On the morning of November 11th, the flames began licking the crest of Malibu’s Rainbow Mountain, a photogenic ridge that overlooks the golden expanse of Deer Creek Canyon and the Pacific coastline just beyond it.
This was just days after the Woolsey Fire began to burn, and Hamish Patterson had been optimistic the brush fire would miss his little converted trailer home, perched on the end of a skinny dirt road. Now, it was official: He had to pack up the truck with wife Blythe, teen stepdaughter Georgie and 3-year-old son Owl, plus whatever belongings that could fit, and book it out of Malibu.
About a week later, Patterson had a chance to go back and see the rubble for himself. In typical fashion, he decided to film it for his YouTube channel. Patterson hit viral fame years ago for a silly surfer-bro bowl-cut video, but he’s since become a sort of internet shaman with California cool and a deep love of positive philosophical musings. He’s racked up tens of thousands of fans with his unadorned videos discussing life, hardship, mental health and the “illusion we live in.”
Many of those videos had been filmed at his home on Rainbow Mountain. But now it was just ash, bent aluminum, plastic distorted into grotesque shapes, nuts and bolts and shards of glass. The hits kept coming for Patterson, too, even as he expected the worst was over. Blythe, a familiar face in his vlogs, decided she needed to separate from him, despite (by his account) what felt like a stable relationship. She took Georgie and moved to a friend’s in L.A. Was it the shock of the fire? Or something else? Either way, all of a sudden, it was just Patterson and Owl.
“I was just like, ‘Are you serious? This isn’t a game. We’re a family. We have kids together,’” he says a few weeks after the split. “I thought this was concrete to her. But she just said, ‘I need to go find my truth, I need to go find my truth.’ I thought this was your truth! I know a part of it burned down to the ground, but I didn’t expect this.”
The frustration in his voice was obvious, but Patterson tells me (and his viewers in an update vlog) that he’s been caught off-guard by his own patience and perseverance. I joke that all those daily lessons he’s delivered on keeping your cool and simplifying your decisions must’ve worked on him, too. “I’m not going to sit here just angry and feeling like things are unfair, man. Of course I’m upset. But it’s more disappointing than anything else,” he explains. “There’s nothing I can do at this point other than let her go and see what happens in the future.”
Patterson likes to call himself “The Illusion” and the world around us “Spaceship Earth” — both metaphors for the way he talks about how we inevitably shape the existence we feel and see. So it was amazing to see that his new home, which he recently signed the lease on, is another converted trailer. It’s near the coast in Malibu’s Point Dume neighborhood, but there’s a symbolism in the fact that it almost burned down; swaths of the yard are charred black and brown, and the shell of a burned-out Range Rover still sits in a corner.
“It’s like I re-materialized the trailer somewhere new. The energy of the fire manifested it somewhere new,” Patterson says with a fat grin in a video tour of the home. “It trips me out, man.”
Patterson admits that the cost of such a home, right in the heart of Point Dume, is a challenge. But it’s also three minutes to Owl’s school, and he’s already run into acquaintances and fans who want to help him out. “I’m paying more for rent than, like, ever before. But I just knew that I had to make the plunge, man. I don’t want to sit here agonizing about it when I want to get Owl and I set up and be where we need to be,” he adds. “It’s going to be okay. I’m stoked.”
The priority now then is to focus on his son, as well as his YouTube channel and artwork, which involves custom woodworking and beautiful geometric designs. A friend gave him a blank surfboard, which he plans on transforming into an art piece that’ll sell for a few grand, with any luck. Meanwhile, fans continue to watch his updates, praising him for his honesty and clearheaded advice. “I was a single father, and I seriously wish these videos were out at that time. I was alone, scared and a new dad adjusting on my own. I can’t believe I made it, tears me up thinking about it,” wrote one YouTube fan.
“That’s a Jesus-level alpha male right there, man. Best ever. Strength fueled by love and compassion rather than brute force,” added another.
Hearing those things reminds Patterson that he can’t waste time moping or feeling bad for himself, or walking backward into depression, which he has struggled with in the past. The past six weeks have been “the craziest” of his life. But it grounds him to see how the fire affected so many other people in Malibu, the town he’s loved since he was a kid. So while he’s not sure what will happen with Blythe, somehow, it’s okay.
“I made it through the dust bowl, man. Today was the first day of the new dream. It’s pretty exciting. I was sitting at my little coffee nook, working on my art… it was cool. I’m super into the vibe,” Patterson says in his most recent vlog, on December 21st. “Life is short. I don’t have a lot of time to look back.”