From free diving the depths of the ocean to balancing on a highline in the middle of a canyon, content creator Chelsea Yamase has inspired many to challenge the boundaries of their comfort zone, embrace life, and travel the world.
The travel influencer meets acro yogi was born on a small Hawaiian island, Kaua’i—the influence behind her social media handle @chelseakauai. Spending her childhood in the outdoors, a certain respect for our natural world shaped her perspective of life. Constantly asking herself, ‘how can I show up harder’, her positive attitude, adventurous spirit and bright personality shines through in her awe-inspiring content.
Working with some of the top brands, photographers, videographers, and talent in the world, Chelsea is a passionate storyteller. She not only showcases some of the most beautiful places to visit and some of the coolest things to do, but reflects on consuming mindfully, the importance of appreciation, and the practice of being the best version of ourselves possible.
Sitting down to chat with Chelsea, we talk about life, her work, some of her favourite trips, and what’s to come. The thoughtfulness in her answers and the stories she paints with her words are thought-provoking and inspiring—a true role model with a heart of gold and aloha spirit.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised on this little island in the middle of the Pacific called Kaua’i. It has been home for me for most of my life. I think living here has shaped a lot of who I am, in many different ways. Living on an island has given me perspective and influenced a lot of what I care about. Here on the island you see everyday what exists in the world and recognize that it is finite and precious. This concept has been really present for me growing up, trickling into the way I approach life now. It has given me this immense appreciation for the joy and the lessons that can be found outside and by being close to nature.
What do you hope to do and inspire with your work?
My work largely came by accident. I was this super, super shy child–if you had asked someone I knew 15 years ago, I think I would have been voted least likely to have a social media presence. My work now is largely a reflection of the things that I’m learning in my own life–my process of just figuring life out. It’s a vehicle for me to hopefully pass along some of the things that I’ve learnt and empower people– especially younger females–to feel like they can do anything or take on anything.
Whether that’s inspiring someone to go on a hike, or to change over to being plant-based, or to do something sustainability wise, I want my platform to be a place that makes everything seem a little more attainable. I want people to walk away from it going ‘yes, I can’, rather than them thinking that what I’m doing and posting is some unreachable, unattainable thing. I want them to be inspired to look at the world and ask themselves, “how can I show up harder?”.
In one of your Instagram captions you said, “I did not grow up as this person, I grew INTO this person,” which is extremely moving and thought provoking. You spoke about being shy as a child, terrified of sharks, then heartbroken at one point, and all very relatable things; now, you seem more confident than ever, do you have any advice for people who are struggling with things like shyness, confidence, fears, failures, or otherwise? Any advice you’d give your younger self?
Even now, there’s this little part of me that feels like I’m not qualified to tell people or give people advice on these things, because there still is this part of me that is very much struggling with those insecurities. I know that I’m far from perfect, but with that being said, I’ve found this quiet confidence in myself.
I think in some ways age has influenced that. With age, there’s been this immense process of learning–learning how to accept myself for all of my flaws, and more so, for all of the value that I can bring to the world.
So, if someone is struggling with this, or if I were to give advice to my younger self, I think I would say that there is no such thing as a confident person. Confidence is situational. It’s built by doing. It’s built by exposing yourself to certain things. I wasn’t a confident public speaker. I wasn’t a confident diver. I wasn’t confident in any of these different things, but through the action of doing, through repetition, through trying and trying again, I was able to actually build my confidence in my ability to do these things. So, through time, through those moments and hours of being a little uncomfortable, I think is when we develop our confidence. The biggest learning lesson for me and what I hope people takeaway is that we need to go out and do. The more that I’ve stepped into that space of being okay with being uncomfortable, is when it started to seep into all these other areas of my life.I used to be really bad at cooking. My friends use to laugh and tease me whenever I’d host a dinner party. They’re like, “what are you going to make? Cornbread out of a box?”. I was like, “hey, I can do this! I can learn anything! It’s totally cool if I’m failing.” Now, I love cooking. I host dinner parties and cook for people and they ask me for recipes. Haha weird.
You’ve collaborated with a ton of incredible photographers, videographers, and influencers around the world, what is one memory that really was a highlight for you and a moment where you kind of said, “wow, this is really what I get to do for a living.”
I have that feeling a lot. Very, very often. Honestly, getting to be excited a lot is one of the best feelings. I get to meet people and work with brands that excite me, and that giddy excitement has never really gone away. I think part of it might be my personality. But as the opportunities keep scaling and life keeps evolving, I’m grateful that I’m able to still feel that excitement.
