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
veymandoosurfer
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.
Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 1.21.57 PM
Photo by Jeff BiegeIMG_7359IMG_7703Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 1.20.19 PM
Photo by Jeff BiegeScreen Shot 2018-08-28 at 1.24.05 PM
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/

 

Advertisements

Barra de la Cruz…Mexico

This is our third year going to Mexico and teaming up with the AHAVA Project with local Mexican, big wave surfer Coco Nogales. He and I touched base earlier in the year about how this year the project was going to be bigger and better. He said he would be inviting 35 kids this year and the event would span over a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He asked how many boards I could bring and I committed Share The Stoke Foundation to donating 10 to the project. IMG_5369

The flight was from Miami through Mexico City and on to Huatulco. We met up with Coco at the gas station across the street from the airport and we caravanned to Barra de la Cruz, about thirty minutes or so away. We pulled off the main road to a small road that went from pavement to dirt. Soon enough we realized we were in the middle of nowhere based on no real hotels, only cabanas and no cell signal at all.

As soon as we unloaded the boards into the cabana we headed down to the beach for a surf. Right as we came over the hill we could see there was a small swell and the waves were glassy. This was a perfect way to wash off the travel funk.   Later that night we had a meeting with all the volunteers and kids about the weekend activities. It was so cool to see a bunch of familiar faces and the kids were still riding Firewire Surfboards that we had donated in 2013.  It was epic!IMG_5380  After that we headed back to the cabana to get some sleep. While we were winding down we noticed some scorpions in our room. This didn’t sit well. And with the fact that our fan wasn’t working properly we decided to sleep in the car. Yeah, yeah I know that seems crazy but with being in the middle of nowhere we decided getting stung by scorpions would not pan out too well. It was a long, hot night.FullSizeRender copy 3

The next day we met down at the beach at 630a to get started. The kids surfed, exercised and cleaned the beach. Beginner surfers got pushed into waves and the better surfers were absolutely shredding the point. IMG_5390While we were there we learned that this place used to be a super hot spot. They actually had a Rip Curl event here in 2006 and didn’t name the location, instead said “somewhere in Mexico”. Between some hurricanes and the people diverting the river so they could put a restaurant on the beach, the sand shifted and it hasn’t been barreling in years. It was still certainly good enough for all of us to have a field day on the right hand point.

Saturday was more of the same except for we all camped on the beach that night. It was pretty great. We got approval from the town to camp. Usually it is off limits for everyone so we felt pretty stoked to be able to sleep under the stars. The boys had a massive bonfire complete with smores and some good ole amigos singing and playing the guitar.IMG_5409IMG_5420

Sunday started out with beach yoga and some surfing. After that we donated the surfboards. The kids were pumped. There were three different areas of kids that got boards. Some went to the Barra kids, some went to the Puerto kids and some went to the San Agustin kids. It was great to spread the love amongst different communities. We are so stoked to be able to donate free surfboards to kids in communities like these where there are so many other negative options for these kids to choose.IMG_5517IMG_5522IMG_5588 We love that they have chosen surfing and they are good surfers. They absolutely rip, even the tiny tots. I guess when you have perfect waves in your backyard it is fairly easy to be a solid surfer.

After the event we headed to Puerto Escondido to get a couple of waves before we headed back to Florida. We surfed the point which was firing. Zicatela was off its rocker and pumping. There were only a few guys out.IMG_5576 They were riding massive guns and a few were towing in. It was heavy. You could literally feel the waves through your body when they detonated on the shore. Just watching it do its thing made my heart race. It was a sight to see. Soon enough we rushed back to the airport to make our flight and were home with loved ones with new tales to tell.

Final Stop…FIJI!!!

Wow that was a blur…well kind of. We arrived from Vanuatu so pumped to see what Fiji had to offer and it did not disappoint! We spent a couple nights on Nadi where we met up with our local Fijian contact, Ian Muller. When I had asked Nev if he had a good contact in Fiji for us to work with he said Ian is the man! When I saw him for the first time I thought this guy is the real deal. By the real deal I mean he is as local as they come and proud of his roots to the Fijian culture and surfing. We chatted outside the Fiji Club Resort getting to know each other.IMG_0142 He told me about how surfing came to be in Fiji and his role in helping to get it started. Ian is the founder of Fiji Surf Co., the only surf shop in Fiji. Not only do they do surf tours and lessons, but they also do all sorts of other excursions too. So basically, if you need something epic to do on the island call Ian and sort it out. And we can vouch for the quality service because we spent two days on the boat with them out at Cloudbreak surfing epic waves.

