“About a year ago, about 8 of us set out for the first Sustain The Stoke session, a new take on the ‘traditional surf trip’. Usually people learn about an amazing wave out in some far-flung beach, make their way out there with as little damage to their boards as possible, and settle in for several days of waves, some beers, and little else. Thing is, surfers are a unique kind of traveler. Those far-flung beaches mentioned can easily be in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, or any other standard, and frankly easy, destination. But those beaches can also be in Haiti, Sierra Leone, and even Iran. Surfers are unique in that all they need is a wave. The modern comforts of the standard tourist are, well, nice to haves at best. In other words, those beach bums that come to mind as you read these very words, and there are 35 million of them around the world, can serve as the first wave of tourists upon which any developing nation (with a beach and a wave) can build a sustainable tourism economy. Shaka, brah!
Back to Sustain the Stoke. We headed down to Kovalam, a little fisherman’s town on the southern coast of Kerala state in India. India is not known for world-class waves, but Kovalam had its very own surf club, the side-project of a years-old project led by non-profit volunteers from Belgium. The club came about when a volunteer by the name of Jelle decided to bring a board and try his hand at surfing as a new pastime in a new country. The board quickly became the prize offered to local kids who stuck with school all week. Kovalam is a town plagued with poverty, rabid alcoholism and abuse, and even the occasional episode of interreligious tension. Kids were regularly pulled out of school to help with their fathers’ fishing or other, darker reasons. They had little interest to attend school. No one showed them the path out of this vicious cycle of poverty and violence that has been the norm in Kovalam for decades.
11 years ago, surfing became a simple carrot to keep the kids in school and on track to improvement, if only to gain some basic skills and time away from malevolent factors in their lives. When we arrived at this tropical bit of the subcontinent, surfing became the community-wide glue that built a generation of kids growing on hope. Both boys and girls were whipping into waves like they were born to do it. There was a quiver of boards, all banged up but still functioning. There was even an actual surf club and shop, run by the community. 3 of the older kids, now teenagers, even got to earn international surf-instructor certificates and catch waves in Europe. The simple act of surfing, a pastime taken for granted in the developed world, became the portal connecting the kids of Kovalam with the world. Surfing became the lantern showing a way out.
Our group came to surf and get an ‘immersive experience’ in India. We left forever tied to an amazing community and a reaffirmed belief in the potential that the simple act of travel has in transforming lives and entire communities. I promised Jelle and the Kovalam Surf Club crew that I’ll be back, and I’m working on keeping that promise…”
094/100 of #100DaysofConfessions Instagram Project
**Gilad Goren is the co-founder of Sustain the Stoke, the first platform for immersive surf trips. Sustain the Stoke partners with local NGOs and coastal communities to bridge the gap between leisure travel and positive social impact. Visit www.sustainthestoke.com for more information**