Field-notes And Reflections From Papua New Guinea: Part II
Written by Easkey Britton - Finisterre Ambassador
Distraction-free, the days seem so much longer, fuller, without a mobile device or emails to respond to and yet it’s hard to find the right headspace, thoughts are banging up against the inside of my skull unable to break free and fully form. I feel like I need to let the rearranged molecules settle after giving myself a solid shake-up on the long journey to reach this remote surfing outpost, Tupira Surf Club in Papua New Guinea. While I wait for the stillness to arrive, yellow hibiscus flowers dive-bomb around me. I begin to recognise a pattern - how this happens every day in the early afternoon after the sun has gone past its hottest point and its only after the flowers stop falling that the wind dies.
Sitting with Dom, 39 years old, outside Tupira Surf Club watching the surf and waiting for the wind to die, we talk about his time here and his job as a surf guide, the changes he’s seen TSC bring for the community since it was established in 2009. We touch upon Tupira’s most recent initiative, their adoption and implementation of SAPNG’s ‘Pink Nose Surfboard’ policy. Dom agrees that the pink nose surfboards are a good idea to encourage more girls to get into the water and they take good care of the boards, even if it makes some of the boys jealous. Slowly, as the wind softens we spot more splashes of pink and red in the line-up - the local girls have arrived. We watch the line-up fill with young women and girls, with the number of girls surpassing the number of boys. I see local surfer Ruthie hop off hops her board to give one of the newcomers a push across the reef and onto a wave. The girl in the red t-shirt having just learned to surf last Saturday at the ‘Meris Surf Day’ takes off sideways on an unbroken wave after paddling hard into it and rides across the face into the channel, fearless.
The sea, what used to mean a source of sustenance and food now provides a different kind of sustenance for Dom, through surfing, ‘The sea brings waves…surfing is exercise, it keeps me flexible, moving, always changing. I like it. Even when it’s cold (?!) it doesn’t matter. If I’m cold and watching and I see a good wave I have to go in!’
The line-up is filling up with more boys now, quick to reassert their presence but still they are evenly matched, 4:4.
The PNG Surfer’s Way
I realised how different the approach to surfing is here. The whole relationship with surfing in fact. How the local surfers seem to instinctively or rather intuitively know when to be in the line-up for the best conditions, and the best wave to ride in a way that seems effortless. Of course, a lot of that comes from putting the solid hours in getting to know a place through a lifetime of interaction. Most local surfers have not been formally taught how to surf or exposed to much of how the mainstream surf industry depicts how surfing is ‘supposed’ to be, and I wonder does that make a difference? It seems to leave the interpretation of surfing and how it can be approached wide open. Surfing here is more of a feeling thing. No charging into a wave or pushing too hard. The approach is almost languid yet not lazy - more fluid. As I’ve observed, they’ve shown me how you wait for the wave to come to you, effort is kept to a minimum and you let the wave set the cadence, the rhythm that your body must intuitively match.
This afternoon I touched upon it for a fleeting moment. I felt this sensation of ease and fluidity. My body relaxed, I felt the rise of the wave and let it lift me, I trusted its momentum using less strokes into the wave because I somehow sensed or felt when the right moment would be to drop in. Letting my board and body fall into the wave with the lip, feeling the speed from the drop-in fuel my body into the bottom turn, knowing I didn’t have to rush at the lip of the wave but instead letting the moment come, standing taller and looser, flowing with and following the curve of the wave face. Loose but strong, the board firm under my feet, maximising the force of the wave, meeting with its kinetic energy at all the right moments with a new kind of empathy. It felt more effortless, fluid, graceful and playful. Like there was no try.
Tupira Surf Club’s timber surfboard project, a collaborative initiative co-created with surfboard virtuosos and master shapers Bryan Bates, Tom Wegener , seeks to be a national symbol for how to breathe contemporary life into an ancient culture, to honour old ways while creating something new, or as surf camp manager Nicki Wynn would say, to awaken PNG magic. TSC are seeking the support of SAPNG to roll it out nation-wide. It opens up a whole other way of approaching surfing, one that is more creative perhaps and more accessible in a place like PNG with a ready supply of fast-growing hardwoods. The timber boards encourage kids from no age, and people of all ages and backgrounds, women and elderly - there is no age discrimination, its classless and fosters a sense of autonomy, self-actualisation and unlike fibreglass boards, timber boards don’t create a dependency. It lends itself to exceptional and intimate wave knowledge and an ability to feel the waves. It’s perhaps no surprise then, that my own more ‘personal’ experience of the sea happened after I’d taken a break from fibreglass boards to ride a timber belly board just for fun, what a different, more intimate feeling…
There are many ways of being a surfer and many different ways of doing surfing. We need to celebrate the diversity of the lines we can draw and how we can move through the water and waves.
My last session Tupira is spent on timber boards with Ruthie (who’s learning to shape her own wooden boards) - a little bit of PNG magic under my belly as I fly across the reef feeling like both a novice again and like this is the most natural thing in the world.
This story was made possible by the Wanderlust initiative at Finisterre. A special thanks to the PNG Tourism Authority for getting me there, to Tupira Surf Club for hosting me and sharing their wisdom and for Surfing Association of PNG for showing the rest of the world how it can be done!