We Are Family: PrimalCon Oxnard 2014

PrimalConOh, man. What a weekend!

It’s the Monday after PrimalCon Oxnard, and I’m still trying to process it all.

Let’s set the scene for those who don’t know: Mandalay Beach Resort, Oxnard, CA. Nestled right on the coast between Malibu and Santa Barbara, this sleepy little resort hovers at a perfect 72-75 ºF through September, even as the inland valleys bake in the lingering summer heat. Sand dunes shield you from coastal winds. Nights are comfortably cool. The clear blue sea is 66 degrees, refreshing without being uncomfortable. The resort itself is recently remodeled, fusing luxurious refinement with beach culture. And of course, our barefooted band of joyful Groks and Grokettes took the place over, earning flabbergasted stares which gave way to envy and curiosity.

The event kicked off on Thursday night with a welcome gathering and dinner banquet after a day of travel. Not that this chatty group needed one, but we did play a fun ice breaker game where registrants wrote interesting and unusual facts about themselves on notecards, then had to seek out and find the individuals who made the statements on their card. Players were instructed to venture away from “Primal-obvious” type answers (since “I love bacon and dark chocolate!” and “I love hiking in Vibram FiveFingers!” could have literally been applied to anyone in the room) and get a little wild. Some of my favorites: “I won $1,000 in a Dirty Dancing contest in 1986”; “I’m afraid of wet black hair”; “I grew from 5’5″ to 6’1″ in a single year” (from Julian Depeyrot, whose parents Krista and Philippe had such a great time at PrimalCon New York they brought their teenager out to Oxnard; don’t worry, he didn’t see anything too incriminating); and finally, “I was suspended from an all-girls high school for wrapping the nun’s bathroom toilet with Saran wrap so when they sat down they’d wet themselves….” (Come to think of it, someone was swiping sheets of plastic wrap all weekend from the kitchen station). I’m always amazed and delighted at the ubiquity of human strangeness, and the ice breaker game made that very obvious.

Dinner was graciously provided by the Mandalay Beach Resort. Actually, scratch that. We provided the food, the ingredients (lots of butter and good fats, no nasty processed oils), the recipes, and the expert chefs at the resort did the cooking – and did an excellent job bringing our Primal vision to life. Roasted tenderloin, asparagus riding the razor’s edge between crispy and tender like only perfectly cooked asparagus can, chicken in a rich cream sauce, whipped ginger cinnamon sweet potatoes, sautéed baby kale, and a half dozen other dishes filled our bellies and fueled boisterous dinner conversation all weekend.

Friday morning rolled around and PrimalCon was officially on! The presenters, attendees, and staff all gathered at Oxnard Beach Park, a popular spot directly adjacent to the resort. Acres and acres of lush green grass set the stage for the fun and games and adventures to come.

We had the ever-addictive slacklines set up. I think about two dozen people probably hopped on Amazon to order them as soon as they got home.

We had PrimalCon favorites Adam and Vanessa Lambert leading attendees through gymnastics, weight lifting, and mobility sessions (yeah, they pretty much do it all).

We had San Diego strongman Brian Tabor gracing us with his goofy humor, ridiculous strength, even more ridiculous knowledge set, and a knack for helping people realize and unlock their ability to lift heavy and oddly-shaped things (and carry them). Oh, he’s also got a really fantastic cat shirt and low top Chuck Taylors in every single color.

How to describe Darryl Edwards for the uninitiated? Words don’t really suffice. Adjectives? Nah. Joules might be more accurate, because the dude is the living manifestation of pure kinetic energy. From morning until night, Darryl is in play mode, making it his life’s work to get everyone – and I do mean EVERYONE – playing, laughing, and generally having the time of their lives as they have the workout of their lives without even realizing they’re working out. The guy gets IT. If I had to nitpick, it’s that he prefers his burgers well-done. But hey, nobody’s perfect.

Chef Rachel Albert, a longtime PrimalCon presenter, did things a little different than usual. Instead of treating us to a master cooking demonstration as she’s done in years past, she bared her soul to us: she recounted her successful three year battle with stage 4 cancer using a mix of alternative and conventional methods, including a very low carb, high fat ketogenic diet using Primal principles. In a sense, her story perfectly captures the ultimate purpose of Primal – to utilize both evolutionary health and modern medicine in the pursuit of optimal health and happiness. Everyone was touched by her journey. Either that or someone was slicing up a big pile of onions in the ballroom. I can’t express just how happy it made me to see Rachel doing so, so well. She’s got big plans ahead, and I look forward to hearing more.

