beyond the surface international

Emi Koch: Bringing surfing to those who need it most!

 

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The beautiful, Emi Koch, and her big beaming heart!

 

Isn’t everyday you meet someone who dedicates their life to helping others, especially a surfer at the age of 24. But Emi Koch wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s brave, brilliant, beautiful, independent, idealistic, and humble almost to a fault. She was bold enough to start her own non-profit while she was a full time college student at Georgetown, and now almost 5 years later, she’s been creative enough to keep Beyond the Surface International going on a shoestring as well as a life for herself revolving around improving children’s lives across the world. After spending three weeks with her in India, I saw that her job isn’t easy, but it’s her labor of love. She sacrifices her own comforts–sleeping on floors, working odd jobs, overlooking material necessities, and spending long hours on the computer–in order to give back to the many kids that Emi serves and loves worldwide.

As a surfer who has spent more than my share of selfish hours waiting for the next wave to appear on the horizon, the sheer notion of Emi Koch is refreshing. Here is a surfer willing to give up some of that coveted water time to make riding waves possible for a whole lot of others who would be less than likely to ever do so. Her organization, Beyond the Surface International, is a platform for six coastal groups worldwide—like the Kovalam Surf Club that we visited in India—who are using surfing and ocean play as a medium for empowering underprivileged, at-risk kids in developing communities. Right now, BSI has platforms in Mexico, Peru, Chile, the Gaza Strip, India, and two in South Africa. Emi’s goal is to be able to raise funds and procure equipment for all these clubs, so that the people running the day-to-day activities in each region can focus their time on the kids…(although I’m certain the kids at each club wish Emi could be everywhere at once!)

…We pulled up to the Kovalam Surf Club one sunny morning to meet the kids Emi has been working with often in the last year. They leapt up the moment they saw her, dashing over and elbowing each other to be nearer to her. Her love for each of them was almost palpable; her good energy magnetic and therapeutic.

 

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Enthusiastic reunion with the girls in the surf club. Some of these girls surf really well, but as they reach puberty, cultural traditions require that they don’t associate with the young boys. Their parents want them to stay home and prepare for marriage and home life, even at 13 years-old! We got to play in the waves that day together, and they were required to wear all their clothes to swim.

 

The place was abuzz with stoke, as 20 or more kids readied to head for the beach. They’d just moved into a new space and it was looking sweet. Old boards of all shapes and sizes lined the wall in racks, a faded row of rash guards covered another, and a few boards under repair lay drying outside in the. Jelle Rigole, the program’s founder and director, was removing a hunk of homemade surf wax out of a jar. We were probably thousands of miles from the nearest surf shop. Jelle had obviously learned to be resourceful.

The children that the Kovalam Surf Club & the Sebatian India Social Projects (an amazing local program that Jelle’s program works in conjunction with) serve live in extreme poverty—many of them malnourished, abused, homeless or worse. In the midst of so much suffering, the club provides them some much-needed respite. If the kids attend school, they are invited to go surfing in the afternoon and on weekends. It’s a deal that keeps all parties smiling. By motivating them to achieve an education, Jelle knows these kids will have a slightly better chance of survival later on. And don’t exclude new opportunities as surfers and ocean-savvy Indians in tourism developments, as well.

 

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Emi and Jelle, with one of Kovalam Surf Club’s star surfers, Ramesh, who might otherwise have never known wave-riding.

These are the long-term goals, but what I immediately felt while being with the kids on the club grounds and while pushing them into waves that day, was the Club as a safe-haven. It was a brief moment to forget about their hardships, and come together with friends to laugh, play, express themselves, and take on a new challenge in the sea. I witnessed kids helping each other in the water and sharing equipment so everyone had a turn. Boys who would hardly look at me at first, were getting rides all the way to the beach, looking back to make sure I saw them, and then running back out for more. The stoke of surfing transcended our differences, and we all became fast friends.

Some of the kids were absolutely ripping!? Jelle, Emi, and 8 or so of the boys who had been surfing longest sat outside catching sets and speeding down the lines of the fast beach break waves. I had tears in my eyes more than once. Jelle had created a safe space, full of hope and wonder for them in the world, and by teaming up with Emi, they hoped to be able to continue doing so for years to come. It was beautiful to behold.

