A year ago, while I was finalizing my plans to travel around Australia, my friend Olivier was about to launch Swell For Good. The first objective of this Social entreprise was to organise a trip in Papua New Guinea in July 2018. And this is how it unfolded.
Hula is a village located on the coast, South East of Port Moresby, the capital. Most people either work in the village as fishermen, harvest coconuts, fruits and veggies or commute to the capital to complete labour work.
About a 4 hours direct flight from Sydney to Port Moresby and another 2 to 3 hours drive to the village – one of the closest winter escape from Australia.
My knowledge of PNG before Olivier raised my interest was either very basic and/or inaccurate:
- It’s located across Torres Strait at the north tip of Australia
- From Cape York, the Northernmost point of mainland Australia, Port Moresby hospital is closer than Cairns
- It’s a very well rated surfing and diving destination however considered highly unsafe
- I also heard all sorts of things about cannibalism and exotic practices in remote communities that keep entertaining fantasies
The Crew aka SWELLIES
I went with five other members of Swell For Good, also called Swellies. All passionated about the ocean, experienced kitesurfers and well rounded travellers.
- Olivier Capelle, Founder of Swell For Good
- Olivier Robinet, Decathlon Country Manager in Australia
- Max & Tom, his sons
- Marc Decerle, UX manager who supported the launch of Beam it, a dematerialized paiement app, now independent consultant and more important proud DAD
In May 2018, Olivier, who I met a couple of months earlier through common friends when I was looking for information about independent consulting work in Australia, approached me. As a kitesurf instructor, well connected within the kite community in Sydney, the experience of many kite trips around the world under my belt and as an ex-Summer Camp director in France, he thought I’d be well suited to talk about the project.
We spent many evenings together with Marc at the Coogee Hotel listening to Olivier’s project and challenged every single aspect of it and mostly the impact we wanted or more importantly DIDN’T want to have on the destination.
It was clear that the example of Boracay in Philippines, an overcrowded Island, fast developed for mass tourism with a huge negative effect on the environment and very little improvement to the local’s lives was out of the equation. Our action had to benefit to most people.
In a nutshell, the membership and fees paid to participate into the trip should:
- Cover an initial donation to the village to develop accommodations
- Source food supplies before the trip to welcome the crew without impacting the family resources
- Finance the cost of administrating the enterprise
- Invest in future trips, in existing or new destinations
1 – Organise the first kite-trip in Papua New Guinea, fully supported by locals (Transportation, Accomodation, Food, Kite safety and Spot information)
2 – Contribute to social activities in Hula
3 – Organise a Kitesurf « contest » to create momentum around kitesurfing locally and spread the word to Port Moresby and further about the spot
4 – Come back with ideas to further develop the activity and provide a sustainable source of income to the village
I spent four days in Hula with the rest of the crew. I was just back from Sri Lanka and had to sort out a knee injury which delayed my arrival in Port Moresby but no matter how short this was going to be, I didn’t want to miss it.
In Sydney, while waiting to see a doctor and doing an MRI, I kept receiving text messages from the crew, describing World class kitesurfing conditions
- An empty flat and shallow lagoon
- All levels waves breaking on the reef
- Consistent wind direction and strength
- Warm water to ride in boardies and lycra
To top it up, they were describing an incredible vibe in Hula with the hosting family and the rest of the village.
As soon as I received the results of my MRI, partial ACL tear which meant no kitesurfing for 2 months but no surgery either. I packed some teaching equipment, kite and board repair kits and more gear for the crew.
I arrived in Port Moresby pretty relaxed, slept the whole flight on an empty raw of seats (daily flights are well under-utilised) and I obtained my free 30-day tourist visa in less than 30 minutes. My luggage came in quick and I met with Andrew, Robert and Uncle Francis, who kindly drove me to Hula in the afternoon, on board of a Toyota Landcruiser, very similar to my Troopy back in Oz.
I was intrigued by Port Moresby, nested on the side of a huge bay, protected from the ocean by the reef and overlooked by mountains covered in thick jungle across which winds the infamous KOKODA Track (Yes it also brings ideas around trail running). The traffic is similar to Sydney in peak hour and I didn’t witness anything that would make me feel unsafe.
After a few local beers on the way, getting as many info as possible about the country from Andrew and a few words of Pigin, the other official language with English among 800 dialects.
I arrived in Hula for sunset and received a warm welcome. A branded T-shirt was waiting for me on my bed and a book that I read during my Big Lap around Australia, “THANK YOU“, to better understand the concept of a Social Enterprise.
Discovery of Hula
The following morning, by daylight, the location took a different perspective. The shack built by Benny’s family from local wood and palm tree leaves was literally one-hundred meters away from the cristal clear waters of the lagoon. We could not only hear but also see the waves breaking on the reef. After a quick breakfast, I borrowed some gear and went for a tour of the different spots with Marc at cruising speed to avoid any risk on my knee.