While we were chatting he talked about the idea of donating the surfboards to the Vodo Ua Boardriders Surf Club. They are a group of surfers united to make the island better with beach cleanups and getting more people into the surf culture. He assured me this was the best way to donate the boards so that the most amount of kids get to use them. We agreed.

We decided to turn over the boards in a few days after we return from Malolo, a neighboring island that we would spend three days on. So we traveled to Malolo by boat. It was about an hour boat ride from the main island.IMG_0137 The ride over was bumpy but we didn’t care. The sun was soon to set and we were out in the deep blue sea to catch it go down. I felt blessed for this moment in time.FullSizeRender-2 The next few days were spent surfing. It was our time to get some surfing in so we did two sessions a day. Basically we woke at 4:45am, surfed for four hours, ate lunch, surfed for three hours, ate dinner and went to bed by 9:00pm. FullSizeRender_1FullSizeRenderIMG_0208IMG_4751 Our last day we hitched a ride back to the main island with the Fiji Surf Co. boats and met up with Ian, Sam and Anne from Sustainable Coastlines and headed over to Ian’s place for some relaxation before we headed to the airport later that night. Sustainable Coastlines is a charity that aims to inspire, educate and enable people to look after the places we love.

At Ian’s we met his family and played a few games of pool and some ping pong. Ian also concocted up some Kava as a farewell to us. The Kava didn’t taste like much, other than some rooty water. The effect was mild and made your mouth a bit numb. After a couple of shells of Kava Ian fired up the barbecue and Sam prepped the fish he had speared earlier in the day. We ate it sashimi style. It was yummy and so was Ian’s BBQ. This was one hell of a send off. It was so nice. As the sun was setting Logan and I handed over the boards for the Vodo Ua Boardriders Club.IMG_4854 We are proud to be able to work with such great people with big hearts looking to make a positive contribution to society. And just like that our time was up and we were due at the airport. As I sit here in LAX airport waiting to go to Florida I am so happy for all the experiences we had, all the amazing people we met and the idea that we can all work together for the greater good. Now get me home so that I may share my love with my family. I miss them so much!

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

IMG_7631

IMG_7668

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!

Portugal Stoke Mission–Blog 1 of 3

This blog is written by Kelly Kingston, STSF founder.

Our Portugal stoke mission has been on the books since February. That was a good amount of time to plan something amazing. Once a year we try to take a “bigger” trip (somewhere other than Central or South America) so this year it was Europe, our first European stoke mission. One of my partners for this trip was Joan Bergmans, an epic human I met in Bocas del Toro on a stoke mission in 2013. Since then we have done several trips together stoking out kids. Through her, Kim Hanskamp, an Amsterdam based photographer and surfer jumped on board to document the journey.

Trips like these would not be possible without the help from the community, our friends and family. For this project we have Surfr App, a West Palm Beach based crew that have created an app that allows you to log your surf sessions and find cool food and lodging options while you are on the road.  You can download the app HERE.  Nomad Surf Shop has been a great support in many of our stoke missions including this one to Portugal.  They are as local as they come.   East Coast Customs jumped on to donate some skateboards to give out to the kids we met on our journey.  They make the coolest boards on the planet.  Our other sponsors include Casual Starfish, Corey Hudson Artworks, Moana Surf,  TomTom Bandit and The Spot Beachclub along with the other usual suspects Firewire Surfboards, FCS and Sticky Bumps Wax.

Like our Peru project, we decided to ship 15 surfboards to make getting to Portugal much easier not having to lug all those boardbags. We shipped the boards in plenty of time for them to clear customs and get them to where we needed to have them by a certain time. They did make it…not quite on time…but we managed to get them in time for what mattered which was the events with the kids.

Our first project was one I had set up with Nuno Azul, founder of Janga Wetsuits (wetsuits that I have been crazy about for a few years now because of their crazy colors and good vibe about them). Nuno put me in contact with Nuno Travao, leader of the Association of Bodyboarding in Figueira da Foz. Nuno T. was the one in charge of getting the right kids to us for the surf event. And that he did.