Friday was also my keynote. I focused on a simple but powerful concept that seemed to reverberate through the weekend: the minimum effective dose. Whether it’s the amount of glucose we consume, exercise we do, or sun we take in, the foundation of successful PB living is to be as happy, healthy, lean, fit, strong, and productive with the least amount of pain, suffering and sacrifice as possible. We want to eat only as much glucose as we need to fuel our activity and replenish our glycogen. We want to only do as much exercise as we need to build muscle, strengthen bone and joints, and promote good health and fitness. And we want to stay in the sun just long enough to maximize vitamin D production (and maybe build a base tan); we don’t want to get so much sun that we’re so burnt we can’t go outside for two weeks. The minimum effective dose lets us live to fight and play and love and experience another day.

This time my partner in crime, Brad Kearns, stepped away from exclusively running the show to finally fulfill his lifelong dream to become a PrimalCon Oxnard presenter. He taught running and sprinting to an enraptured audience, using his unique blend of off-the-cuff humor and training know-how (did you know he was an elite, world-class triathlete, sprinter, and high jumper?) to leave attendees in stitches. I didn’t know you could laugh and sprint at the same time, but apparently Brad can make it happen. Oh, and don’t get me wrong: he still ran the show, he just let others do a little more of the work. The guy must have put in about 30,000 steps a day, minimum.

Another cool thing was the incredible transitions taking place. You had Leslie Klenke, who went from PrimalCon attendee to Primal Blueprint Publishing author (of Paleo Girl) and PrimalCon presenter. You had Alessandra Wall, who came to PrimalCon Lake Tahoe an eager attendee and showed up to Oxnard a seasoned expert discussing the psychological aspects of eating and living healthfully to jam-packed groups. Or how about inquisitive and joyful Harish, who lost so much weight (90 lbs) between Tahoe and Oxnard that I barely recognized him? Or Larry, who lost over 100 pounds (and counting) and transformed his life in the process?

We did the Primal ocean plunge, of course, followed by a madcap sprint back to the jacuzzi where we tripled the maximum capacity until the security guard had to ask us nicely to disperse. But that was okay because it was time to eat!

One of the highlights unique to the Oxnard event is the annual Survivor Team Challenge. Six groups of around a dozen teammates tackle three full pages of challenges requiring a mix of brute strength, strategic thinking, physical endurance, planning, communication, delegation, logic, and a willingness to handle slimy seaweed and talk to strangers. Page one of the challenge sheet says teams can’t even start the game until you follow a chain of clues to find a hidden treasure somewhere in the park. Well, our first three teams were so gung ho that the entire pack of three-dozen players immediately hit the deck to tally up the required 300 pushups per team! Mercifully, the organizers let them proceed only for a bit before reminding everyone that their physical efforts wouldn’t count toward the total until they presented the first hidden treasure to the judges… After scavenger hunting, pullup and squat competitions, brain teasers, photo challenges, and some truly off-the-wall tasks, the Survivor Team Challenge left participants physically and mentally exhausted and requiring ample amounts of delicious Primal fare and restorative movement and massage sessions.

Luckily, lunch was right around the corner and our expert presenter roster was stacked with body working, ailment soothing, movement assessing rockstars. Between VitaMoves creator and bodywork wizard Angelo dela Cruz, massage specialist and movement assessment expert Tracy Barksdale, physical therapist and holistic injury treatment artist Tommy Brice, and the dynamic duo Dr. Dawn and Coach Kimmie – two lacrosse ball-based prehab/rehab/movement experts with a penchant for hilarious sexual innuendo – any attendee with sore, tight, or overworked body parts were well taken care of.

And lunch! Oh man, what a spread we had each day. Grass-fed burgers, plantain chips, mixed baby greens with pomegranate and a simple vinaigrette, coconut butter, cacao nibs, mac nuts, 2 year aged grass-fed cheddar, nut butters… Bob Montgomery, founder and proprietor of San Diego’s Not So Fast! – the first (and in my not so humble opinion, best) paleo/Primal food truck in California – once again handled lunch for us each day. The dude worked hard, mixing enough of his secret ground beef burger recipe up to feed 150 starving people and dropping choice quotes like “I don’t feel right if I’m not elbow deep in grass-fed beef at least once a day.” If that doesn’t give you an idea of the sort of love and passion Bob brings to the delicious lunches at PrimalCon, I don’t know what will.

