Learn more about WSL PURE Ambassador, humanitarian, social-ecologist and surfer Emi Koch in our Ambassador spotlight. In addition to being featured in an upcoming WSL Studios Transformed episode, Emi is a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow and the Founder of Beyond the Surface International.
You're featured in an upcoming WSL Studios Transformed episode "Beyond The Surface". What were you doing in India and why was this important?
In India, I spent two formidable years working between the North and the South with different alternative education projects for social change and one particularly around water, sanitation, and hygiene in Delhi and then, collaborating with three incredible surfing for youth empowerment initiatives along the Arabian coast of Karnataka and Kerala. The Kovalam Surf Club was one of these sports for development projects leveraging surfing as a vehicle for change. The Kovalam Surf Club is a project of Sebastian Indian Social Projects (SISP), a social welfare center started by Paul Van Gelder that strives to improve the standards of living among the financially and socially disadvantaged sections of the fishing communities around Kovalam. The Kovalam Surf club was founded by Jelle Rigole, a surfer and social worker who came to intern as part of his studies, with the idea to use surfing as a motivational tool to keep SISP's kids going to school Monday through Friday with incentive to come surfing on Saturday and Sunday - "No school, no surfing!" And it worked!
Where are you now and what work are you doing?
I'm currently in Vietnam on a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship researching the ways low fish availability impacts small-scale fisheries' social and ecological wellbeing in a changing climate and industrializing country. I am based in Mui Ne which is a fishing village that's grown into a water sports destination for surfers, windsurfers, kite boarders, and even sailors!
Why is surfing a powerful vehicle for change?
Surfing is a powerful relationship-building tool - it is unstructured play in a wild setting! If done mindfully, surfing promotes our cognitive, creative, physical, social and emotional development and a commitment to environmental stewardship. When the ocean is envisioned as our playground, we want to protect it like anything we love. So, surfing enables that emotive response that often is missing in conservation education.
A fun, playful, healthy source of joy, surfing builds self-trust and for girls especially, surfing facilities an opportunity for self-expression outside the household - something that is usually frowned upon. For kids who feel invisible or off-the-grid, surfing is like suddenly they've been propelled into the spotlight. Surfing provides young people with a dynamic liquid stage for building self-confidence, resilience, and a relationship with their natural environment that can be leveraged as a vehicle for change.