Living Vivida: The Healing Journey of Greidy Diaz

Greidy Diaz appears a bit out of place situated in front of a Michigan window that makes obvious the frigid temperatures just outside his door. With his dark unruly hair pulled back, a bright Vivida shirt complementing his skin tone, and a collection of bracelets that hint at his personal beachy style, it seems that two contradicting worlds have collided to bring this human to where he is today. It is, perhaps, two places that have shaped Greidy Diaz up to this point, but to minimize the weight of what he has endured in two very different worlds would be an incredible understatement.

Greidy’s story is not a simple linear narrative - a glossy ‘American Dream’ tale, or a ‘rags to riches’ storyline, although on the surface, this would be an easy assessment. What is striking about Greidy’s life, beyond his experiences, is the truth in how he tells it, the ownership of his journey, and the way in which he is moving forward by understanding and acknowledging how his past has shaped who he is today. Greidy’s account of his life thus far is real - he does not aspire to put up smoke screens or glamorize what he has endured in order to make himself appear ‘cool’ or ‘better’ than anyone else. And while he is proud of his journey so far, it’s still a journey in progress - one that will no doubt be filled with all the highs and lows of a life in motion.


THE BEGINNINGS

Greidy was born the oldest child of 4 in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic in 1993. His immediate family consisted of 4; 2 sisters, 1 brother, and his mother Nancy. His descriptions of his mother make it apparent that she was the stoic center, the only constant - built of the kind of strength that is instilled by necessity, not by want. His biological father went on to have 17 more children with various women. Greidy grew up realizing quickly that the odds were not in his favor. Dinner often consisted of small portions of rice, on which they would sprinkle sugar to make more appetizing. Sometimes, his brother would eat Greidy’s portion of food, once even replacing the sugar with salt, thus rendering his only rice portion inedible. It was a painful trick that stands out in Greidy’s mind as he recalls how hungry he was so much of his childhood.

His homes, which shifted locations often, could best be described as ‘ramshackle’ shelters - consisting of one or two rooms, made of corrugated metal and recycled supplies never intended to be used as building material. The structures leaked profusely and provided little shelter to the outside elements. Setting the scene of his childhood, the image is stark. There was very little to be had in the way of food, shelter, clothing, or anything else that required money. His mother worked as hard as she could to keep them afloat.

Throughout his youngest years, Greidy was left at home with his small siblings during the day, while his mother worked. At only 5 years old, Greidy recalls his mother being away most of the time, working tirelessly to earn money to support the family. During this time, he was abused often by the woman who cared for them. At bath time, she would often take a soapy cloth and push it down Greidy’s throat, barely allowing him to breathe. Greidy also suffered regular sexual abuse from the women’s two older sons. It is a heartbreaking truth that abuse and domestic violence disproportionately affects people in poverty, who are entrapped in its cycle with little means of  escape. An innocent child, staying quiet out of fear, with no support or system for him to turn to. Later, Greidy would only realize once coming to the US, that what happened to him was wrong, that it is not normal or acceptable for such abuse to be inflicted upon anyone, let alone a small child. Still today, he has never spoken to his siblings of this experience, and does not know exactly what, if any, abuse they incurred at the hands of this woman and her children. 

ENTER BEACH LIFE

When Griedy was 8 years of age, his mother grew tired of moving all of the time and she decided to bring the family to his grandmother Reina’s house in Cabarete - the beautiful and well-known coastal region of the Dominican Republic. While still extremely modest, Reina’s home was situated on the beach - a location that felt to be a far cry from the slums of Puerto Plata. It felt like a new beginning. The salt water air infused new hope in Greidy, having escaped daily abuse and mistreatment, although still very poor, his days grew richer. He speaks of this move very matter-of-factly, as if in the scope of his life, it was simply another chapter. All of his worries did not disappear, his family remained desperate for relief from the constant hardships of life, but the slightest tone of his voice changes when speaking of this transitionary moment. It’s as if his brain still hasn’t caught up to the fact that this is truly when the smallest of doors began to open.

With parts of his misery behind him, what would enter his life at that time that would forever change the trajectory of his story. Kiteboarding. A young kid with not a single clue of how to swim, Greidy was immediately entranced by the sport upon first sight, and he set out to learn how to kitesurf by any means necessary. His first kite was repurposed from an old kite taken out of the garbage. He fashioned kite lines himself with what he could find and gathered anything he could to turn his materials into something ‘kite-like’ that would allow him to ride. His board was a boogie board scrounged the garbage as well, that he would use in the shallow water. Carefully avoiding the deep areas where he would need to swim, Greidy managed to slowly and steadily start riding and learning the skills of the sport. This new self-taught activity by an 8 year old did not go unnoticed by his mother and grandmother. He recounts that every time he left to the beach and returned, they would hit him, telling him he was too young to go to the beach alone. Still, Greidy persisted. The feeling was too good, the freedom, too tangible. It could not be ignored, even at just 8 years old.

