environmental impact by using recycled and repurposed products and non-toxic inks. She is also a cofounder of Punta Carenero, an off-the-grid, sustainable community in Bocas del Toro, Panama, where she spends three months of the year with her husband and son, living in their self-built house and surfing. You can find her collection here.
9 months a year, I live and work as a designer, in Los Angeles. 3 months a year, I live and surf in Panama. My husband, Luke, and I designed and hand built a house on an island in the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago. We broke ground 6 years ago. We live off-the grid, with our 5 year old son, Jules. Our energy comes from solar power. We collect our water from the rain. The toilet makes compost. Living this way keeps us close to the source. We love it. It replenishes the soul.
Living out here is not for most people. It is the rainforest. It rains… a lot. The rain brings the surf… I am into it. We live in the jungle. There are spiders the size of a half dollar that climb out of my New Yorker at night (This I am not into, just to be clear). There are rare tropical jungle birds that sing to me in the morning, and the tree frogs who put me to bed at night. There are scorpions. (I stepped on one 3 nights ago and was stung. It was not such a big deal.) There are wild and wonderful bugs of every sort. The flora is a whole other story… magnificent!
To get to our home, you take a 5 minute boat ride from town. Then you walk 8 minutes through the jungle. This is no big whoop, unless it is bucketing down rain, and you are carrying a weeks worth of provisions, 2 propane tanks, and have a 5 year old boy in tow. Once we are home, we rarely leave. To get to the surf, you walk 5 minutes down the jungle path, and paddle out. We have been down here on this trip for 5 weeks. I have surfed all but 6 days. It has been magical. My shoulders feel like they are on fire, and my face is getting deep groves in it from the sun, but I am coming to terms with that.
On weekdays, our babysitter, Alejandra, comes from 9am-1pm, so the big kids can surf. On the weekends the grownups tag team the waves in the morning and evenings. Most afternoons we jump in the boat, and take the little guy to a smaller break. When he gets 15 good rides, and we call it a day.
When we are not surfing, we are busy with other good stuff:
cooking, playing scrabble, drinking iced coffee, playing Uno and Go Fish, practicing letters and numbers (someone starts kindergarten soon), stretching, swimming, playing pirates, drawing, painting, building legos, making furniture, laying in the hammock, and on occasion, we max out on the couch with a fine film (ie. Pee wee’s Big Adventure, Goonies, Finding Nemo).
Being here is like being away at camp. We are very unplugged. Life is pure and simple. It is very special to be in a dwelling that you have built with your own hands. This place is like the fountain of youth for us. We get to be kids here. We get to play. We get to check out, and tune in. For 9 months a year, I work hard. I create. To do that I, personally, need to reset, erase the boards, and let them set empty for a time, while new ideas percolate. I have built my life and my business around this time here. I believe life is very short. I am into the idea of retiring a little bit every year of your life… so that you can enjoy it while you are able.
I am into balance. This is how I keep mine.