The day I arrived I headed straight for Figueria da Foz in a taxi to meet Joan and Kim at the camp spot. We had rented an RV to make driving and sleeping super easy and also to use it as a moving billboard so that we can use it to advertise who we are and who are sponsors are. It seems to work well.43Photo by Kim Hanskamp

It rained the whole way to the campsite. I was super bummed because our event would be taking place just a couple hours after I got there. But after I arrived and unpacked a few things the sky started to clear. We were stoked! Nuno A. from Janga came over and picked us up and took us to the event spot. Right away we started stickering up the surfboards with our sponsor stickers and suited up.IMG_9148 Kids started showing up one by one and we were introduced to them all by Nuno T. Soon enough we were down on the sand with the kids stretching and getting ready for some good vibes in the water. 12094998_1186736688008685_5408196666559623727_oPhoto by Kim Hanskamp12068956_1186736638008690_4306971057991457365_oPhoto by Kim Hanskamp

Only a few of the kids who showed knew how to surf already so it was really fun introducing this sport to some newbies. The kids took to the water like fishes and instantly started popping up and riding waves. You could literally see the lightbulbs turn on for them. It is the best part of the job!12109840_1186736898008664_4465886791606094093_oPhoto by Kim Hanskamp 12141175_1186736994675321_5830156544400576089_oPhoto by Kim Hanskamp

After our time in the water was done we donated two boards to individual kids. The kids that had already been surfing for a little bit. We donated five Firewire Surfboards for the school so that more kids can use the boards. Also donated were Janga Wetsuits and tons of Janga swag. It was a great day!11056547_1186933781322309_8341584724489934218_oPhoto by Kim Hanskamp 12109986_1186735448008809_5066616861226027044_oPhoto by Kim Hanskamp 12110016_1186735601342127_2381594027239704910_oPhoto by Kim Hanskamp12094914_1186735304675490_4346063194776211121_oPhoto by Kim Hanskamp

Huge thanks go out to Nuno Azul and Nuno Trovao for organizing the day so that the kids would have a great time.

Pumped Up For Peru

This blog is written by Kelly Kingston, STSF Founder

This was such a busy trip that it has taken me a week to recover and get this thing going. This trip kind of started off on the wrong foot…you could say. Two weeks before the trip my buddy and travel partner for this trip, Missy, also a Jetblue employee, called to tell me that Jetblue doesn’t allow surfboards to and from Lima now. At first I thought no way so I did the researching and calling and found this information to be true. For you surfers out there…they also don’t allow them to Haiti and some places in the D.R. Needless to say I was pretty devastated by this fact. Now with the new information I saw only three choices. 1. Ship the boards directly to Peru and keep the same flights. 2. Buy new tickets on another airline and take the boards OR 3. Just say screw the kids in Peru and go and do the events we have planned but without making our usual donation to the surf clubs. Of course option three was out so I crunched the numbers of two airline tickets and three board bags which came out to be around $2,200 so I decided to ship them.

I was excited to hear that the boards had arrived and that my guy was going to pick them up. I was relieved…until I got a message from him saying that we owe $1,800 in order for them to release the boards. My original thought was no way, there must be some kind of huge mistake. We were confident that we could talk to the officials and tell them the boards were to be donated and they would free them up. This didn’t happen. We have now been in communication with an NGO about the possibility of them helping us get them out at a drastically reduced rate. This has been going on now for two weeks. My hope was that we would be able to get them out in time to donate them to the kids while we were there. I know when we do get them there will be a big celebration here and in Peru as well. Once I let go of the results of what would happen I was able to become present and be with the kids in Peru whole-heartedly.

So my travel companions were Logan Kamen and Missy Diamond, both very impactful humans for the foundation and the kids we work with. We all met at the Fort Lauderdale airport and then headed off to Lima where we would sleep on the floor that evening before our 6 am flight to Trujillo. We had all been to Chicama before so we were all excited to see our friends and catch up with what has been going on with the kids. Eventually we made our way to Puerto Malabrigo and as soon as we could see the beach those picture perfect lefts kept on coming one after the other.IMG_7461 We were stoked to say the least. We grabbed some coffee and then paddled out for a sesh. Sets were a little over head high which was perfect for Chicama. This place really is hard to wrap your brain around. You can get rides that are literally two and a half minutes long.

That night we had a meeting at 7pm with the Chicama Surf Team. We were excited to see the girls and meet the new chicas they had recruited. First, we met Reesy, a Peace Corp volunteer who would be helping us make the event happen. She came highly recommended by Carlhey Bolz, the heart and soul and creator of the Chicama Surf Team. When we rolled up the girls had created the best welcome ever. Each chica held up a letter for their welcome sign.IMG_7044 I have never felt so much love and knew for a fact right then and there that the work we are doing there really matters. When we continue to keep showing up for these girls they know they matter and they mean something to us.

Our meeting with them was to chat with them about having them be a large part of executing our event that weekend for all the local kids. We wanted to empower them by having them take ownership and play vital roles in it.IMG_7056 We all divied up tasks for everyone and decided for Saturday’s events that the chicas would be in charge of the beach cleanup by passing out the bags and escorting groups of children down the beach to help facilitate picking up proper garbage as opposed to things that are natural. We also decided that they would help out with the surf lessons when it came time for that.

After the meeting we were exhausted. I was up waaay past my bedtime. Now that I have a 9 month old I make sure I go to bed early so I can party with her at 6 am☺ The next morning we had set up a surf session with the girls so we met them down at “El Hombre”, a section of the point break known for its super fast section and hollowness. When we got there they were all down on the beach stretching. We joined them and then paddled out.IMG_7086IMG_7115 We were stoked to see that the girls had improved. Each time we come they get better and better. This is no surprise because now the team is meeting three days a week for practice. After shredding we headed back to the hotel to get geared up for the beach cleanup and surf lessons.

In the past we have had 75-100 kids show up for our event, which is definitely one of our biggest events of the year. Before we knew it there were 85 kids running around waiting for directions for the cleanup. IMG_7173We kicked it off and the girls were awesome little leaders. All the kids worked so hard and picked up so much trash. The work ethic of these little groms was something for us to take note of.IMG_7184

IMG_7193 After about an hour we started circling all the kids up for the surf lessons. A circle of 85 kids is a giant circle.IMG_7200 Luis, coach of the Chicama Girls Surf Team led the instruction. It is pretty funny to watch all the kids pop up at once. Soon enough we had five instructors in the water, the Chicama Girls Surf Team instructing the surfers when and which instructor to go to. Each kid got three waves then the next kid would go. I think it probably took two hours to get all the kids surfing, including a few of them going more than once. After the lessons were done we all headed up the hill to Zorro’s place for the epic BBQ for our participants and volunteers.IMG_7205

IMG_7208

IMG_7211

IMG_7212 After everyone got their food we got ours and holy moly was it delicious. Later that night all the surf school coaches met and formed the heats for the contest the following day. By the time we finished it was 10pm.

The next morning we met over at a beached boat down by the contest site. Part of our impact with the girls was to have an art project with them and create a piece that they would be proud of. Gabriela, one of the girls on the team, had made a present for me that was a super cool image she drew of the Chicama Point.IMG_7051 I was stoked to receive it and even more stoked that it would be going on the boat!! We prepped the boat by covering up a section with white paint. You would think that would be easy but sometimes in other countries they use other means than what we are used to. In Peru the paint comes in bags. So we had to mix it in a bucket with water to dilute it then spread it on. Eventually the boys painted the boat with their hands because the paint roller was taking off sections of wood off the old boat. It was a pretty messy gig.IMG_7325

IMG_7335

We finished up and headed back to the hotel to sort out the prizes for the contest. Grom Social really pulled through and ended up donating enough gear for us to stoke out all the kids. There were a bunch of other folks who also sent us with cool gear for the groms. Thank you!

I knew this event was going to be crazy. There were so many things we were trying to accomplish while the event was going on like motivational talks with the girls and getting the painting finished. The contest had four divisions, two boys and two girls. All of the participants had to be part of one of the three surf schools in order to compete, which was different and cool too because all of the kids were super supportive of each other. The feeling for the day was team work for sure.

Reesy and I were in charge of heats while Logan, Angel (Reesy’s boyfriend) and Missy were part of the judges corner. Reesy and I killed it getting all the groms ready with their jerseys on while the other heat was in the water. We were like a well oiled machine but there is no way we could have pulled this event off without her. She is an epic human!

When all of the girl heats were over we decided to facilitate the motivational talks for the girls. First off, we awarded two of the girls framed plaques acknowledging them for their improving skills in the water as well as being with the team since its inception since 2013. I said a few words to them before presenting them.IMG_7381 They seemed stoked for sure. Sometimes it is hard to tell if they are excited because their culture it to be humble and I find they show very little emotion. One of the other things I wanted to relay to them was something that I never received as a kid, which was that no one told me that I could be anything I wanted or that I could go anywhere or do anything. I grew up in a small mindset kind of family who never saw very far past what was right in front of us. Fortunately, for me along the way I found confidence that I could go anywhere and do anything. So I told the girls how proud I was of them and that they can be anyone they choose and that they can go anywhere they just have to have a passion and a desire.IMG_7430 They looked at me straight faced. I hope that they really heard my words.

Reesy took over the talk about how we portray ourselves and self confidence while I headed back over to the contest to get the next heat going. One of the biggest bummers about this talk was that some of the girls from the other surf teams declined our invitation to sit in on the talks. Initially there was only the Chicama Girls Surf Team. Then for whatever reason some of the girls decided to go off and be part of new surf teams. There are lots of politics within each of the surf teams there, which I find to be silly. All I can think is gosh it is surfing…why can’t we just all get along, but I suppose life outside of surfing is like this as well. So because of politics, the other girls missed something that could have benefitted them, which is a total bummer.

After the chats the chicas took to the painting of the boat and by dark it was finished just at last light.FullSizeRender The contest too finished just as the sun had sunk. We literally did the awards while the light from the sun was turning to black.IMG_7416 All in all it was a great day. We packed in so much into this one day. The best part of the events were all of the families that came down to the beach and hung out all day watching the kids surf.IMG_7398 These are people that turn their backs to the ocean except for these two days a year that we put on the event. One of our core values are community and this weekend we created community through surfing. What could be better?

The rest of the trip was spent surfing and spending time with the surf team. Missy had the cool idea to meet with them over dinner and talk about pearls and how each one is formed over time, rare and very precious…like them! She had brought some pearls, string and clasps and we all spent the evening talking about how each one of us is important and creating cool necklaces for ourselves and anyone else we wanted to give one to. It was so much fun hanging with them.IMG_7443

IMG_7445 Our other highlight other than riding epic waves together happened about 20 minutes before it was time for us to leave.11986534_967479016650410_254926263393084897_n

IMG_2213

IMG_4222

One of the security guards at Chicama came to get us and tell us some of the girls were there to see us. I was stoked because I had thought we had said out last goodbyes the night before☺ Yaricsa, Luis and David showed up. Yaricsa is one of the new recruits who we had just gotten to know. She had some gifts for us. She gave each one of a special gift. I got an epic piece of art with a long heart-felt writing about what surfing has given her so far.IMG_7682 I was so touched that she took the time to create something so epic for me. She also gave some gifts that Belen, another one of the new girls, had sent with her to give. My gift was another piece of art. It was a surfer on a wave. I made up in my mind that it was me surfing. I loved it.IMG_7622 Then Randa showed up with gifts too. I got a cool feather earring which I put in right away as well as a stuffed animal that said Te Amo ( I love you) on it. I knew instantly of the perfect 9 month old who was going to love it.IMG_7689 Then Luis gave us his gifts. It was an epic goodbye. We all hugged and I told them all that I loved them. We all packed up the van and said goodbye to all the Chicama staff. Soon enough we were headed out. On the way I saw Randa and David sitting on a bench. I frantically waved and felt this sadness. A sadness that only came from the epic goodbye we just had and knowing how important we are to them and them to us. A little farther down the road on the way out-of-town I saw Luis on a motorcycle with Yaricsa on the back. Again, I was waving frantically and putting my hand up to the window trying to send a message that said my heart is full and it is all because of you.IMG_7524 They kept getting closer and closer and honking and finally our driver pulled over and Yaricsa pulls out one last stuffed animal for Missy.IMG_7510 This was by far the most eventful goodbye we have ever seen. It was that moment when I realized how significant they are to me. Thank you Chicama for providing a love that is unique and keeps on getting stronger with time.