One memory that springs to mind was in French Polynesia. I was on job with a team of my friends being guided by an Olympic level freediver, Denis who has been a huge driving force in shark conservation initiatives in French Polynesia. He’s also a DJ and chef and just an inspiration.
We were on this little boat crossing the ocean to go freediving with tiger sharks and I just remember sitting there, in front of him, thinking, ‘this is my job. I get to be here. Work here—with these incredible people. Who in the world gets to do that?’. I always try to be really, really grateful and present because I realize that getting to do what I do is an immense privilege. Sometimes I still shake my head in disbelief.
When you started posting more and more about your journey in becoming an acro yoga instructor and your improvement in that art form, it was a really inspiring journey to watch. What got you interested in acro and talk to us a little about your learning experience?
I initially got introduced to acro at a festival about 7 years ago. I went to a yoga festival and saw that they had these partner yoga classes. The teacher was this guy Jason, who is actually one of the founders of this whole acro yoga movement. He is so amazing and talented that he ended up flying me into this position called hand-to-hand, a movement that was much more advanced but he was so good I trusted him to do it safely.
I can’t even tell you how amazing it felt. I was doing a handstand in the air on someone else’s hands! I couldn’t stop laughing. It was so much fun. I was thinking to myself, this is insane. I need to do more of it. But there weren’t many classes–especially being from the small island I’m from. So, acro kind of fell by the wayside.
It wasn’t until about two years ago that I happened to meet some friends who were part of the Venice and Santa Monica Acro Yoga Community. That’s where I got back into it. It’s a hotspot for acro and so I was able to learn a few basic sequences. It really reignited my love for it and made me remember just how much it made me laugh.
When I met my boyfriend Sam, I told him, “we should do this thing!” So we started watching videos online and we would watch them over and over to figure out what was happening. We invented names for moves like “blender” because we didn’t know the real name is ballerina.
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Acro Flow with @chelseakauai ✨ Hope everyone is staying strong in these strange times. I’m confident things will go back to the way they were but for now let’s just use this time to appreciate what we have and how life can change in the blink of an eye. Continue living in the moment and express gratitude for every new day ?? also if you’re isolating with a friend or a loved one, it’s the perfect time to practice some acro yoga ??
Mostly I’ve been incredibly lucky to have an amazing series of teachers come into my life at the perfect time. It’s crazy to think a 15 minute interaction so many years ago at a festival sparked this incredible passion, which is now a major part of my life. Moreover, it has been cool to see it all unfold and come full circle as I just finished my teacher training under Jason as well.
Now you have not one but two retreats coming up–congratulations! What was your decision making process when deciding you wanted to pull together The Invitation and what will this retreat entail for the participants?
I was a teacher at a conference last year called Triplit in Vancouver and it was such a positive experience. Over the week, I got to know the 40 people so well. Sixteen of them are actually here on the island right now because they became such great friends. Through that, I saw the power of community and I knew I would eventually want to host my own. I saw how much people are craving to connect with each other, wanting that sense of community.
My friend Allie is a yoga teacher and does a lot of meditation practice. We got talking about how I’d love to do a retreat but how I don’t always necessarily follow through. She has done quite a few of these and was a big catalyst for me in the sense that she was like, “well, let’s do it together!”The nice thing too is that we kind of balance and compliment each other. She is an articulate writer, very organized and amazing with inner work. She’s actually been a teacher to me in these terms too and an influence on the way that I look at life. On my side, I bring the more adventurous, high energy, boundary pushing aspect with my acro and freediving experience.
I’m really excited. So much of our interaction these days is through the digital realm and I found that I was really missing and craving that sense of in-person connection. With acro, with this retreat, there will be that emphasis on connection, that sense of bonding.
You really are an inspiration for so many, me included. Whether you’re inspiring people to visit new places, meet new people, try new things, and step out of their comfort zone, your page has really evolved into a page that your audience goes to not only to see beautiful content, but to be inspired to be a better version of themselves. Do you have a life motto, mantra or something you tell yourself when you’re stepping out of your comfort zone.
My favourite thing is actually a long form poem called The Invitation. It’s why I called our retreat that. It’s a very, very powerful piece and it always recenters me.
Other times, I’ll come up with something on the spot. Those words could resonate with me for that whole week or for even just that fleeting moment. One that I remember off the top of my head was when I was highlining. It was something like: You are strong. This is beautiful. You can do hard things. I kept saying that to myself when I was on the highline, repeating it over and over.
