Mixing It Up In The Maldives

The Maldives have always been on our minds. Why not? It is a tropical paradise. Lucky for us, we got a message from a group in the Maldives called Raalhu Edhuru who have been doing work with the local kids on different islands. They do a week long camp with local kids and get them surfing and thinking about caring for Mother Nature. They invited us to come out and be a part of it. We knew this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity so we quickly said yes. That began the planning and logistical side of things. After all, traveling 10,000 miles is no easy chore. Finally we all agreed on dates and we booked our tickets. STSF ambassador, Matthew would accompany me on this big adventure and later on, with little to no coercion, Jeff Biege jumped on. With Matthew’s sense of adventure and Jeff’s skill behind the lens , I knew we had the right crew.IMG_7200
Finally the time had come and it was time to go. I flew to Miami and met up with Jeff and Matthew. We boarded our Turkish Airlines flight and we were off to Islanbul, Turkey. To be honest, Turkey made me nervous because we had a bit of a layover there and we wanted to see some of the city. A few days before the trip I had checked the travel warnings and it said to reconsider travel to there.  It said that westerners have been targeted for kidnapping and assassinations.  S-K-E-T-C-H-Y!  It wouldn’t be the only time we had been to places that said to reconsider travel and based on Turkey’s location…I was reluctant. I’m finding as I get older I like to stay a little more low key. We all decided we would feel out the vibe when we got there and decide then whether or not to venture out.
After our 11 hour flight we arrived in Turkey. Everything was pretty smooth so far except for me getting the visas for October instead of August. Oops. It was easily fixable thank goodness. We headed out in a shuttle to our hotel. Istanbul was super cool and had a bit of a European vibe to it. It felt safe so we ventured out…but not too far:)IMG_8269 (1)
Next up was our eight hour flight from Istanbul to Male, Maldives. It was pretty much a breeze. Luckily I slept the majority of both flights. My travel budddies weren’t so lucky. When we got through customs the crew from Raahlu Edhuru were at the airport to meet us. They were super warm and friendly and helped us to the boat ferry to get to our hotel. It was at the ferry where we first caught a glimpse of what the water was like.  Our minds were blown!IMG_7262
Driving through the city was insane. It reminded me a lot of Bali with thousands of scooters lining the streets. It was pretty hectic but we were so happy to be on the island at last. IMG_7277The rest of the day we chilled and slept because our wake up time to catch the ferry the next day was 3:45am. We had to ferry back to the airport to catch a small plane to head over to the project site at Veymandoo, a nearby island.  That is where we met the other members of the crew.  Everyone was super friendly.IMG_7377
We boarded the plane and were all chatting it up.  About the time Dhafy from Raalhu Edhuru said things are going so smoothly I looked out the window and see all of the surfboard bags heading back inside the airport. We realized that they weren’t gonna make it on the flight. We were so bummed!  Every single trip we have taken always produces stress around the surfboards.  We worry about them letting us on with so many, having to pay extra because they are overweight, wondering if they will even make it to the destination, curious if the airlines will destroy them in transit and the list goes on.
The plane ride over was unreal. We flew over lots of beautiful atolls. It was picture perfect. IMG_7758After we landed and were all getting our luggage we were stoked until the man with the bags drove away and Jeff didn’t get his. It was a total bummer because that bag had his camera housing and all his clothes and stuff.  We were promised the boards and his bag would arrive the next morning.  Our fingers were crossed.  Luckily they did arrive that next day:)

After some relaxation the whole crew went to surf and it was one of the most beautiful breaks we have ever seen.  Every surf sesh on Veymandoo required a 20 minute boat ride to a nearby break.IMG_7491IMG_7411