When Greidy’s mother sent him to the beach with an uncle, hoping to provide him with some adult supervision, the same throughline of his childhood would unfold. The man would beat him badly each time they went. After a year of escaping to the beach at every opportunity, skipping school and sneaking away, his mother and grandmother finally gave in. Greidy had helped rescue a kiter on holiday and received a tip as reward. After this, his mother never complained of his beach-going again. It suddenly became apparent that kiting was not a fool’s errand for a poor boy, but rather an opportunity to put food on the table. Money meant freedom. 100 pesos. Instead of telling him not to go, his grandmother would insist, “You must eat all of your food first!” before leaving to the beach. Greidy would only sometimes comply before he was off again to practice his newfound extreme sport passion.


FAR FROM HOPE & INTO DARKNESS

Unfortunately, sooner than later it was time to move again. Greidy’s mother decided it was time to move to La Cienega after a fight with her brother. Once again, a move of necessity, but this time displacing Greidy’s true sense of happiness and purpose. In their new location, a place known for its flooding, Greidy’s home was constantly filled with water. He noted that being inside his house, he was just as exposed to the elements as he was outside. Rain would enter like an unwelcome, familiar house guest. Greidy speaks of this time with great sadness. Again, he was abused by elders incessantly and bullied by children older than him. He had returned to an existence he knew all too well - one of sadness, impermanence and insecurity. It was just a way of life, that he and everyone around him accepted because there was no alternative. Choice in anything was a luxury not afforded to Greidy or his family. It was simply survival.

Around this same time, the tourism industry was beginning to boom in Cabarete, where his grandmother still lived. As the area gained in popularity with kiters and tourists of all kinds, so too did demand for waterfront property. In a turn of events fueled by the greedy land-grabs that tourism often creates in destitute regions, his Grandmother was forced out of her home and off her property - something that his family is still fighting to this day. His grandmother has since passed, but the battle for her land continues. Beach access has become largely privatized and still poses issues for locals trying to access their own beach. A common tale playing out as it has for decades in similar places.

Around this time, without kiting in his life, Greidy turned to the darker influences in his life, saying simply, “I wanted to be a man.” To him, and based on the influences he had in his life to that point, being a man meant drinking, doing drugs, and falling into bad habits. It allowed him to feel he was simply fulfilling the fate of his upbringing - his destiny. Thoughts of becoming a kiting champion were now far from his mind - like a past dream of a life he had barely begun exploring. His only thought at 14 years old, “I need to make money.” And at other times, “I am hungry and so are my brothers and my mother.” His friends would also turn on him at times, likely fueled by arguments born of drugs or alcohol. One of his best friends sliced his upper arm with a machete, a wound that still bothers him today.

A RETURN TO POSSIBILITY

Eventually, this need to make money, and the opportunities that he knew were growing in Cabarete, drew him back to the beach. Physically, he had to retrain himself to kite, as he had lost his skill and muscle memory of the sport. He also started making money helping people at the beach again; rescuing kites, assisting people on the beach, and doing anything that might earn him a ‘tip’. Working his way out of his bad habits, improving his kiting abilities, and showing initiative, he was able to get a job at a kite school doing supervision and teaching Spanish speaking clients.

His sights became set again on becoming a professional kiteboarder. With improved habits, no longer succumbing to drinking and drugs, Greidy returned to a place where he felt good again. “I was doing the right things and getting results.” he recalls. He trained daily, regained his strength, and was making money too. Life was improving as he improved himself.

Later that year, Greidy would be introduced to the Vivida Lifestyle by way of a chance encounter with David, the Vivida Lifestyle founder, at Encuentro beach. Greidy remembers his kite breaking during a session - a disappointing thing when you only have one kite in your quiver. David lent him his kite to try and a friendship blossomed between them. From video projects to kiting trips and photography sessions, Greidy set his sights on becoming one of Vivida’s first sponsored athletes. And as it happened, it became a perfect pairing - the young, highly motivated Dominican kiter coming on board with a young brand and founder, equally navigating new waters and a future of possibility. “Time passed quickly.” Greidy recounts, as they filmed what is now known as The Vivida Movie - you can see where he was featured here:

David and Greidy would explore salsa dancing spots around town, enjoy the beaches of the area, and bond over long days spent on the water. These two people from very different places were brought together not only by time and place, but also the ethos of the Vivida Lifestyle. The idea of living life in the present moment, of doing what you love and seeking out purpose - this concept became ever more clear to Greidy, through kiting and the experience of true freedom that it provided. To him, it seemed as though Vivida came into his life at the perfect moment. The ideas and values that were forming in his life, taking him away from his struggles and hardships, was what the Vivida movement encapsulated. Even though the community of Vivida at the time was small, Greidy felt he was a part of something bigger - something that provided a sense of belonging and meaning.