You posted a photo from your freediving experience and collaboration with Emmett Sparling, Josiah William Gordon, and Lexi Alford. Emmett had captured this incredible shot of you, which you captioned ‘Space Walk’—and it looks just like that. You spoke about the precise skill in being able to capture something like that on both yours and the photographer’s side. Do you go into these shoots with a precise idea of what you want to capture or is it one of those go with the flow moments?I’d say it’s a little bit of both. It helps to go into shoots with a plan, but about 99% of the time that plan is going to change. So really it’s about having some ideas but also really having an open mind to see how things unfold. When shooting with wildlife, all bets are off. It’s something you have really no control over. You just have to believe that each person is going to do their best to be where they need to be at the time they need to be there.
It’s nice to work with people who inspire you and that you’re comfortable with. We’re all constantly bouncing ideas off of each other. We gather inspiration from different shoots, things we’ve seen, things we think looked cool, and we are open to experimenting with our different shots.
Emmett has always had a fascination with outer space and with astronauts. For this shoot, I was in this space suit-like silver swimsuit. At first I thought it could be really cool if I take off my fins and try to walk up the rock wall in this very vertical canyon in what would be this very gravity-defying shot. So that’s where we started. It didn’t quite work. There are so many elements to get right at the same time – my hair flowing, body vertical, and Emmett at the right height and distance. Emmett was like, “okay, can you try going onto this rock instead?” Then we discovered that if I move my face around, we could get a cool reflection off the mask. This shot was really so much give and take and working together to build a picture.
It’s a beautiful thing to flow together and feel comfortable bouncing these kind of weird, kind of crazy ideas off each other. Those kinds of shots are always my favourite ones. That’s true synergy. A true collaboration.
What has been your favourite trip?
I’d say my favourite trip was in Jordan with my friend Rob. It was just one of those trips that everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Honestly, so many things went awry–but it was so special.Essentially what happened was we went hiking through this river. Both of us had our phones on us and they both got a little wet. Mine was the first to die and then his phone perished part way through as well. Soon enough, our dry bags started leaking and our gear–which is thousands of dollars worth of equipment–is just drowning in our dry bags. But at the same time, we’re hiking up this insanely beautiful canyon and end up capturing some of the most amazing footage.
On this journey, one of our cameras also died and both our phones stayed dead the rest of the trip.
We were in our rental car and were supposed to be driving from the Dead Sea to the Wadi Rum desert, which was hours and hours away. But with no phones, no Google Maps or navigation systems, we had no idea how to get there! It’s 41 C and our AC had broken and we used the last of our Jordanian cash to buy some water.We stopped at this gas station to ask if they had wifi but no one spoke English. Thankfully they kind of understood what we wanted so the attendant let us tether my computer off his phone. All of these things that happened wouldn’t have happened if we had been connected with our phones, and that’s what made it special. We had to figure out so many things without that reliance and instead had to rely on people and the kindness of strangers.
It really felt like travelling in a way that I don’t know that I could ever replicate.
I also got lost heading to the airport for my flight out. The streets were so confusing and I could not find my way. At one point, I was crying on the side of the road and this man–who could speak English–ends up closing his shop and him and his friend end up driving me to the airport.
It was all those little wow moments that made this trip my favourite. Not only was the scenery breathtaking and stunning beyond belief, but we were just figuring out everything as we went along.
@ChelseaKauai on Kaua’i:
Do you have a ‘happy place’ on the island? Somewhere you go to just escape?
There’s a little beach down the road from my house. I have to take this side road and go down this little muddy route but I spend most of my evenings there. I try to be outside every night for sunset.
If one of your friends was visiting you on the island for the first time, where would be the first must-see spot that you’d have to take them?
Definitely would have to take them to Waimea Canyon. It’s a State Park on the western side of the island. It’s the most diverse with mountain views, this immense canyon, a beautiful waterfall, and lush green valleys.
Favourite place for breakfast?
Nourish Hanalei. They have a super small menu but the view is beautiful and they have great smoothies. It’s sisters who run it and they’re so rad.
It’s changed so much from being plant-based the last six months and my tastes have really changed. But there’s this place called Eat Healthy Cafe and it’s all plant based but it is really, really good.
Advice for anyone visiting the island?
A few pieces of advice would be:
Expect rain; but know, you can always usually find sunshine if you head more south or more west.
You’ll definitely want a car because everything is quite remote.
The most practical advice would be to make sure you eat dinner before 8 o’clock because everything closes really early, something you would quite quickly figure out!