The next day was our first day with the kids. There were about 30 of them. They were so cute and sweet. They all fell in love with Matthew right away. That day Matthew led the surf instruction and stretching with all the kids. Prior to that we had done a beach cleanup and made a huge pile of trash.IMG_7441
IMG_7609Luckily I got to push kids into the waves. For some of them it was their first time surfing and some had already tried it. It was so much fun talking with the kids and getting to know them while we were out surfing. The best part was when you would push one of them into a wave and they would stand up and ride it to shore.39504304_1701478666627305_6903219764273872896_o39514693_1701478896627282_6655990928341204992_o39740980_1701477716627400_8559113258143842304_o
Photos by Dhahau Naseem
The next day with the kids was similar. We spent most of our time with them shredding. That evening we had dinner with our hosts and discussed having a surf contest for the kids the following day. Nothing serious but something to bring the kids together and get them excited to win some prizes. We agreed on a plan and enjoyed our yummy dinner. Most Maldivian meals that we had involved tuna. They catch it then lay it out in the sun to dry.  There must be about a thousand ways to do tuna!IMG_7876It was definitely a staple as well as rice and moringa. For those of you that don’t know, moringa is a tree with green leaves that are a super food. We first came across the tree on a stoke trip in Nicaragua a few years ago. I made sure to eat lots of it! Thanks to our host for keeping our bellies fed with some Maldivian spice!IMG_7628IMG_7629
The next day we announced to the kids we would be doing the surf contest after watching a documentary about plastics in the oceans and doing a proper beach cleanup. They were excited but their faces grew dim as they watched the documentary about how we are killing our planet.IMG_7658 IMG_7561And as I watched at the amount of plastic and trash accumulated on the island I became very overwhelmed and saddened at where we are as a society who absolutely neglects the most important thing we have. I kept asking people what is the solution and no one really knows or has one. I still go back to our time we spent on Tanna in Vanuatu with Nev Hyman. His group, Nev House, takes plastics and turns it into composite material they construct houses out of that can withstand cyclones. I do keep seeing companies starting to follow suit and making impacts. That stokes me out. But, we have to have enough of these amazing humans doing this to offset what everyone is creating. For sure we must reach the young children and teach them to be mindful of the issue. Hopefully the kids we worked with can make a difference and feel empowered to say something when they see someone making bad choices that affect Mother Nature.
So…the surf contest. Matthew and I got to be judges. It was epic. We got to give prizes for first, second and third in each division as well as fun prizes like longest ride, best wipeout, best style, etc.
At the end of the day for the closing ceremony I got to say a few words and we donated some surfboards to the kids on that island. IMG_8271 IMG_8274
Photo by Dhahau Naseem

Of the 12 boards we brought for the kids, four boards will be used on Veymandoo.  One board went directly to Shaafi, a local kid who has been progressing rapidly and shows a serious desire to shred.  Another board went to the island school and two boards will be kept at the host house.  Kids who participated in the program will be allowed to use the boards.IMG_8273

Photo by Dhahau Naseem
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Photo by Jeff Biege
In addition to the boards donated to Veymandoo,  boards will be donated to  G.Dh.Vaadhoo,  N.Lhohi, and  Gn.Fuvahmulah due to the rapid growth in the sport on those islands.  The last three boards will be kept for Raalhu Edhuru’s next project.
This trip was one for the books.  The Maldivian’s welcomed us so graciously and took amazing care of us.  We got to experience a culture so far from what we know but what we learned, well what we were reminded, is that we are all the same.  We are on one team…planet earth.  Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible…Raalhu Eduru, Firewire Surfboards, FCS, Sticky Bumps Wax, Paul Carman and The Sleepy Otter…and remember #WorriesCantSwim.
If you like the work we do and want to make a tax deductible donation go to www.sharethestokefoundation.org.
More photos from the trip below.
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Photo by Jeff BiegeIMG_7359IMG_7703Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 1.20.19 PM
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Photo by Jeff BiegeScreen Shot 2018-08-28 at 1.24.18 PM
Photo by Jeff BiegeScreen Shot 2018-08-28 at 1.24.32 PM
Photo by Jeff Biege
Please check out Jeff Biege’s photos at https://www.jeffbiege.com/

 