I was also very pleased to have my entire family with me at the event for the first time. My wife Carrie and her friend Karen led group sessions, my daughter Devyn participated throughout the weekend, and my son Kyle showed up to do battle in Ultimate Frisbee. There’s nothing like family, especially when you get to share them with your extended Primal family.

Speaking of which, the Ultimate Frisbee matches – secretly my favorite part of the weekend, or couldn’t you tell? – were indeed battles. We fought hard and emerged victorious in the first match. In the second game, Kyle’s team came from 4 points down to tie the game at 9 apiece. I was a nice guy and let him have the benefit of the doubt on a questionable play, and they ended up winning. Sometimes you just gotta let the kids win one, you know?

The ongoing feud for perfect PrimalCon attendance between everyone’s favorite camp counselors, Tina Leaman and Chris Adams, and everyone’s favorite ninja, Angelo, continued apace. They’re both sitting at 9 for 9. If I’m being honest, I hope no one comes out on top.

We had a Primal pig! Jennifer was so kind as to pasture-raise a pig just for our Saturday night luau. Apparently the pig didn’t listen to my keynote, because in the early afternoon it decided to roll off the spit directly onto the coals to receive far more than the minimum effective dose of heat needed to cook it. Thanks to the quick thinking of our pork-starved staff, however, we rescued the 120 pounds pig before any real damage was done. As it cooked for hours and hours, we all had to suffer as the smell grew more and more appetizing.

Luckily, it paid off. It tasted even better than it smelled, especially combined with the tropical mango salsa. We had our Saturday luau out at the park, sipping wine, nibbling dark chocolate from Santa Barbara Chocolate and Primal dark chocolate from Eating Evolved (yep, we had two sources of dark chocolate to choose from, both incredible!), and sipping wine while nibbling dark chocolate (what, you haven’t tried that combo?) as the sun dipped below the horizon.

By Sunday, everyone was extremely-well exerted and had logged in many hours in the sun. That’s why Katy Bowman’s presentation on the importance of basic everyday movement and variation on Sunday morning had a wonderful balancing effect. Having just flown in from her hectic worldwide book tour Saturday night (and having walked 5.5 miles that morning from a friend’s crash pad to the beach park to arrive by 8am!), she brought some fresh energy and an interesting perspective that a life of movement and variation is the key to health (especially in the workplace…stay tuned for our joint project called Don’t Just Sit There). From Katy’s perspective, formal workouts–while obviously delivering performance and health benefits when done sensibly–is actually just “junk food” in comparison to the dense nutritional benefit we get from cultivating a daily lifestyle of consistent movement done throughout the day. The audience was relaxing on the grass for this presentation, but she made sure everyone changed positions every so often throughout the presentation! Thought provoking stuff to be sure, especially to a group of people seemingly smitten with the numerous workouts they’d completed the previous two days.

You ever have a great big dinner party with all your favorite people eating great food, conversation streams crisscrossing the room, story snippets and laughs, the beautiful cacophony – and then it all comes to a halt and you’re left with palpable silence that’s almost deafening and a bunch of dirty dishes? Yeah, it’s kinda sad.

But that’s just momentary. And necessary. Without sadness, there is no happiness. It’s just an emotion, a natural response of the mind to the cessation of inordinately good times. So what I do in these situations is move on to reflect on the weekend. This happens every dang PrimalCon, like clockwork. It’s part of my process.

If all this sounds like a good time – and believe me, it is – start making plans for next year’s PrimalCon Oxnard. It’s happening around the same time next year and it is going to be even better. We’re pulling out all the stops to make it the very best and biggest PrimalCon yet, so stay tuned for details.

You know what? I just figured out where the minimum effective dose concept does not apply:

In love, and laughter, and friendship, and community. You want as much of that as you can get, and PrimalCon is overflowing with it.

Thanks for reading, all. And for those of you who were there in Oxnard with us, thank you so much for making it another incredible experience!

We are family

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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