 

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Emi and the SISP girls, making shell and bead necklaces–fostering creativity and self expression and possibly inspiring a few with a skill for the future.

 

One evening Emi and I lay under the fan in our hotel room chatting before we fell asleep.

 

“I don’t know, Liz.” She said. “I cannot say for certain that… yes… surfing will keep these kids out of jail or off the streets or away from drugs or otherwise, but one thing I know for certain is that if they do ever end up in a dark place years from now… I know they will look back and think about the waves they shared with their friends in a fun and safe and loving space and be able to say… yeah, that was a good day.”

 

I remembered wishing in that moment that there were more Emi’s on the Earth…

 

Emi, Jelle, and the leaders of all the other programs in the Beyond the Surface International platform are not just putting temporary smiles on these children’s faces. They are building futures and fostering loving relationships with the ocean, which will remain a lifelong refuge and friend for these beautiful, deserving souls.

I could go on and on about Emi because I adore and admire her beyond words…but for now, check out these links!

 

Beyond the Surface International

Donate to Beyond the Surface International

Billabong Team Profile on Emi Koch

Sebastian Indian Social Projects

Kovalam Surf Club

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Jelle Rigole and some kids from the Kovalam slums, heading off for an afternoon session. Jelle is living proof of the power that one person can have to improve the lives of others…

 

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Jelle and the Kovalam Surf Club, a true testament of the power to effect positive change in developing coastal communities through surfing and local brother & sisterhood! YAY!

 

Emi, lovely as ever.

Thank you, lovely Emi, for your example of selflessness and service to the world!! Shine on!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Bharat Mata’: Mother India feeds the soul…

 

These courageous women carry water from the well to their homes every morning and afternoon...

These courageous girls of Manapad carry water from the local well to their homes every morning and afternoon…what happens to our appreciation and connection to our water source when it flows endlessly out of a tap everyday?

 

 

It didn’t seem real until the Indian official stamped my passport and waved me toward baggage claim at the Trivandrum airport in Southern India at three in the morning. The speed of air travel still confounds my sailor’s mind…Instead of watching lights slowly appear on a dark horizon, I found myself huddled around a whirling belt of boxes and bags elbow to elbow with Indian air commuters returning from Dubai. After long flights on multiple airlines, my travel companion since Brisbane–surfing’s extraordinary ecofeminist, Lauren Hill (Check out her fantastic blog/Zine: The Sea Kin), and I were relieved to find our belongings amidst the chaos and head for the exit.

The sliding doors opened to reveal a sea of families lined upon a railing awaiting home-comers. The fluorescent airport lights eerily illuminated the throng against the black of night. Whites around dark eyes, teeth exposed between open lips, the flash off women’s shiny fabrics, ashen blessings on foreheads, and dazzling gold jewellery all blinked at us like navigational beacons on a horizon of humans. India. We had arrived!?! The air was a thick mix of humidity, exhaust, sweat, and spice, and I sliced through it with the vertical load of my Prolite Rhino Series 6′ 4″ boardbag on the airport trolley…

Where the crowd thinned we found, Uddi, our driver, holding an 8 by 11″ paper scrawled with “Lauren/Liz”. He bobbled his head from left to right and we took that as a sign to follow him. We strapped the boards atop the classic Ambassador taxi and hopped in.

The old headlights spat weak light on the right side of the oddly busy two-lane highway. Behind the wheel, Uddi was possessed–honking excessively and using the middle of the road like we were in a game of PacMan. We passed and dodged oncoming traffic in a series of what each felt like near-death incidents. My body stiffened. I clenched the velour cover on the backseat, fixing my eyes on the road from between the headrests, as if it might help us avoid collision. Twenty minutes into the ride, the fatigue of the 30 straight hours of planes and airports hit me. “Relax,” I told myself. “You’re not the captain now…” I closed my eyes and heard ‘Bharat Mata’, Mother India, whisper…

 

“Lesson One. You are not in control. You never really are for that matter…People come to India for many things. But what I give each of them are opportunities to open their minds and hearts ever wider…chances to grow from within…to loosen the stuck places…nourish their souls with the notion that everything is possible…Welcome, my Dear, and enjoy the ride…”

 

She's beautiful, unphased...barefoot and striding gracefully across the sizzling hot asphalt.