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Vanuatu Part Two // Tanna

As I sit here on a plane headed from Vanuatu to Fiji my heart is full. I mean the fullest it has ever been. I will try and describe how it all happened. Two days ago we left Port Vila and headed to Tanna Island to take part in a celebration with the people of Tanna and other NevHouse contributors. I wasn’t so sure of what to expect but I knew it would be an experience of a lifetime and one that may never come my way again. While waiting for the flight to Tanna a lot of people with the same itinerary started showing up and we just started introducing ourselves. It was there that I met Nev Hyman for the first time. He was just as gregarious as I had imagined him to be and full of life.   Soon enough I realized that we were in the company of some really great people. We met investors, shareholders, journalists, optometrists, solar experts, inventors, board of directors, architects and a photographer whose photos I have seen many times all over social media and in magazines named Ted Grambeau. Surf Journal called Ted “the master of surf photography” in 2009. Here is something to feast your eyes upon by Ted.Mark mathews  Teahupoo in to the AbyssPhoto by Ted Grambeau Photography

When we landed in Tanna, there were probably 20 or so 4×4 trucks waiting to drive us to Enkatalei Village, a bumpy hour or so drive. We ended up in the back of one of the 4×4’s with Ted. We started off and soon we were away from the airport and things just got more and more pretty.

With each kilometer passed the scenery became more lush and super green. It is hard to imagine that after the cyclone in 2015 that the entire island turned brown and that all the leaves were gone from the trees. About 45 minutes into our trip we started seeing lots of people in brightly colored garb walking in the same direction. I certainly didn’t realize they were headed to the same ceremony as us.IMG_4250 Later I found out that some of the people had walked from the other side of the island, some for at least a day to get there. Ponder that for a minute. We started seeing little huts and people coming out of them to greet us with magnificent smiles and frantic waves. Their outfits were made from local plants and trees from their villages. It was surreal.

Each minute that passed materialized into something greater than the last. We pulled into this huge clearing where there must have been two thousand people. I kept saying “where are we”? I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. We jumped out of the truck and started following the masses and were greeted with a flower lei as a welcome. IMG_4256IMG_4261We were corralled onto another area that was open this time with even more people we saw than when we pulled up. It was overwhelming. About as soon as we took a seat the villagers started this massive circular dance where the men came out first then the women and children encompassed them. They sang, chanted and danced followed by running holding hands. Each tribe had 200 people in this dance. I will save you from doing the math and tell you this was a giant circle with 2400 people. While they jumped you could literally feel the ground beneath your feet shake. You could feel it through your entire body. This went on for the good part of thirty minutes.   Afterwards I was so jolted and I am not sure I have ever felt so alive.IMG_7605IMG_7652IMG_7615

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At the end of the dancing a series of men started bringing out, one by one, a live pig, root crops, kava plants and woven mats (the pillars of life in Vanuatu). I was puzzled but had a really bad feeling that something bad was going to happen to them. A translator came out into the middle of the circle and explained in English what this celebration was about. We learned that there were 12 tribes on the island who have agreed to work together as one for the betterment of the island. The gifts that each tribe brought were an offering and a a gesture to confirm their commitment of tribal unity.  It was powerful considering that these tribes had never seen each other before this great day. I won’t go into the details of the sacrifice other than to say I didn’t watch but being ringside you really could not escape it.

The Prime Minister of Vanuatu, the Tanna governor, Nev and Ken the NevHouse architect all made speeches this day. All of this was geared toward the work being done by NevHouse, which is quite remarkable how far they have come in just four years since its inception.  We got to take a tour inside the NevHouse and it was really nicely made but more important than that is the fact that it can withstand a category 5 cyclone. This means that if another cyclone ravages Tanna again, the people can take refuge in these houses built from recycled plastics. I had a chance to speak with Nev about the construction of these houses and realized that the NevHouses have the ability to clean up the planet. Nevhouse purchases recycled plastics and makes their new materials for the houses. So what if laypersons knew that if they could be paid for the plastics they use? I believe that people all over the world would be incentivized to keep their homes, streets, beaches and everywhere clean. People who cannot find the money for food would now have an occupation and a way to access the some of the basic necessities. In many places we travel I see dirty beaches, dirty towns. I see people throw an empty water bottle to the ground after they finish it. This could be a thing of the past. How cool is that? I see so many positives to the NevHouse project. It is absolutely brilliant.