The Kite Spots:
1 – The Lagoon – Tide dependant, flat water with very little chope, kiteable from mid to high tide depending on the coefficients – side wind, for all levels with large patches of sand in the first 100 meters perfect to launch safely then dead coral only
2 – The Skatepark – located to the south of the lagoon with On – Side On wind, knee to waist high waves, perfect for beginners to intermediate wave riders who want to practice their turns in safe conditions – it can also be a great spot to jump high with little kickers everywhere on a Twin Tip at high tide only though
3 – The Lighthouse – North of the lagoon, where the waves break on the reef – knee to overhead high waves pumping from mid to high tide – Side On wind in the perfect direction for goofy riders with a succession of left sections especially further down as the reef turns and waves wrap around
Hula benefits from South Easterlies trade winds named Lahara, from May to October. Depending on El Nino and La Nina, the season duration can vary but it’s safe to say that June to September is windy more than 20 days a month with a peak in August and September with stronger winds up to 35 knots – the temperature is always good enough to ride in board shorts, with a lycra or neoprene top for the stronger days or a shorty.
One of the best session in my life
I had the chance to ride both the Skatepark and the Lighthouse on the same afternoon, at sunset on a 7m wave kite and a strapless surfboard. We crossed a few light embarcations coming back from fishing, all smiles out as we flew by. We enjoyed the last rays of the sun setting on the palm trees of the island in the background and I stopped kiting. I didn’t want to take anymore risk for my knee and it was enough to convince me that I would recommend the spot to my friends.
Interaction with the family and the village
Our interaction was mainly with Benny and his family. Three generations share the same roof, Richard and Vicky, parents of one girl, Siri and three boys, Benny, Kali and Bluey – 18 to 27 years young. Benny and his wife live in the house and share a room with their one year old daughter Natacha. All the siblings are talented kitesurfers.
The kite story started when teenager Benny saw a crew of Australian kitesurfers in Hula, 10 years earlier. He asked his dad, Richard, working in logistics in Port Moresby how he could get a kitesurf. Richard found an old 12M, unsafe kite, Benny used to learn on his own. He then taught his brothers, sister and a few others in the village. With the support of local and international companies, he even made it to international contests in South East Asia.
The pinnacle of the trip was the Hula Classic event, inspired by the most famous Australian Ocean sports festival, the Merimbula Classic. Five girls and six boys from the village turned up, Jason Piny, responsible for the development of kitesurfing within the PNG Surfing Association and his friend Steve also came from Port Moresby to participate with the swellies. We placed a flag in the middle of the lagoon and organised qualifying hits. The grand final of the friendly contest celebrated the fastest twin tip riders, women and men.
Most riders didn’t have their own gear so everyone shared boards, kites, harnesses…it didn’t stop anyone from participating. A crowd came from the village to participate on the beach, parents and kids we met at the school during the week and a few from Port Moresby who travelled especially as they heard about the event. The success was far beyond our expectations and Rendez-vous is taken for 2019.
The social impact
During the week, the crew participated into many activities:
- A presentation at the school about how to repair surfboards lead by Olivier R.
- Edited a movie recorded by the High School students about the local manufacturing and use of coconut products – it was a great opportunity to show them how to use a camera, conduct an interview and present a discussion topic
- Organized a projection night of the film produced by the students as well as a couple of kitesurfing movies including the one from 2010 shot by the Australian kitesurfers who visited the village. It was my favorite time, to see the families gathered around the screen recognizing their eight-year younger mum, dad, cousin…
- We delivered all the gear collected in Sydney generously donated by the kite community – on top of it, Jason delivered brand new kites on the day of the contest which were put to good use straight away
As we left the village, transported back to the Airport by the local church truck. Benny is at home, packing his luggage and about to fly out to Brisbane where he will spend 6 months away from his family, picking fruits in a farm under a special agreement including a temporary working visa.
Kali is about to go back to New Zealand in November to work in a farm for 6 months.
With no surprise they are both part of the best workers. How good would it be to help them stay home, with their families doing what they love most?
Richard is still commuting over 5 hours, 6 days a week to Port Moresby and working for under 2 dollars an hour as a logistics staff.
While we were in Hula, we heard about two person who’s lives ended earlier than they should have. One suffered from a fall at work and the other one got an infection that couldnt be treated. The life expectancy in Papua New Guinea is 65 years and while we are not solving the worlds problems, we believe that we can make a difference for the village who will hopefully be able to live from sustainable tourism in Hula.
Immediate next steps
- Support the family in further developing their food and accomodation proposition to sustainably welcome kitesurfers
- Provide Benny with teaching materials to help him in his kite school activity
- Communicate about the trip
What’s coming up?
- Another trip in June 2019 lead by Olivier, and potentially another one in September with me.
- Places are limited and the onboarding is done following a personalized call to discuss about the Swellie’s wishes to contribute to the project.
If you are interested – click here
Every trip is unique – by it’s participants who bring their own skills and personalities to the project, by the challenge we decide to tackle if possible and there are many to lead the village into the right direction.
Financial and ecological sustainability, a fine balance
The economical durability comes with scalability, more tourists, more money also more pressure on a fragile ecosystem.
DRINKING WATER – None of our western stomachs are suited to drink the water from the village well without treatment which resulted on the first trip in using bottled water
SEWAGE – The current infrastructure doesn’t catter for the collect of human dejection, grey water from showers or washing dishes…what if for many weeks in a row, more than twice the usual number of people used the facilities? Would nature be able to cope without destroying the fresh groundwater sources or the lagoon?
ELECTRICITY AND COMMUNICATION – The village isn’t connected to the grid and the internet connection comes from the mobile network at slow speed. Organizing trips requires a live communication however it is very difficult to get support to connect the village in a very complex political context.