The Tropical Viking


Carl John Kimell

Ever sit at work and think shit… I should ditch all this and just move to Bali. Well that’s exactly what CJ Kimell did. “The Tropical Viking” won our first ever photo contest on Instagram with an absolutely amazing shot of some far off coast with waves you draw in your school notebook and scenery you see on the discovery channel. After that we got to know him a little better and after hearing his story we couldn’t help but ask him to join our crew.

Where did you grow up and what was life like?

I grew up in just outside of Stockholm, Sweden. In a picturesque suburb occupied by cute little houses sprawled in between patches of forests and greeneries. It was a really safe environment that still offered vast areas of exploring for a kid and his bicycle. There were lots of families with kids in my age around and we would spend most of our free time (as if we had anything but) playing games or making excursions outdoors. Pretty normal kid stuff I guess. My parents would travel a bit from time to time and sometimes they would take my sister and I with them. France, Portugal, Switzerland and Italy are places I remember going to before I even started school. These journeys made a lasting impression on me. Perhaps it was the obvious differences, the smell, temperature, new languages. It opened my eyes to the world and at an early age made me curious for what else is our there. As I got older I started snowboarding and that immediately got me hooked. For some reason it came very naturally to me, I was first up last down every time I got to the mountains. When I was 15 I told my parents my plan was to get to B.C to ride powder and sleep in my board bag. It never happened, I found surfing and I realized that tropical bumming would be much easier, cheaper and more comfortable. First chance I got I left Sweden to search for waves.


Surfing sparked the travel bug then?

Being an avid skier and snowboarder made me appreciate being outdoors and surrounded by nature. Snowboarding eventually led to surfing, which gave me a good reason, or perhaps excuse, to travel the world since waves are scarce in the Baltic. I’m not sure I would have travelled as much as I have if it wasn’t for chasing waves and crossing certain spots of my bucket list. It also fuelled my interest for photography and even if I have had many great travel companions through the years most journeys have been solo trips with my camera as my most trusted partner. Up until 2009 I was shooting on film so today I have a massive box filled to the rim with developed negatives and prints from my trips. This box is one out of four that are stored in an attic in Sweden and together they make up for all my worldly possessions, save a few surfboards and what I am currently carrying.


Damn I'm adding rummaging through your attic to my list of things to do in Sweden.. So when did you decide not to take the “normal” route through life?

The day I graduated high school was the best day of my life. Total freedom, the world at my feet kind of feeling. I immediately went travelling, southern France, Spain, Portugal, California - surfing and taking pictures. Short trips but it was very clear to me that the road made me very comfortable. At the time that was “normal”, many of my friends went travelling before moving on to further educations and careers. I just kept doing it a little longer. Eventually I caught up with the race, did my years in school, worked hard, got a diploma (though I never actually went to pick it up) and started working at a small architecture office in Stockholm. It was fun, I enjoyed it, it was all part of the exploring and I learned a lot though I struggled with the idea of being indoors so much and at the same place for extended periods of time.

Not even a year after I had started working at the office I felt the need for some perspective and told myself that if I didn’t go then it would become a lot harder to go later. I just didn’t find the same peace of mind behind the desk as I would being on the road.

When a friend of mine presented the opportunity for me to go to Bali and manage his surf camp for 6 months I jumped on it. Packed up my apartment and left before the first snow fell in 2012. I quickly fell into the pace of Bali and couldn’t see a reason to leave. It’s been almost 4 years and a lot has changed. My attitude towards life once again softened and I recognized a side of me I had not seen since my travelling days.


Epic, office to a Bali beach - like diving into a desk top screen saver and never going back. Where else have you travelled so far?

The first couple of years in Bali I stayed on the island most of the time. The last year I explored more of the Indonesian archipelago, looking for surf in Sumba, the Maluku’s and Papua. I followed a long felt calling to visit Japan and combined it with a journey between Indo and Europe. As I went to visit Sweden for Christmas for the first time in 8 years I escaped the cold by heading over to the island of Madeira in the Atlantic and on my way back to the equator I stopped off in Nepal, another place I had long felt a calling for. Right now I am in Melbourne, Australia. A few days ago I left my base in Bali to travel to Sweden. Going South before heading North might seem like a detour or that my compass is broken but in reality I’m just acting on an opportunity that presented itself and moving with the flow of things.


So how do you make a living along the way, what's keeping the dream alive?

I sell my services any way I can hahaha. In Bali I have been able to build up a pretty good network both with people who live there, pass through or visit on a regular basis. I guess my strength comes from a versatility and experience from several different fields which allows me to do a multitude of things. In the past year I have paid my rent by doing commissioned photography work, selling prints, architectural consultation, teaching yoga and coaching surfing. I guess in some aspects I am a teacher and I don’t mind that role.


Lastly, words you live by?

“If beyond this there is nothing, then this is everything and nothing can wait.” 


Check out - and get your hands on some of this dude’s seriously good work!