The rest of the day was spent with another Kastom dance with different people. This time the people were dressed more conservative despite the bright colored attire.FullSizeRender Another highlight was being able to tour the NevHouse hospital run on solar power. It was built for everyone on the entire island, despite it being in Enkatalei Village. If you can make your way there, you were welcome.FullSizeRender-2

Later that day we met up with Simon from the Vanuatu Surfing Association over at the beach where the inaugural Tommy Tanna Nev Cup contest was happening.  The kids where strutting their stuff out in the water.  They are pretty good surfers considering they have only been surfing for a few months.2016-04-23_DSC6753Photo by Ted Grambeau Photography

At the end for the awards ceremony  Nev was talking about how cool this day was and he got a bit emotional, I was thinking thank god I am not the only one.  It is magical what he has created here with the local people and especially cool that he started the Tommy Tanna Surf Club there.  FullSizeRender copy 4IMG_4473IMG_4483The next day we ventured back over to the village to drop off some surfboards that Nev had brought with him. We were told to go back to the nakamal (the meeting spot for the people) and ask for the chief and tell him we were there to donate the boards to their people. So we did that and the chief had left for Port Vila so we gave them to the kids and for them to tell the chief.IMG_4546.JPG The kids were keen to surf so we walked down the path with them leading to the surf. IMG_4557When we got close enough you could see that a lot of the kids were already in the water surfing on their Firewire Surfboards. It was awesome.IMG_4589 We then asked if we could borrow a board so we could join them. As I was paddling out I had a strong sense of just how magical this moment was. We were in this far off land, surfing fun waves with the Tanna locals with a backdrop of the most lush, tropical setting. I was taking it all in and almost overcome with tears because of what I was getting to experience and how most people will never have this epic experience. I was grateful.

As the sun was starting to drop we packed it up and made our way back up the hill. The hill was pretty hectic so I kept making little stops to take a breather then some local girls caught up to me. We introduced ourselves. They didn’t speak much English but they kept saying “God is good, all the time”. Then I would join them and we kept repeating it. They were so sweet. One girl kept pouring out her water on the back of my legs because I was tracking mud up the backs and she wanted me to be clean. I kept thanking her but felt bad because she was using all her water for my legs.   It was a moment I will remember forever.IMG_4643

Soon enough we found our way to the truck and hopped in the back and headed off in the direction of the volcano. We were told it was the most active volcano in the world and it would erupt every four minutes. I was pretty excited to see this. On the drive out all the kids and people would run to the road to smile and wave goodbye to us.FullSizeRender copy 2FullSizeRender_1 copyIMG_4689 It was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I felt overcome with love. They loved us and we loved them. It was a bittersweet drive.

Once we started getting closet to Mt. Yasur we finally caught a glimps of the volcano and holy moly it was pretty cool. You could see the smoke billowing out of the crater from afar.FullSizeRender-2 copy I was anxious to get there quick. The drive in was something out of Jurassic Park or another planet and every twist and turn got more and more exciting.IMG_4708IMG_4724 We made it to the top finally and walked the last bit in the dark with flashlights. As we were walking up we heard a huge boom then lava jolted up into the sky. I was freaking out. Once at the summit you could see into the bottom and see the lava. Sure enough about every five minutes or so there was a loud boom and lava would go flying up into the air. It was amazing to see and to feel it too. It made for an epic end to our time on Tanna.2016-04-24_TED5705Photo by Ted Grambeau Photography

Tanna is probably the most welcoming place I have ever been. The people are so full of love and willing to open their hearts to you if you do the same. Tanna was an experience of a lifetime!

