Nikōra Smith: Return to your roots

It’ll take you 24 hours to fly the 7,500-ish miles from Alberta, Canada to Auckland, New Zealand. Quite the stretch for a vacation. For a relocation, it’s something else entirely — a journey founded in both inner and outer discovery. When LifeProof ambassador Nikōra Smith moved his life to a place so far away that the water literally swirls the opposite direction, it was a newfound homecoming. And a moment to find a new sense of balance.

"When I visited in 2012, everyone was saying I’d be back. I thought yeah yeah yeah. Sure enough, my feet got itchy."

Nikōra’s wandering spirit stems from his father. An avid surfer, he traveled across Polynesia searching for breaks off the shores of island paradises. But it goes back even further. A descendant of the Māori, his ancestors explored the vast expanses of the South Pacific in canoes (waka) until founding the space now called New Zealand, where Nikōra now calls home.

After settling in, Nikōra set about striking a new balance between his cultural, educational and creative callings. Starting with his Maōri roots, he was initiated into a tribe and began delving deeper into the nuances of their worldview and traditions. Central to this belief system is the idea of symbiosis — that the Earth and its inhabitants should exist in a harmony of giving and taking. Not a new concept for Nikōra, but one that shores up his own stance on sustainability.

"You have to be out there in the wild to see how valuable and central a cohesive relationship with the environment really is."

Nikōra’s spiritual and creative sides meld during regular pilgrimages into the mountains. On these shoeless hikes to lush waterfalls, his bare soles connect with the soil of his homeland while his eyes and camera scan for curious interplays of light and scenery.

Photography is more than an obsession — it’s a medium for stitching his Maōri journey to his personal passions.

This life of development comes with sacrifice. Nikōra has to split his time between working towards a degree in Psychology with a minor in Maōri and Indigenous Studies, a night job in a community home for kids and a workout regimen that would make any Austrian bodybuilder blush. But even with all those plates spinning in midair, he’s found his balance.