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!

 

 

 

 

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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.

Comfortable in your own skin💪🏽

Lately I’ve been thinking about the long process about truly feeling comfortable in your own skin – flaws and all. That struggle for perfection that will never be won, and the freedom you get when you fully accept who you are.

I’ve struggled with fitting in my whole life.

I was always the crazy child running around wanting to play, dance, fight, laugh, and do whatever the boys were doing because I had more fun doing real things than sitting still gossiping with the girls at school.

When I was around 11 years old I was told by my school mates that I was “too skinny”. Until then I’d never really thought much about my exterior- good or bad, I always thought it’s just me. Kids at school said I was gross and asked if I even ate food- I would go home to my mum and blame her for not feeding me enough so I tried to eat double portions to feel accepted. But it didn’t work for long- I couldn’t sit still at the dinner table and I would play my favourite songs and dance around between each bite… I started surfing and found carefree love for the ocean- it always seemed to wash away my worries… I loved life too much for opinions to slow me down.

When I got to high school new problems started to come up… Puberty. First I started getting one or two pimples on occasion when I ate a lot of sugar the day before and I had to put tinted zinc to try and hide them but let’s just say the kids were ruthless. Boys especially. They loved pointing them out and gawking at my pimples as if they were some sort of contagious disease. Of course, we were young and at the most awkward time of our life – confused about why we had to worry so much now, unsure about how to deal with these horrible feelings that everyone is judging you with each glance in your direction.

In the next couple of years it only got worse, I don’t remember any time where I did not have a big red zit somewhere on my face. My forehead was covered in small whiteheads and I began to develop more cystic acne along my cheeks and sometimes my chin. I felt gross and even though some of my peers were going through the same thing, I still felt alienated and alone. I tried to smile as if I didn’t care about the colony of angry red spots on my cheeks…I caked oily make-up on my face every day for 2 and a half years.

I tried lots of home remedies; honey masks, Aloe Vera, toothpaste, tea tree oil, different types of cleansers and exfoliators. I changed my diet, cutting out sugar and dairy products – eating as cleanly as possible… I felt frustrated because they worked once or twice but nothing cleared it completely. Stress from school work, surfing results, being the skinny girl who was as flat as a chessboard made everything worse. And worrying about whether my face would ever clear up only made my skin worse. I didn’t have the strength to not touch the spots – I wanted them gone as soon as possible, not thinking about how they would leave scars.

Looking back, I was attacking my skin- it was the enemy. I let it control my life and I think mentally I made it a much bigger issue then it was, feeling so self-absorbed that I was unaware of all the wonderful things that I got to experience with my surfing. I started taking antibiotics when I was 15 years old, hoping it would help and tried to focus on my surfing.

I began to travel for competitions and I felt relieved to get out of the bubble where appearance was everything. Ironically this was when I started some modelling for Billabong and explored a whole new part of the surfing world. I had the same feeling all over again- sitting in hair and make-up just hoping they wouldn’t say how bad my skin was that day.

The antibiotics weren’t working and the acne was beginning to leave scars. At 16 my mum and I went back to the doctor and asked what we could do next. There was a treatment called Roaccataine but with excessive sun exposure from surfing meant this was not an option. The other option was to control my hormone spikes with a mild form of the pill. After 4 months my skin started to clear and left me feeling happy and relieved. Finally I could free my skin and let it truly breathe, I felt refreshed and from then on I’ve let it do its own thing- not over cleansing and blocking it with different products- just finding the right balance for me.

At the same time, my body started to change, my metabolism started to slow down, and for the first time in my life, I started to put on weight. I became aware of ‘squishy areas’ that were once just skinny muscle and bone! I was kind of happy, I mean this is all I’ve ever wanted since I was a little girl- to be normal! But with this new growth came yet another challenge – stretch marks on my thighs and my butt. Now what could I do? I cleaned my diet even further, started doing more fitness work outs on top of my surf training and strength conditioning.

It’s made me happy to fuel myself with fruit and veggies. I feel more in tune with my body and I eat when I’m hungry but stop when I’m full- making sure I’ve got energy to burn when working out and training.

Self-control is an ongoing process,  but as I grow older I know what my body needs and I think that whole awareness has given me more reassurance that I can be happy as long as I’m healthy and active. Genetically, I’ll always have the skinny legs from my mother’s side and my father’s side just is more susceptible to stretch marks…

I feel like I’m coming full circle on my 17 years on this earth and in this body- learning to accept things about myself and to feel grateful to be healthy, I’m still learning to stop comparing myself with others – comparison is the thief of joy. I am who I am and every squish, acne and chicken pox scar, stretch mark and every dimple of cellulite just makes Pacha, Pacha.

I think if you are happy and healthy, doing what you love and bringing happiness to others- whatever ‘flaws’ you may have fade into insignificance. And I’ve learnt that nature will never judge you; playing in the ocean, adventuring in the forest, dancing in the rain will always make you feel fully alive and remind you of who you truly are.

Martinique, Caribbean

Winding French roads through mountains, oceans, waterfalls with cane and banana plantations, all in the middle of the Caribbean. Martinique… a beautiful combination of the two cultures.

I traveled there to compete in a Women’s 3000 Qualifying Series event and enjoyed my time eating croissants for breakfast and dining on the fresh seafood and local organic vegetables.

I surfed at the contest site with friends until the sun went down, a long right wave that broke on shallow rocks that were quite a stumble to get in on but fun non the less. I didn’t do very well in the competition, getting knocked in the first round heat. I felt very disappointed in myself on making many wrong decisions… You always have to learn from your mistakes and always be grateful! So for the rest of my time on the island, we did some adventuring down to Tartane, a beautiful town with many fun reef breaks. The backdrop of this place was amazing- covered in radiant green palm trees with the bluest ocean I have ever seen. I was with such an awesome group of friends, every trip was so fun! We hiked up and down and through the mud to a beautiful waterfall one day and surfed for countless hours the next!

The local people of Martinique were so funny and kind, I definitely made friends with some hilarious characters – who tried to teach me Creole, a local language that mixes both French and Caribbean!

There is so much magic in such a small island- I can’t wait to go back and discover more!

Here is my video log from my week there, I hope you enjoy!