Julia Ortiz and Dash
A Soul Nourishing Life
Story by Diana Addison Lyle
IconicFocus Models NYC/LA
Cheyenne Ellis Photography www.cheyenneellis.com
Artistic team represented by Alyssa Pizer Management
Styled by Steph Ashmore for Art Department
Hair and makeup by Lauren Lancaster for Art Department
Julia Ortiz is a rare soul. Unlike so many people in sophisticated, first world countries who are focused on themselves and the value of “I” and “me”, Julia avoided questions about herself and was far more excited about highlighting her husband, Donnie, and son, Dash – who joined us on this exquisite Malibu shoot. This gorgeous woman is “we” oriented, community oriented, and enormously compassionate towards people whose lives are tough and challenging. After studying Julia’s childhood, I began to understand how her empathetic roots were formed. She was raised by grandparents who fostered children with mental disabilities. Julia embraced the life they provided for her, and learned valuable life lessons from it. This exotic, honey-skinned beauty diverted questions away from her modeling career. She wanted to talk about the beauty of life, her love for her family, creating pieces of art that have meaning, living by the beautiful Pacific Ocean, and all the conceptually beautiful aspects about life. Recently, Julia’s art pieces were featured at the Brian Bowen-Smith Gallery at the Lumberyard, Malibu. During the months we worked together, I recognized that material possessions hold little value in her family’s life, and a simple life, shared with the people she loves, is what she cherishes the most.
For the record, I’m inserting Julia’s prolific modeling biography here: she achieved much success working in NYC, Paris and Los Angeles. She accomplished Maybelline campaigns, worked for Elizabeth Arden, Elle, Vogue, and Pirelli Calendar. Her iconic work included being memorialized by renowned photographers Richard Avedon and Patrick Demarchelier. Julia’s natural ease at our Point Dume modeling shoot a few weeks ago is evidence of just how comfortable she is in her own skin. Her focus was on hers and husband Donnie’s 9-year-old son, Dash, who brings out the glint in her eyes.
The super-talented Dash has already achieved so much in the first 9 years of his life. Already an accomplished surfer, he has won two local surf contests. He enjoys skateboarding, and has a green belt 2nd degree in Kaje Kampo Kajukenbo from the Pit Malibu.
The Ortiz-Eichar family has another important component of their family: Mars is their 65-pound super cute, super smart Wire Haired Pointer Griffon whom Dash takes great care of.
Dash’s world is full of imaginative charm. His birthday parties with his friends are held on the beach with teepees made out of Julia’s sarongs. Every year, a traditional ‘tea and etiquette’ party has become a special event for his circle of close friends. The Ortiz-Eichar lives are about balance and harmony, creating constructive goals for the future, keeping active and building imaginative days that are inestimably fulfilling and satisfying. Where there is despair, they see new opportunities and hope. When life gets complicated, they uncomplicate it with values that are indestructible. Their lives remind us – when we are lost – of how to find our way back to a more meaningful, gentler, kinder place.
Our sincere thanks go out to IconicFocus Models NYC/LA.
Q: You spent your childhood years growing up in the countryside with your grandparents. How would you describe that childhood and the values that it taught you?
Julia: My grandparents owned a farm and my fondest memories are exploring in nature. We would go on walks and learn about the different types of trees and plants. I helped with the gardening and tending to the animals. My grandparents fostered children with mental disabilities so from an early age, I learned to embrace the differences in people. They instilled many values in me that I still hold on to today. When I got up to no good on the farm, they would make me fill up buckets with rocks from the garden bed and property. Then they would have me use the rocks to begin building a driveway down to the creek. By the time they sold the farm when I was 12, they had a completed driveway! I also didn’t grow up with a television or telephone and this taught me to be comfortable with myself and my thoughts. So to describe that child would be: curious, adventurous, and free. The values that it taught me were, respect for nature, animals and people, hard work, connection, compassion, and community.
Having Dash has filled our lives with so much love and laughter. He inspires me to be more creative and renews that love of life that we have as children – the wonder, the curiosity. He is always ready for an adventure
Q: You were scouted by a modeling agent at age 16 and you moved on your own to New York City. Describe the enormity of that move – given that you had never been away from your family.
Julia: Moving to NYC from northern Idaho at the age of 16 was equally scary and exciting. It was the first time I had ever traveled or been on a plane. I was fully aware of the incredible opportunity and I did everything I could to take advantage of it. I had such a positive experience with my modeling agents; it was a very nurturing relationship. And I’m still good friends with the majority of my agents. I think having agents I trusted that looked out for me was key. But I also took my career extremely serious. I knew I was a kid in an adult world and always wanted to be professional and taken seriously.
Q: At age 17, you jetted off to Paris where you were contracted to ‘Elle France’. How would you describe those Parisian years?
Julia: Moving to Paris was great for my career. At the time it was almost a requirement. However, Paris at that time for me was extremely lonely. There’s something to be said about travel without a computer or iphones. There’s a certain sense of adventure and navigating the unknown. But, once I started booking modeling trips all over the world to some of the most incredible locations, I started to embrace the unknown, and the unfamiliar. I would typically spend half the month traveling to exotic and remote locations and I loved it – often times staying after my shoots to see sights or take photos. It gave me a chance to see places one would never think to go. I am absolutely grateful for modeling and I still love working and traveling.
Q: You met your husband, Donnie Eichar, 9 years before you eventually realized he was “the one”. You met in NYC through mutual friends and you all went off to Costa Rica on a surfing trip. Give us a picture of that happy vacation.
Julia: Well, we actually never got to meet up on that trip. He was with one group of friends driving up from Panama, and I was with another group driving down from San Jose. We were all meant to meet up in a town called Pavonnes but there was a hurricane that wiped out a few of the bridges – which prevented us from getting there. I ended up in a town called Matapalo, which is where I ended up living for 3 years after.
Q: You built a house in Costa Rica.Tell us about that.
Julia: I went on a surf trip to Costa Rica in my early 20’s and fell in love with it. I ended up buying a piece of property and eventually built a house in the Osa Peninsula on the edge of virgin rainforest. It was such a great experience. The area there is scarcely populated with no power lines or paved roads. We communicated by CB radio and most days my footprints were the only foot prints in the sand, so building a house in the jungle was an incredible feat. I ended up living there for 3 years, building the house, but would still travel for work. It was the epitome of being young, free and wild in nature. Coincidentally, my neighbor down there is also a model and we both ended up in Malibu and still remain close friends.
I went on a surf trip to Costa Rica in my early 20’s and fell in love with it. I ended up buying a piece of property and eventually built a house in the Osa Peninsula on the edge of virgin rainforest. It was such a great experience. The area there is scarcely populated with no power lines or paved roads
Q: When you and Donnie were eventually in the serious phase of dating, you both moved to Malibu. What is it about the lifestyle in Malibu that you particularly love?
Julia: At the time we started dating, we both lived in Hollywood. However, we were both familiar with Malibu and Point Dume. My husband used to go surf Big Dume and he would always drive through the Point and dream of some day raising a family there. We both envisioned living there one day – even prior to dating – and funny enough, envisioned having our kids go to Malibu elementary (formally Point Dume Marine Science School). The draw was being close to the beach, the surf, the community and nature. We’ve now been living here for 15 years and we love it.
Q: Dash is yours and Donnie’s much-loved 9-year-old son. How has he changed you and enriched your lives?
Julia: Having Dash has filled our lives with so much love and laughter. He inspires me to be more creative and renews that love of life that we have as children – the wonder, the curiosity. He is always ready for an adventure. And I love watching him grow and evolve as a person. It’s a beautiful thing. One’s childhood is so brief and delicate, so I feel it’s my job as a parent to make it as magical and full as possible.
Q: In your nurturing of Dash, you encourage him to set goals, to partake in lots of activities, and being altruistic is very important to your family. Recently, you went on a trip to Indonesia wherein Dash visited a local school.
Julia: Donnie and I firmly believe that if you envision something, you can make it happen. Setting goals and never giving up is the only way to make it happen. Each New Year’s Eve, we all take time to envision what we want to achieve in the coming year. For Dash, it helps to see his yearly goals on the fridge every day. They aren’t easy ones to achieve, but when he does, it’s a special occasion to be celebrated.
Our trip to Nihiwatu Sumba Indonesia was very special. I think travel is important for children, especially when they can experience what it’s like for other children who live a different life. In Sumba, which pretty much is an untouched tourist-free island, we brought school supplies and helped to feed the school children who come from miles away to have, possibly, their only hot meal of the day. We also took Dash to a local malaria clinic and showed him first-hand the effects of malaria. I think it’s important to teach our kids what we can do locally for our community, which has the potential to radiate globally. It’s our responsibility to take care of the environment and protect the ocean. Outside of our bubble, it is important to be aware of other kids around the world, and the trials that they are dealing with. We try to be appreciative of the simple things and not take them for granted.
Donnie and I firmly believe that if you envision something, you can make it happen. Setting goals and never giving up is the only way to make it happen. Each New Year’s Eve, we all take time to envision what we want to achieve in the coming year
Q: Dash is enormously talented in lots of areas. He surfs with his dad and is working towards becoming a junior lifeguard.
Julia: Yes, We believe in keeping him active and while academics are important, there is plenty of room for the extra curricular to nurture other talents. Our motto is, if your child is really good at something he enjoys, he will have something he can be proud of. Dash has been working really hard studying Hawaiian Kajukenbo mixed martial arts at The Pit in Malibu since he was four years old. Kumu Rick and Kumu Sharine, who are his teachers there, teach the kids confidence and respect, which I think is super important. He’s now a 2nd degree green belt and has competed in a few martial arts competitions in Pismo. As a green belt, a requirement is to help teach kids who are belts below you, which is important. Dash also plays soccer and recently made the all-stars team. He also has a fascination with cars and is an avid skater. While we were in quarantine due to Covid-19, we built a small skate park in our backyard, and also, funnily enough, Dash learned to juggle! Generally at home, he is an amazing singer, dancer and comedian.
Q: Donnie has a fascinating career. He’s a New York Times best-selling author for a non-fiction book about nine Russian hikers in the 1950s who went missing.
Julia: Yes, his book is called ‘Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident’. It’s one of the most profound unsolved mysteries of the 20th Century about nine hikers in Russia who died of unknown causes. Donnie traveled to Russia multiple times and actually traced the hikers’ footsteps through Siberia in 40 below zero conditions.
He’s currently working on a four-part documentary series that he created and sold to CNN. It’s an incredible civil rights story that has become even more relevant with the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. I can’t talk about it yet because they haven’t officially announced it in the press.
Q: What are some of the best ways to enrich our children?
Julia: I feel like you don’t have to travel to give your child the experience of different cultures. Dash has visited the Wishtoyo Chumash village, and our friend Danny has taught him about the different native plants, how to make chord from leaves, and how to forage a salad from greens that are considered weeds. Getting back to basics and connecting with nature is so important.
I also believe that exposure to art is a great way to enrich your child. I take Dash regularly to many of LA’s art museums and galleries. He also recently participated in the worldwide paddle out for Black Lives Matter at Zuma beach. It was a great way for the youth to show their solidarity.
Q: What are the ingredients, in your opinion, for a healthy relationship with one’s spouse – and other relationships?
Julia: What comes to mind is definitely Listening, Patience, Creativity, and of course, Respect.
Q: Your family has lots of goals for the end of 2020.
Julia: Yes, Donnie and I have teamed up with some of our good Malibu friends and we’re launching a new company in Malibu later this year. I can’t talk about it just yet but I could not be more excited. I will continue to work on my art with hopes of having a show at the end of the year. Dash will work on making more of his biodegradable beach bucket/toys in an effort to lessen the plastic waste left at our beaches which enters our oceans and waterways.
Q: You are keenly aware of doing your part in environmental responsibility. You use washable trash bags that can be tossed in the laundry.
Julia: Yes, we’re always working towards conscious living. So, in my household, I try to implement ways in which we can produce less waste. Using washable trash bags is a way in which I can further reduce plastic use and waste in the household. I also like organizing beach clean-ups with Dash and his friends as this helps show them the effects our actions have on the environment.
Q: Your family loves to travel. Importantly, you are strong proponents of the “paying it forward” principle when you visit under-developed parts of the world. Give us examples of places you have visited and the community outreach.
Julia: Gosh, well I know when we travel, wherever we travel, we always try to envision beforehand what we could bring to give to the locals that might be valuable or precious or useful to the children – whether it be clothes, or school supplies or soccer balls. I remember when I went to Zanzibar for a shoot – before I went on safari by myself camping in Kenya and Tanzania – I brought lots of things to donate, but I’ll never forget giving lollipops to these Zanzibarian children who were helping their mothers harvest seaweed in the low tide that they would sell to cosmetic companies. I gave them all a lollipop and they were so excited, grateful and happy. After they thanked me, I realized they had no idea what a lollipop was! So, I will never forget unwrapping the lollipop and showing this one boy how to put it in his mouth and taste it. The look on his face was priceless, and then all the other children were eager to follow suit. I can’t help but imagine them still remembering the first – and quite possibly only time – they ever had a lollipop!
I’d like to see more help, resources and compassion for people facing mental illness and depression. More kindness in the world, and more activism for the environment. Also, more unity and equality.
Q: As a family, what are your hopes and dreams for the future – and particularly for Dash?
Julia: My hope is that we are all able to fully realize our dreams and aspirations while being genuinely happy and healthy. Contributing to society is an ongoing goal for our family.
Q: Favorite food dish?
Julia: SOUPS! I LOVE soup!
Q: Favorite book?
Julia: One hundred Years of Solitude’. Just re-read it for the second time. I’m now in the middle of The Overstory by Richard Powers and this could be a contender for my new favorite book.
Q: Place in the world that impacted you greatly?
Julia: I remember when I went to Morocco for the first time in my 20’s. It seemed like time stood still there – like it was still in biblical times. It had such beauty, simplicity and authenticity.
Q: Places you’ve visited – both for work and pleasure?
Julia: Greenland, Egypt, Morocco, Brazil, Galapagos, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Mauritius, Peru, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Fiji, most of Europe and the Caribbean, Sicily, Mallorca, Corsica.
Q: Places you’d like to visit?
Julia: Back to Sumba, and also to Papua New Guinea! Donnie wants to go to New Zealand, and Dash wants to go back to Sumba, but also to Abu Dhabi. Haha.
Q: How are family weekends spent?
Julia: Our family weekends are always spent literally camped out at the beach. We meet up with our friends and that’s usually preceded by a trip to Thorne Family Farms beforehand. We make an organic picnic and set up camp. Dash and his friends surf with the dads. The moms take turns doing a long beach run for exercise. We have a wonderful picnic lunch, catch up, and on perfect days, stay long enough to watch the sunset. If the conditions are bad or its too windy we’ll have all the boys come back to skate at our house.
Q: The 2019 Woolsey Fire in Malibu prompted the emergency retrieval of your most important items – as your family evacuated at speed. What were your most treasured items that you saved?
Julia: Dash’s most recent martial arts belt, and his favorite movies; his cash box (piggy bank) and his deck of magic cards (he was really into magic at the time).
For Donnie I grabbed a prototype book I made for him when I was pregnant and he was writing his book. This prototype essentially got him his book deal. Then, a pin from when he was made an honorary boy scout in Russia; a sheriff’s badge an ex sheriff bestowed upon him in Louisiana, and a crystal his recently deceased aunt gave him.
For me, I grabbed a sketch that my grandmother drew of her dog in her 20’s at school; my hard drive with all my photos, and a bird statue I bought in a small shop in Sumba Indonesia that reminds me of a Kiki Smith drawing.
We set them out in the hotel room the first night as we watched the news and made peace that these might be all the belongings we have – come the morning. And we were okay with it.
Q: Change you’d most like to see in the world?
Julia: More help, resources and compassion for people facing mental illness and depression. More kindness in the world, and more activism for the environment. Also more unity and equality.
Q: Plans for the rest of 2020?
Julia: Stay right here at home. We have so much beauty right in our back yard. Dash’s junior lifeguard and Makos Surf Camp has been canceled in light of Covid-19, but we’ll still be surfing and enjoying all that Malibu has to offer.
Q: Your parental goals for Dash in the next year?
Julia: We want to introduce to Dash in the next year – when he turns 10 – to meditation. Donnie practices Transcendental Meditation. I think it is important for people/children to practice meditation in such a crazy world.
Q: Most treasured Mother’s Day gift?
Julia: Honestly, they are ALL always the best Mother’s Day gifts. I’m a huge fan of a nice homemade card. I think I’ve saved every card I’ve ever been given. And I also look forward to the traditional strawberry chocolate chip pancakes that Dash and Donnie always make me.
Interview with Dash:
Q: Favorite food that mom makes?
Dash: Pasta with broccoli and lentils
Q: Favorite weekend activity?
Dash: Go to “cars and coffee”. Go to the beach and surf with family and friends and skate.
Q: What is cool about surfing?
Dash: You can be in the water and it’s like dancing in the water.
Q: What do you enjoy about acting?
Dash: You have the whole stage and you can walk around and have fun with your friends.
Q: What do you want to achieve the most by the time you are 10?
Dash: Land a kick-flip
Q: What’s a place in the world that you would love to visit with your parents?
Dash: I want to go back to Nihiwatu Sumba.