She’s beautiful, confident, unphased by the blazing asphalt on her bare feet…striding gracefully across the busy road. I followed closely, sensing this veteran knew what she was doing…

 

despite what seems like complete chaos amongst the mix of often overloaded trucks, cars, buses, motorcycles, push carts, scooters, bicyccles, farm animals, pedestrians, and whatever else you can imagine...somehow it all flows...It took a while to get used to the cacophony of blaring horns, as the rule is to honk before AND after overtaking, and whenever else the driver feels like it really. One hand on the wheel the other on the horn!

Despite what seems like complete chaos amongst the mix of often overloaded trucks, cars, buses, motorcycles, push carts, scooters, bicycles, farm animals, pedestrians, and whatever else you can imagine…somehow it all flows…It took a while to get used to the cacophony of blaring horns, as the rule is to honk before AND after overtaking, and whenever else the driver feels like it, really. One hand on the wheel the other on the horn!

 

 

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Young boy watches over early morning harbor scene…

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Spirituality knows no boundaries in India…Hindu deities displayed amongst tools in the hardware store.

 

 

Elephants are sacred, as they symbolize the Hindu god Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles...now if he could only remove those chains!!

Elephants are sacred, as they symbolize the Hindu god, Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles…now if he could only remove those chains!!

 

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Angel in Manapad.

 

Morning preparation

Morning duties: chai and paratha, respectively.

 

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There comes a moment when we are called to connect to something Greater than ourselves…

 

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Swell needs a cutie pie boat face like this!!

 

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I AM COCONUT MAN.

Wild, strong, beautiful, bold Swami woman.

Wild, strong, beautiful, bold Swami woman.

 

The Beyond the Surface film group...

The Beyond the Surface film crew, blessed to be together…Lauren, Erik, Dave, me, Kate, Emi, Ishita, Tushar, and Crystal!

 

For the last 50 years, the women of Manapad have been making livelihoods, building community, and empowering themselves economically by weaving coconut leaves into sustainable arts and crafts.

For the last 50 years, the women of Manapad have been making livelihoods, building community, and empowering themselves economically by weaving coconut leaves into sustainable arts and crafts. Go girls! Davey capturing them in action…

 

Emi, Lauren, Kate...catching sunrise over the lake.

Emi, Lauren, Kate…catching sunrise over the lake.

 

A fisherman teaching me some Indian resourcefulness. We're adding coconut leaves at short intervals along the rope to make it float!

A fisherman teaching me some Indian resourcefulness. We’re adding coconut leaves at short intervals along the rope to make it float!

 

Making films is hard work! Just ask Dave and Crystal!

Making films is hard work! Just ask Dave and Crystal! Ishita, Lauren, & Emi, tree pose queens.

 

What have we here? Morning surf check...

What have we here? Morning surf check…

 

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All smiles after a morning in the sea…

Ishita means 'Godess of Godesses' in Hindu. Her grandmother chose her name and she was spot on. She is a bold, beautiful, and fearless leader for Indian women today.

Ishita means ‘Godess of Godesses’ in Hindu. Her grandmother chose her name. Was she ever spot on! Ishita is not only India’s first female surfer, she is an inherently bold, beautiful, and fearless leader for gender equality in India today.

 

Tushar Pathiyan, Ishita's boyfriend, supports Ishitia to be the greatest she can be, and epitomizes Aloha and positivity at every turn. We're so lucky that he's a leader in the growth of Indian surf culture.

Tushar Pathiyan–Ishita’s partner–supports Ishita to be the greatest she can be, and epitomizes Aloha and positivity at every turn. We were so lucky to have him with us, and India is equally as lucky to have him as a leader of India’s young surf culture.

 

Crystal Thornburg-Homcy, spearheading the film project

Crystal Thornburg-Homcy, the visionary and backbone behind this special project…with Emi Koch, the founder of the non-profit organization Beyond the Surface International,which was the original inspiration behind the film.

 

Yogini, Kate

Master Yogini, Kate Baldwin, constantly inspired us with the vast breadth of her yogic wisdom, both physically and spiritually.

 

 

Miss Lauren Lindsay Hill, surfing's favorite eco-feminist. Smart as a whip, stoked as a grom, and lovely as  butterfly.