THE RIGHT PLACE

David’s time in Cabarete eventually ended, but Greidy continued to wave the Vivida flag high and operate as a proud Ambassador. He earned his IKO certification, which enabled him to teach at a higher level and earn more money doing so. He carried on with teaching, training, and developing good habits as time passed.

Throughout the next year, his life seemed to be on a steadier trajectory. One night, he spotted a striking American Iranian girl in the crowd at a club his good friend brought him to near his home. Acting as wing-man to his friend, and not really in the mood to be out so late, Greidy was not aware he was looking at his future wife and soulmate. He assumed she was Dominican because of the friends she was surrounded by, and struck up a conversation about kiting and lessons. Unbeknownst to him, that night would be the next turning point in his life. This time, it involved someone who infused positivity, support, and love into his life. This time, it felt right.

While Melodi returned home to the states soon after her vacation, they kept in touch and began a long distance relationship. They strategized how they could be together, but it was not easy. As a social worker, Melodi could not easily pick up and leave to be in the Dominican with him. Greidy, in the same way, had no visa or the financial means to take trips back and forth. They talked about their future incessantly, and finally came to the conclusion that they had to be together, no matter what.


COMING TO AMERICA

Eventually in 2018, they made the decision that Greidy would come to the US and they would get married. He moved to Michigan, but he quickly discovered that such a huge transition would be more difficult than he imagined. His struggles arose on several fronts. He couldn’t make money without working ‘under the table’. He would clean houses, making $10 an hour. After leaving an IKO instructor job that would pay $25 per hour, this did not live up to the America Greidy was expecting.

“It was insane.” Greidy emphasises. Coming from collapsing housing that could barely fit 3 people inside, he was dumbfounded by the homes he would clean - filled with ‘things’ that would overflow closets, garages, and rooms. He couldn’t believe the amount of clothes American people kept, or junk that would sit, unused in basements. It was much like an alternate universe, where waste and surplus went unchecked and unnoticed. Greidy did not know this world and he wasn’t sure that he liked it.

His other main revelation of living in the United States? The FOOD. Food was everywhere and available in excess. He couldn’t believe how accessible it was and in how many varieties. The fast food was endless and Greidy imbibed like any formerly hungry child would - eating with unrelenting voracity and hunger, built up over years of deprivation. By Greidy’s account, his appetite turned him into a much heavier version of himself. While weight was a physical manifestation of the hardship Greidy was experiencing, his internal life was suffering as well. Growing increasingly depressed and disappointed with his new existence, far from anything he knew, Greidy attempted to take his own life, swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills in an effort to end his deep suffering.

Luckily, his wife Melodi was able to find him in time and get help. He credits her for saving his life. And after over a week recovering in the hospital, Greidy was able to realize that the help he needed was not just about physical recuperation, but also the need to heal emotional wounds of his past. Since that time he has worked to find a way through the dark periods of his past and come out stronger and more self-aware - always a work in progress.

Today, things are better for Greidy. He has lost the weight he gained, and has turned to a more positive focus in his life. Partially, he attributes this influence to Vivida - reminding him to live in the moment and appreciate life for what it is, in all its ups and downs. His voice takes on an even brighter tone when he reveals he and his wife have purchased his aunt’s house in the Dominican Republic. He considers it “his new dream”, that he and his wife can embark on together. While their full plans for the place, or how much time they will spend there are unknown, it is undoubtedly a huge factor in Greidy’s happiness - knowing that he has not said goodbye to the Dominican forever. Beyond all of the hardship and struggle he experienced, it is still the place where he feels alive and at home.

WHEN THE SUN COMES UP

Although one can leave a place of pain and despair, hoping it doesn’t follow quietly in shadowed footsteps or long leaps over imaginary borders, trauma generally doesn’t bend to wishes of relief or respite. Only in Michigan, did Greidy come to understand the concept of ‘mental health’ and the realization that what he experienced as a child through abuse and mistreatment is trauma that will last a lifetime. He now knows that such trauma requires help and personal growth towards healing and mental clarity. While his siblings or the children that grew up around him will likely never benefit from understanding the repercussions of what they experienced at the hands of violence and abuse - such as generational behaviors that will continue to carry on in places of poverty and deprivation, Greidy has made it out with a greater understanding of where he has come from and where he is going. He does not claim that everything is suddenly sunshine and rainbows, he simply acknowledges that he is on a path with incredible things ahead. He is happy. Happy to have escaped a life of poverty. Happy to be married to the love of his life. Happy to be opening his eyes to new things in this world. Happy to be connecting with the places and people of his past.

Today, when he needs to find peace or tranquility in his day, Greidy goes kiting on Lake Saint Clair. If he misses home, he might dance some bachata or drink some brugal for a bit of comfort. He continues to learn new trades, to be able to earn a better living, such as construction and delivery. His home is covered in Vivida stickers - a daily reminder to live life to the fullest, to be grateful, and to seek out nature whenever possible. Now, his journey feels like more of an exploration, rather than an uphill climb. He is ever-more at peace with himself and his journey.