The meet-up with Kari was arranged through a mutual friend who has known her for about 10-years. It was an interaction I was looking forward to because I was told that she had a cool personality and is an open book when it comes to talking about her life. She flew in from the East Coast and after a quick battle with traffic she arrived at our house with a friendly smile ready to go.
I talk too much and I’m an open book! She said, funny enough. We took to the theater room, settled down with some coffee and water, and got started. I asked her how to spell her last name and she spelled it out, N-A-U-T-I-Q-U-E. It’s her middle name that her dad gave her. My dad had a wakeboarding boat when I was a born. An Super Air Nautique, it was like the Mercedes of wakeboarding boats, so that’s what I’m named after, she said. The name fit accordingly because Kari’s childhood revolved around constant surfing and wakeboarding with her dad.
Kari grew up with her Nana and Pawpaw at their lakehouse in the tiny town of Salt Springs, Florida. We get eggs from our own chickens and we grow our own vegetables and all of our water is from a well from a spring. The “tiny” aspect of the town is no exaggeration either. It has no stoplight, one stop sign, a Salt Spring grocery, one gas station, one bar and one post-office. I used to catch snakes and baby alligators as a pasttime, which I come to think of it is super fuckin’ dangerous. Her dad taught her how to boogieboard at five and surf when she was eight.
Kari couldn’t emphasize enough how much her dad was a positive and happy influence through her childhood, not just from the days spent on the beach but also the nights reading her bedtime stories. My dad was this super, nerdy surfer guy. So my bedtime stories were The Hobbit and The Lord of the Ring series. She takes those books to heart because they represent family. Kari poked fun at herself for a moment as being the weird, nerdy girl nobody would talk to in high school because of her obsession with sci-fi and fantasy. Guys did you see that episode of Farscape last night? It was really cool! She said in a lightheartedly I had braces and crooked bangs. Kari even admitted to paying her prom date to go to prom with her.
Her and her dad would also plan vacations together, memories that lit up Kari’s face when she talked about them. Every year my dad and I would go to Costa Rica on surf trips, she said. It was a father-daughter surf trip. They would go to Jaco Beach and every morning a woman named Sue Hailey would make them breakfast before they hit the waves. When she was ten years old on that trip, she caught her first barrel surfing with her dad. I just remember it going over my head and thinking this is so cool!
For Kari, her mom was her Nana, a tough Southern woman who kept a rifle to shoot the squirrels who tried to get their corn. Nana would always obliterate the corn stocks trying to snag the squirrels that would result in her and Pawpaw getting into hilarious spats. It was this awesome dialogue between them all the time, she said and would often use them as characters in her creative writing classes. She would remember hearing her Pawpaw yelling at Nana after she unloaded her rifle on the squirrels, Dangnamit, you done messed up the corn!
When Kari was twelve, her dad remarried and had four kids which brought a halt to the yearly surfing trips but she doesn’t take it in spite and emphasizes her dad’s new wife as a wonderful woman and wonderful mother. Regardless, Kari and her dad are still able to find time to share the father-daughter moments they cherished during her early childhood. I’ll go home, pop a Modelo and we’ll watch whatever’s on TV, she said. I like that I have that with him. Daddy’s girl but not your preppy Valley girl daddy’s girl cause I got the hippy, surfer dad, she said. I got the cool dad.
Kari transitioned into modeling by doing bikini shoots for local companies before eventually booking a gig in Los Angeles. When she flew out for the shoot, the girl responsible for booking her flight booked it for two months instead of two weeks. So I ended up getting her job and never went home, she said. Despite the sudden and unexpected life change, she simply rolled with the wave. After some time of being homeless and couch surfing she went to a party that was filled with numerous people from her high school. She said it was surreal and trippy to find so many former classmates at a random party in L.A. I was like, where am I? Is this the Twilight Zone? she joked. Fortunately for Kari, one of those old friends from high school was desperate to leave their current living situation and in need of a roommate fast. So I looked at her and was like, I’m homeless! The two immediately got an apartment together. For Kari, whether by intention or not, she echoed sentiments of George Harrison from The Beatles that nothing happens by chance. Life is amazing, you are where you’re supposed to be at all points and times.
She used her new living situation as an opportunity to try and accomplish her goal of being a Playboy bunny. That didn’t happen, but I did end up working for Playboy while I was out here, she said. Kare also became good friends with Hugh Hefner and his wife, having dinner with them every Sunday night. I [still] got to live the life I wanted to live and got to do things a lot of people can say they never did. Kari referenced her Nana who hung out with country legends like Willie Nelson during her youth. You can’t put a price on it, she said. For the past three years she’s been living in New York and has realized that since then that era of Playboy is gone and is thankful she got to experienced it.
We got into a tangent on some random topics before finding common ground on college, both of us being dropouts but still having a love for learning and reading. I’ve been trying to read a book a day, Kari said. Most of the stuff being financial based, motivational based, Kari said. The selection wasn’t random; she just officially LLC’d her swimwear company Nautique Swim. The desire to start her own company seemed an obvious choice to Kari. She had modeled swimwear for a decade and her passion for it has never dwindled but also realized that she can’t be a model forever. As a model this day in age you have to monetize on your name. You build your name and then exploit your name. We’re moving into the exploitation process now, it’s going to be fantastic! she joked.
When she first started her company she had no experience whatsoever and had to learn everything through trial and error. Kari bought a sewing machine, taught herself how to sew, and paid out of her own pocket for all the materials she needed. After weeks on end she made a few viable, wearable bikinis that she was able to sell. But the amount of time that went in per suit, wasn’t cost effective, she admitted. Kari then started researching in factories and looking for more efficient ways to manage her company and of course, hit numerous roadblocks along the way before she found the path that works. I say that hesitantly because I haven’t sold anything, she said with a laugh. [But] now that it works, I’m going to expand it into a fitness line and a lingerie line. One thing that Kari exhibits is her sense of awareness and optimism. If it all sucks, well, then I’ll just find something else to do, she said quite confidently.
One of the biggest roadblocks Kari faced through the whole process was her pride. I didn’t want it to fail, and the formula that I had wasn’t working and I just kept trying the same formula. She was taking too much of a creative approach to her company and overlooking the business side of it. Once I started to approach the business side of it, I started to realize where I was messing up, she said, a credit she gave to the financial and business books she had taken initiative to read in recent years.
We brought things back to her childhood and Kari admitted that as a kid she often felt victimized because she wouldn’t get a lot of the things she wanted, but soon realized that it was because she didn’t work for it. Things are supposed to suck, they won’t always suck, but when something sucks what are you going to do about it? Are you going to complain or get up and get it fuckin’ moving? That’s the difference now for Kari; as a kid she wanted things done for her but by the time she was a teenager and since then, she has taken matters into her own hands. You’re going to have to work for it [success] regardless. There’s no one out there who is successful in any way, shape, or form who didn’t have it suck at some point in time.
Article by @zachquinones
Photos by @joelfloraphoto
Some more family photos from Kari: