Women Of The Sea pt. III

Women of the Sea pt. III

Iriomote Island

We are women of the sea.

Inspired by countless generations of strong women venturing to the depths, providing for their family in unison with the sea. This connection touches all of us, reminding us of where we all began, floating in her salty womb. Our true mother, the ocean.

Iriomote island was like nothing I’d ever experienced over many visits to Japan – it’s 90% covered in jungle, with a population of just over 2000 and has only two traffic lights! (I’m not even sure if I saw a vending machine!). It’s dark at night and you can see the stars. There’s no airport, so you arrive here by sea. Everything in these southern islands of Okinawa is a little more raw and wild and free – including the people!

Guided by my friends from the Sloth Club Japan, I’ve come here  to meet Akiko Ishigaki – an 80 year old master weaver and dyer, priestess and environmental activist. Akiko is a woman of the sea. And she’s like a magical alchemist, fixing her natural dyed handwoven textiles in the brackish combination of the river and ocean – the life-giving mangroves . A bright smile and kind heart, her woven creations and innovations are highly prized all around the world – made famous by her work with designer Issey Miyake.

A visit to her home base and studio reveals a kaleidoscope of creativity –  deep blue indigo cloths hung around weaving stations to dry, pots simmering with a variety of natural dyes, smoke and steam – so much beauty, inspiration and potential made by human hands dancing with the elements – earth, water, fire, air.

Aikido’s mission is to preserve Okinawa’s traditional dyeing art through teaching a profound awareness of connection with nature, along with protecting her wild island home. I was very touched when she explained her deep, enduring love for the ocean. She told me that the ocean is a mother to all, nurturing but strong and powerful – just like all women. We are all connected, humans and nature… there is no separation.

Akiko brought me with her to learn about the process of setting the natural vegetable dyes into the banana fibre hand woven cloth using the mixture of fresh and salty ocean water found at the mangrove river mouth. There was something so familiar about her combination of wisdom, humility, strength and mischievous humour – splashing me as we walked through the mangrove forest, looking for any opportunity to dunk me in! She reminded me of my own grandmother and the grandmother free divers I’d met in Onjuku and Jeju island in Korea – so matter of fact, playful and self assured…

Everything is ‘real’ about this place. People are down to earth and open, food is local and authentic and nature surrounds you every turn you take. After spending some time with Akiko, we explored the island, visiting sacred ceremonial sites – places that held ceremonies of the unique Southern Japanese culture with steep, jagged cliff faces. The lush green forests spilled out into the sea, with the mangroves hugging the shoreline. We found shelter from the spring showers under the rice straw roof a traditional house. We met friendly goats and served them dandelion flowers to nibble. We foraged for traditional Okinawan herbs growing on the cliff face on our way to the ocean  –  tasting like parsley.  It felt like home.

I’ve learned many things on this visit to Iriomote Island but the core message from Akiko has been set in my soul: that the ocean is our mother, we need to love and take care of her as she has done for us.

Akiko is a women of the sea. As are we all, children of the tides.

Thank you Akiko for sharing this joy with me, to inspire this deeper love and connection with the ocean.

Thank you to Billabong for helping me continue this learning journey and giving me the opportunity to share it with all sea sisters around the world!

Billabong Article: https://billabong.com.au/womens/blog/travel/women_of_the_sea_pt_iii_.html

More information on Akiko: https://kuurukoubou.wixsite.com/iriomote

 

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2019 – and it’s already a whirlwind!

And just like that it’s April 2019!

Highlights –

  • Burleigh Single Fin comp – first place
  • Pro Junior competitions – 2 finals finishes (current ranking #4)
  • World Qualifying Series competitions, Australia leg (current ranking #90)
  • Turned 18 and had so much fun!!
  • Panama photo shoot and hosting Summer McKeen in Australia for Billabong Womens
  • Helping Launch the Global Wave Conference set for Feb 2020 (Gold Coast World Surfing Reserve)
  • Surfing Australia finalist for the ‘Rising Star’ award
  • Visiting Taiwan, supporting girls surfing and Iriomote, Japan for #Women Of the Sea part 3

It’s been a whirlwind through busy Australian surf competition season and I apologise that its taken me so long to keep you updated! It’s been filled with surfing, training, travelling (mostly road trips!) across the country – and that’s my best excuse for being so late with this post!

The year started with the prestigious Burleigh Heads retro single fin competition – only the second time woman have been allowed to join in! I was so stoked to come away with the win. Now we have a beautiful blue single fin in our board quiver – mixing it up when we get the chance!

This year I’m entering as many pro junior events as I can – and have been doing ok – ranked at number 4 in the Australasian leg so far after 3 contests. There are a few more to go and the aim is to make the top 3 to qualify for the world junior surf competition. It’s tough going with the talent coming up the ranks in Australia – but it’s such a great opportunity to progress. Working out at the Surfing HPC when I am at home has been so helpful as well as P3 Sports and Recovery for recuperation!

I’ve also surfed in a few WQS competitions in Boomerang beach, Avoca, Newcastle and Manly and have managed to stay ranked in the top 100 women surfers. It’s a hard slog and I have a loooong way to go, but I’m so motivated work hard to improve! Turning 18 will definitely make the international solo travel easier – I feel better equipped and more confident in who I am and what’s motivating me with every experience along the way.

I’m so grateful for the support – especially from my family who put up with me! We’ve been mostly road tripping in the old van to the surf competitions with my brother, Yani, entering a few contests too and figuring out the formula that works best for us all.

I’ve been trying to stay actively involved in environmental campaigns and it was fantastic to join in with 30 000 other young people for the the Global Strike for Climate in Sydney. We also supported the media launch of the Global Waves conference set for February next year at the Southern Cross University that brings together some amazing organisations including Surfrider Foundation and reminds us just how important it is to stand up for what you love. Being involved in local campaigns like protecting the southern Gold Coast protected as a world surfing reserve and supporting community access by opening up the ocean way path connecting Tugun to Kirra has been so empowering!

Billabong brought Summer McKeen (American and instagram youtube star!) out to Australia and I had a blast showing her around my own backyard. From horse rides with Ollie, morning Yoga with Suzanne, to skate boarding fun along the ocean way (thanks OBfive) and lots of laughs in the ocean on the long boards, it was great to hang out! I was so inspired by Summer’s positivity and dedication and the way she could juggle it all!

At the WQS 6000 competition in Manly I met and chatted with Kelly Slater (Slater designs and G.O.A.T.!) and the Firewire crew and feel so grateful not only to be getting such incredible boards, but to be part of a culture of commitment to the planet and innovation to use the best designs and best materials that is shaping a new future in surfing.

Finally, I’ve just returned from an amazing journey to Taiwan and Japan, travelling solo, learning and growing and sharing passion for the ocean and for an empowered generation of girls in the waves. I came back just in time to see Caroline Marks take out the first World Surf League event of the year in my own Gold Coast backyard – taking the podium as the youngest female surfer to wear the yellow vest and take home the equal prize money! Truly making ‘HERstory’!

I’ll do my best to get the video footage from travels so far up on my channel. Thanks to GoPro for the continued support in being able to share this story!

 

 

End of 2018 wrap up

And just like that it’s the end of 2018!

It was a massive year of surfing, travelling, of friendships and appreciating the deep, enduring connections that keeps everything grounded and centred. It’s nature, it’s the ocean, it’s family and it’s the people you trust who will be completely honest with you. Being away for so much of the year, that understanding is like a rudder, helping stay on the course to the future!

I’m so grateful to the sponsors who have supported me, not only in competitive surfing, but in so many other ways –  for encouraging me to share the stories and to stay passionate about what I believe in and learn and grow from it all. Thanks especially to Billabong, Firewire, GoPro, Shapers, HPC and Clayton Nienabar. 

 

Here’s a quick round up of the year:

 

World Qualifying Series competitions

This was the first year I seriously followed the qualifying tour – to the Carribean, Japan, South Africa, USA and Europe as well as Australia. I had my ups and downs, with a knee injury earlier in the year playing a bit of havoc. I learnt to trust myself in travelling alone and taking care of my health along the way- I’ve nailed the medicinal dahl recipe as soon as I start to feel ill! I’ve seen the world through surfing competitively and found how easy it can be to get stuck in that buuble- how important it is to find true connections in unfamiliar situations.  I finished the year ranked 96 in the international women and that will hopefully allow me to enter most of the higher ranked competitions in 2019. 

 

Family journeys 

This year I was able to go back to my birth place of Ecuador to visit my father and his (very extended) side of the family. It’s a big story and there’s lots to share…it’s still in process! We also did a quick trip to Nias, Sumatra on the search for magic waves and found beautiful connections. 

One thing I am so grateful for is our tradition of trying to ‘give back’ on these family adventures. We bring boards and other useful surf type gifts to give to communities struggling, we donate to local causes that we are directly connected with and we try to share their stories.

 

Soul searching – Women of the Sea

One of this year’s highlights was the opportunity to meet and learn from the world’s true mermaids – the freediving women who sustained their communities from their intimate connection with the Ocean for thousands of years. The Ama of Japan number only around 2000 now, and 90% of the Haenyeo of Korea are over the age of 60. Diving with 81 year old Chunja-O in the clear waters of Jeju island gathering cockle shells for lunch was unforgettable, humbling and empowering at the same time…

It’s an ongoing journey of identity – searching out women and cultures connected to and sustained by the ocean – through multiple generations. And it couldn’t have been more timely with this year the WSL announcing gender equity for professional surfing. There’s a new wave surging to shore!

 

Caring for Life

It’s been a whirlwind, but along the way you get glimpses of the crises – heatwaves and fires, cyclones and weird, irregular weather, plastic everywhere, species extinctions…So you do what you can do – bring your reusable bottles and straws and cutlery, pick up the trash (and create less!), celebrate the simple pleasures, protect what you love – where and however you can. Understanding we are connected to everyone and everything makes it easier…

 

Modelling 

People think I model a lot – actually, it’s only been a couple of weeks in the year, but the images stay around for a long time! It’s something I’m very fascinated by and I’ve had so much fun with my Billabong Australia family traveling to the most beautiful places and receiving the opportunities to learn– especially from amazing photographers who have shared their wisdom and encouragement (esp. Josie Clough, Marina Alonso, and Mike Calvino…)

 

Vlogging

And, here’s the visual diary of the year! It’s hard work sometimes, but I hope sharing this will encourage others (girls especially) to get out there in nature and live life to the full!

 

Year of travelling vlogs 

 

Mexico

https://youtu.be/ElQ4cQ4vCfk  

Martinique 

https://youtu.be/Lmj2tJGCoTc

 

Barbados 

https://youtu.be/ZT8rionvwHo

 

Coachella

https://youtu.be/qtzOGL8dRV4

 

South Africa 

https://youtu.be/0jTxaUP78J4

 

Korea

https://youtu.be/oL59r25sx54

 

Hawaii

https://youtu.be/6qade4EDQQ4

 

 

Nias – KabuNohi, a family adventure

Traveling the world as a surfer on the qualifying series – it’s a dream life, isn’t it? 

Well, yes…but it also means a whirlwind of moving, away from family and routine, stressing out about competition results and getting to the next place and figuring out all the logistics…and the waves can sometimes be, let’s say, pretty ‘average’.  

 

Finally, I had a week spare between competitions and it was time for a trip to a tropical paradise that promised waves and a connection with community. It was a bit of a trek – overnight in Singapore, then overnight in Medan, then a final flight and a 2 ½ hour drive – but it was all worth it! Lagundri Bay, one of the top 10 A grade waves in the world, nestled on the edge of the palm fringed island of Nias (off Sumatra) with a vibrant culture recovering from a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, took the prize and was truly magical.  

 

In her research of the area, Mum had come across an eco-resort where the owners, Mark and Debi, made community the core of what they were doing. The KabuNohi resort, directly in front of the main right hand break, is a relaxed, private oasis in traditional style; with an open, family feeling. The gardens are lush and beautiful and the separate huts are spacious and perfect for a surfing family – with racks for boards and to dry out the boardies and bikinis.  The girl ‘squad’ who look after guests and the surrounds are bright and cheerful and I was so stoked to see them out on the waves too, sharing the joy!  

 

Like all our family adventures, we try to learn as much as we can about where we are and give back to the community. Mark and Debi connected us with Augustinus, who’s helping kids in 10 villages in the area with a library and special classes in English and Maths. It was so special to be able to visit the kids and bring them some books, Billabong backpacks and other bits and pieces – to laugh and sing and run through the streets – and hopefully be able to keep up the support and visit them again in the future.   

 

We had a (ridiculously) short 5 days at Lagundri bay – so we tried to cram in as much exploring as we could between surfs. A highlight was meeting the Hart family from WA and setting off on scooters (guided by the legend Elvira) to find the ‘Kings’ village, Bawamatluo, an amazing place nominated for World Heritage listing, where centuries-old traditional houses – built without nails – protect a living culture that maintains the cultural practice of barefoot leaping of a 2 metre stone pillar as a right of passage for men. 

 

We looked at Yani (just the right age at 15) but he just shook his head. Apparently he’d rather charge a 3 metre barrel…Instead, the village guides (and Mum!) encouraged us to put on the traditional costumes and get into the spirit of things. We almost melted in the tropical heat – but the smiles and the enthusiasm of the local people made up for the humidity! 

 

On our way back, Elvira took us off the main track – up a hill so steep our poor scooter needed a push from a friendly bunch of school boys – to a jungle path that wound 25 minutes through the forest to a stunning waterfall. The torrential rain the night before had topped up the water level and we had the most refreshing, rejuvenating experience! On the way home on the scooters, we weaved through the narrow streets (air conditioning provided by our still damp clothes) waving at always friendly people, arriving back in time for an afternoon surf session. 

 

The next day we continued our exploring; wandering up the point to the spooky, abandoned tourist resort with decaying huts under towering coconut palms – a vision before its time…And a little further along an amazing lava flow area that had been pushed up a metre or so from the earthquake, creating beautiful, crystal clear ocean grottos and caverns. It felt like that island in the movie ‘Life of Pi’ – a pulsing, sighing, heaving tidal nursery for fish and ocean life. It was worth bringing the goggles along to try the free diving through the lava flows – sunlight trickling through the gaps.

 

We didn’t score a major swell while we were there (our five days were wedged between two pulses) – but even at its smallest, the Lagundri wave is beautiful –  a long, clean right hand peeling wave over a deep reef that is relatively gentle on your skin! We left our reef shoes behind and managed fine on the walk back to the break. The wave was pretty crowded, but it was awesome to see at least half of the surfers were locals – and among them were several girls! Times are a-changing! We were happy to be able to bring a couple of extra boards, bags and other prizes along to encourage the local groms. The Hash family will be running a surfing competition in the next weeks, with around 24 locals signed up before we had even left! 

 

Despite having so little time, our experiences shared as a family will last a lifetime. It is a place where simple pleasures, relaxed vibes and open hearts set the tone.  We are so grateful to Mark and Debi and the Kabunohi family for having us, for the support from Billabong for the kids and to the people of Lagundri Bay for welcoming us and letting us share your waves! 

 

 Here’s a short video!

 

 

 

 

Women Of The Sea: Haenyo

Haenyeo (also spelled haenyo) (Hangul: 해녀; lit. sea women) are female divers in the Korean province of Jeju. Known for their independent spirit, iron will and determination, the haenyeo are representative of the semi-matriarchal family structure of Jeju.[1]:’ Wikepedia

Earlier this month I had the most incredible experience on Jeju Island – diving with the Haenyo women. The mermaid freedivers of Korea who have provided for their families for centuries. Kim Jee Eun brought me there to meet her 81 year old grandmother, Chun Ji- O, who took us out with their ‘crew’ to collect edible periwinkles from the crystal clear waters. It was the first time Jeen had ever been diving with her grandmother  – a reflection of a tradition in decline…

The rocky, volcanic landscape of Jeju may be part of the reason why the water is so clear, and provides so much habitat for sea life. There are also strict rules set by the Haenyo in what can be harvested when and by whom. To create co-exsistance with the ocean and humans. I was amazed to see so much ocean abundance. When they are not in the ocean, the Heanyo are on the land growing food in small plots – healthy, local and sustainable.

It’s the complete contrast to large scale, industrial fishing and agriculture where the environment is destroyed and the delicate ecosystems are stripped of all life, products are shipped around the world until no one really knows where their food comes from and how it is produced. Diving with the Haenyo reminded me of that direct connection of what you put in your body and how all ecostystems need balance and time to replenish.

The diving itself was a beautiful experience – like a kind of meditation. Diving, gathering, surfacing – listening to the distinctive harmonious whistles and outbreaths of the Heanyo when they surfaced – a specialised form of breathing and communication developed over hundreds of years. As we were emerging for the last time, Chun hooked an octopus which, along with the shells, she immediately cooked up for our lunch.

These are the most badass, joyful, empowered grandmothers I have ever met – supporting their families and communities in a tradition that has continued for thousands of years. And they are proud of their tradition, which is now protected under the UNESCO cultural heritage. Sadly, like the case of the Ama divers of Japan, there are very few young girls who want to become Haenyo, and almost all of the 5000 divers are over the age of 60.

This experience, like meeting the Ama divers of Onjuku, Japan, is opening my eyes to the challenges that young women face in believing in themselves and standing as equals as the future unfolds. I truly hope that more young girls will find their way back to the ocean, not only finding a lifestyle from it, but finding ways to protect it so that it sustains many more generations of ‘Women of the Sea’.

Watch my youtube video below on my experience, shot all on GoPro HERO 7.

https://youtu.be/aBvoysRl7fY

And click here to find out more!

https://roadsandkingdoms.com/2017/the-female-free-divers-of-jeju/

‘Glide’ the Alaia

Meet ‘Glide’.

Glide is an Alaia surfboard.

She takes pride of place in our living room – a work of art leaning against the wall, a talking point to just about everyone who comes in; ‘What is that?’, ‘Where did you get it?’, ‘Can you actually ride it?’.

‘Glide’ (lovingly) came to life in my brother Yani’s hands – his first time shaping, out of a sustainably harvested slab of Paulownia wood supplied by our eco building wizard friends from@xylosinuous and @wooden_anchor_andy . There had been lots of shark activity and as the beach was closed, a bunch of boys got the tools out and got to work!

Gilde is very, very difficult to ride!

On those small days when you want to remind yourself to stay right in the pocket and compress deeply to stay balanced – and spin around everywhere… Glide is your perfect companion! Those days when most other people say; ‘awww the surf is crap’, that’s the time to bring her along – especially as we can’t bear to put a hole in her for a leg rope, and you don’t want her to bump into anyone.

Glide was designed asymmetrically to work better on the right hand breaks we have here on the Gold Coast and she has a little concave bottom aiming to get a little more projection along the wave.

There are so many, many ways to love surfing – to love playing the ocean. We started riding on dinged up old boards from garage sales and they were as much fun as the latest, modern, high tech, competition ‘blades’. It just depends on your goals and your mood at the time!

‘Glide’ is our constant reminder of where surfing all began – riding simple slabs of wood on those big Pacific waves…

Here’s how she was made!

Surf Obsessed!!

Finally I’ve been able to get back on a short board after a few weeks out with my knee injury and the waves are pumping on the Gold Coast!

It is just an absolute joy and the best job in the world to be able to surf for 5 hours a day with friends, family and legends of surfing who motivate you to keep challenging your limits!

I’ve just come back from a whirlwind of a journey in Japan, a country of culture and grace and incredible food. I travelled from the city to the ocean – doing environmental talks on sustainability, ocean love and girls empowerment with the Sloth Club, shooting with the talented and gorgeous Marina Alonso for a special project I can’t wait to share with you, and hanging out with the GoPro crew for a week. We went to festivals, explored Tokyo city and drove for hours along the coastline looking for waves!

We surfed the barest of ripples on longboards, fish boards and soft tops – and it was always so much fun, but to be honest, all I could think about was getting back on my performance short boards on some big waves – turning, shading, swooping, sliding, floating, dancing…

The contrast of experiences again made me realise that the most important and sustaining thing in all these travels is to be true to yourself. With every encounter I learn something new about myself and the world – making it that much easier to step out of my comfort zone for the next adventure!

Now I’m getting boards and equipment and coaching and physical training and everything else I need to get together – with fantastic help from my sponsors and family – all to be ready in just two days to head back to South Africa – one of my all time favourite surfing destinations. So full of stunning nature, epic waves and the most open hearted of people.