Lauren Lindsay Hill is surfing’s favorite eco-feminist. Smart as a whip, stoked as a grom, and lovely as butterfly. Author and founder of The Sea Kin.

 

Master of film

Dave Homcy. He makes magic with film while always leading with his big, open heart. Chivalry is alive with Dave around!

 

 

Erik

Filming assistant, Erik Knutson, was the king of road snacks, camera tasks, and ceaseless wit. He was never intimidated by long days or food preservatives!

 

Between boards and camera gear, we were not exactly travelling light! My Rhino Series Prolite bag was the perfect sizet!!

Between boards and camera gear, we were not exactly traveling light! My Rhino Series Prolite bag was the perfect size for my 3-board quiver.

 

Miraculously, a swell appeared when we least expected and we weren't going to miss a second of it! Sunrise at the point.

Miraculously, a swell appeared when we least expected and we weren’t going to miss a second of it! Sunrise at the point.

 

My Mizu stainless steel waterbottle made thousands of miles with me and reduced waste!!

My Mizu stainless steel waterbottle made thousands of miles with me and reduced lots of plastic waste!

 

The refuse problem was pervasive.

India’s trash problem was often overwhelming…

 

The local catches in Varkala were frighteningly insignificant. Most fishermen I spoke with said catches had been even lower than the last few years.

The local catches in Varkala were frighteningly insignificant. Most fishermen I spoke with said catches had been even lower than the last few years. With fish stocks plummeting worldwide, small fishing villages like this one will be the first and hardest impacted. A contributing factor into my recent turn to eating vegan.

 

Equipped and ready to

Yours truly, toting all my right point utensils!

 

It's good to be a cow in India

It’s good to be revered…Sacred cow gazing over morning harbor scene.

 

Believe.

There was plenty of roadside inspiration for the long bus trips…

 

 

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Ganesh in the flesh.

Street art in Kochi.

Street art in Kochi.

 

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Deepak was one of the people I knew I was ‘supposed to’ meet in India…

 

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Sab Kuch Milega… ‘Everything is Possible?’…it’s a long story, but it basically comes down to me being hopelessly gullible and painfully generous with Indian shopkeepers…Luckily I had Ishita to tell me what it really meant!

 

 

 

 

I believe the

After my short time in this amazing country, I am hopeful that the spirits, opportunities, and freedoms of the next generation of Indian women will continue to soar higher and higher…

 

 

 

THe lolvely crew and our beautiful experience with the women of manapad

A magical trip, thanks to the beautiful people of India and my extraordinary travel companions! Thank you all!

 

***Note to my travel companions: After my hopeless folding to those drum vendors on that last evening in Kerala, the drums were immediately seized by Australina customs officials!! :) :)

 

 

Sidetrip to India! Beyond the Surface Film Project…

With the Kovalom Surf Club in India.

The Kovalam Surf Club in India.

 

It’s amazing what comes along when you live wide open… Last year, I was sailing through the Marquesas when my sea-going friend and fellow Patagonia ambassador, Crystal Thornburg-Homcy, inquired as to whether I’d like to be involved in a film project in India!? From what I gathered it would be a combination of unique surfer women, seeking truth, sharing the joy of surfing with local kids, and practicing yoga in the land of its origin. We’d be highlighting the admirable efforts of Emi Koch, founder of Beyond the Surface International–which aims to empower impoverished youth through surfing…Mother India!! Kids! Yoga! A better world! I was IN!

Since then, Crystal and her husband, Dave, have raised funds through grassroots efforts to launch a film project with the potential to deeply inspire and bring attention to the power of self-awareness, compassion, and ecological creativity as our greatest tools for shaping a better world! Thanks to them, India is now only a few plane-rides away!! WOW!

Crystal and Dave, along with Emi Koch, Lauren Hill, Kate Baldwin, India’s first female surfer, Ishita Malaviya, and lil ol me will be traveling for three weeks up India’s south east coast looking for all sorts of adventure, learning, and inspiration in hopes of sharing it with the world!! For more info and/or to support the film project, check out: http://beyondthesurfacefilm.tumblr.com/ or follow my instagram photos by clicking the old camera in the upper right corner of the page!

 

 

Shaka Shakti!

Shaka Shakti!