Vanuatu Part One // Port Vila

Where do we start with this one? Well, I suppose from the beginning. So I got an email from Nev Hyman, founder and shaper for Firewire Surfboards inviting us to collaborate on a project. Naturally, when you get an email from this man you do whatever it takes to make it happen.   So I told him that STSF would love to partner up and said any time you are ready. He mentioned that on April 23rd there was going to be a big celebration in Vanuatu for the NevHouse project and invited us out. NevHouse builds sustainable housing made out of recycled materials that takes five days to construct. The purpose of this particular project was to help the people of Enkatalei Village rebuild after the destruction from the cyclone of 2015. In addition to the finale of the project we would be helping host the the surf contest there for the local villagers. So needless to say this project was right up our alley and we were going to make it happen.

After lots of research and planning we decided that we could make some surfboard donations to the Vanuatu Surfing Association. We also decided to donate surfboards to the Fijian youth on our way back from Vanuatu on our way home.  We eventually booked our tickets and hotels and were all set. We were stoked to have the support of Surfr App and Corey Hudson Artworks for this trip to the South Pacific.

A short time passed between the time we heard of the event from Nev, booked our tickets and boarded our planes.  I packed up eight Firewire Surfboards, FCS gear and Sticky Bumps wax and flew out to LAX to meet up with Logan Kamen, longtime STSF volunteer and ambassador. Stoke was at an all time high as we were checking in our luggage in the line at Fiji Airways. We crossed security and went to our gate and I slept for about two hours before we boarded our plane.   The flight to Fiji was 11 hours and I think I slept for about eight of those which was pretty darn good. After we touched down in Fiji we hopped another two and half hour plane ride over to Port Vila. We were pumped. As we were flying in you could see beautiful blue water and green land with palm trees everywhere which is exactly what feeds my soul.IMG_4102 We hit the ground and went to wait for our luggage and boards. The luggage came but the boards didn’t. This was a heartbreaker. I spoke with the airline agent and they said the boardbags were too big for the small plane which seemed odd because I have been on smaller planes often and traveled with the same two boardbags. I was bummed. The story was that they were going to try and put them on the flight the next day.   We accepted that and headed off to our hotel to get some coffee and to go for a surf.

Through Nev, we had been in contact with a representative of the Vanuatu Surfing Association named Simon who told us where to go to get boards and to get some waves.   We paid our taxi and headed for the beach. The island is beautiful and the people are as well. Everyone speaks to you and greets you with a massive smile. They certainly make you feel welcome here on their island. We met up with a guy from the VSA named Brad who gave us some boards to use. He introduced us to the local kids and we all went out for a surf. The kids were all outgoing and super loud in the lineup when the bigger waves come. They would hoot and holler when you get a good one. The reefbreak we surfed was super fun and broke on super shallow, live reef. If you opened your eyes underwater you would see the most spectacular colors. It was epic. After the sesh we flagged down a bus and headed back to the hotel super happy that we got to surf with the kids. That was a pretty long day we had and we fell asleep early and slept like rocks.

The next day we went back to the beach and surfed with the crew and had a blast getting fun, ripable waves. On the day we were to leave the boards arrived!  Thank you surf gods!   We were stoked! IMG_4165Three days late but they were here and we could hand them over. We made our way out to the beach with them and finally one of the guys asked if he could open up the bag so we let him. He opened it up and got loud and so excited and was smiling ear to ear. He picked up every board and held it before he passed it off to the other kids to hold. It was a pretty magical moment seeing them get so excited about the new boards. This was also our first opportunity to give away one of the new Slater Designs boards. These SD boards are super special because we always wanted to be affiliated with Kelly Slater and now we have our logo on his boards. How cool is that? The VSA crew decided they would use these new boards as first place prize for the next four surf contests for the kids.  Man, I want to win a new board:)  The kids are going to be stoked!FullSizeRender_1FullSizeRender copyThe evening faded and we packed up shop so we could head over to Tanna for the big event with NevHouse. Port Vila was good to us and a place we know we will return to one day.

I would like to send a massive thank you to JETBLUE airlines for allowing us to fly our boardbags for free out to California for this trip.  You have been a lifesaver on several of our trips now.  We cannot thank you enough for being an epic airline and believing in our mission!