sea stoke, issue three

During a surf trip to G-Land in 2010, Lizzie Murray realised the need to equip local women with various skills and knowledge to enable them to benefit from Indonesia’s booming surf tourism industry. This surf trip ended up changing her life and Kat Charles chews the fat with Lizzie about the inspiring work behind A Liquid Future. 

Words by Kat Charles // Photography courtesy of The Liquid Future // Typography by Jamie Davy // Design by Gary Parker
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Mentawai kids enjoying the clear waters below the waves.

“Eventually I befriended a few young women working in the kitchen and came to the realisation that in almost a decade of visiting Indonesia, I had never seen a local girl surfing or local women swimming and enjoying the water.”

These are the words of Lizzie Murray, founder of not-for-profit humanitarian organisation, A Liquid Future.

Emerging from the steps of her Uluwatu accommodation, I could tell the woman before me had spent a long length of time in the area and was no stranger to Indonesian life. The typical sundrenched, surf fit, slim figure stood before me; but I could tell from her presence she had a greater story to tell than just the waves she had scored at Temples that day. 

As our doorstep conversation evolved, I grew more and more intrigued as to who this solo, surf traveler really was and why the islands around us had claimed her life for so long.

Lizzie Murray has spent nearly the last 2 years living in the Mentawais, most of it on Southern Sipora Island, and the village of Katiet. To some, this may not sound like such a sad story and to others they might give their right arm to surf Lance’s Right on a daily basis. To Lizzie, she fell in love with the waves but more importantly, the people.

“Local communities on some of the more isolated island chains of Indonesia live in relative poverty with no way of obtaining skills. They told me they want and need to be a part of the land-based surf tourism, which is increasing on their shores. I found this unnerving, not just for the girls and women, but for communities as a whole.”

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“The local Mentawai government sees land-based surf tourism as a way of generating economic growth and prosperity in the region…locals see surf tourism as a way out of poverty and it can be.”

Every year surfers from around the world count their pennies and lay down their deposits to secure them a prime position to score some of the best waves of their lives. To most surfers, the Mentawai Islands ranks high on the surfing bucket list and the dream surf trip usually encompasses a boat trip fueled with mates, epic barrels, sundown beers and all the trimmings. For some, the lure of coastal dwellings and land-based homestay accommodation on a smaller budget can make scoring these waves still obtainable. The dream of surfing the islands’ world-class waves makes working that extra shift more bearable and each year more and more of us seek out this paradise, wave-soaked destination.

The truth unknown to many is that the inhabitants of the Mentawai Islands are one of the poorest and most disadvantaged groups in Indonesia. Health and education provision and standards are low and opportunities to break out of this cycle are few.

“The local Mentawai government sees land-based surf tourism as a way of generating economic growth and prosperity in the region. Much of the beach at Katiet has already been blueprinted for tourist development by the Mentawai government. The locals see surf tourism as a way out of poverty and it can be.”

Lizzie believes this can be achieved if the locals are given a chance, the chance to develop skills and understanding to be a part of the change and help development along sustainable lines.

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However, currently the local government does not provide any means for local communities to get the skills they want and need to realise their role in their region’s development.

This is where A Liquid Future comes in.

After studying Indonesian in Jog Jakarta, Lizzie began her research with the locals and remained close with them for over a year. All of which she funded herself.

“They did not have the means to be a part of it. There was an underlying need to supply a foundation for opportunities. After evaluation of the situation, spending time with locals, listening to what they wanted, their dreams and passions for the Mentawais, I came to the conclusion that English was the key to build foundations, enabling communities to interact with tourists visiting their shores complimented by other programs in swimming and surfing primarily aimed at girls.”

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Murray’s passion is very clear and as her wealth of knowledge and love for the people overflowed, she knew it was her goal to help them in some way.

“I wanted to create opportunities for the locals’ needs and wants. I wanted to assist them in taking an active position in shaping their island’s development. A Liquid Future was born.”

A Liquid Future is a non-profit humanitarian organisation aimed at providing free educational programs in English, swimming and surfing for the local communities of Southern Sipora Island in the Mentawais, Indonesia. Created in response to THEIR wants, needs and dreams for their region in light of the arrival of surf tourism, the joint aim is to enable the locals to be a part of and benefit from the increase in land-based surf tourism in the area.

It is clear from Lizzie’s research that working together with locals is very important and encouraging sustainable practices is vital to conserve the area for everyone and everything—the locals, the tourists and the environment.

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“There is no big industry or cities in the Mentawais. The footprint surf tourism has on these islands will be clearly visible. Do we want the Mentawais to be the next Bali?”

Lizzie’s research also revealed that Indonesia’s education system ranked last in a recent landmark education report of 50 nations. The standard of schooling available in the Mentawais is appallingly low. Yet students are so keen to learn.

A Liquid Future sees communication as fundamental to empowering the local community.  Without being able to speak English, the local population will remain in the dark, unable to be a part of what is happening. Nowhere is education more important than in the poorest communities in the world where a sharing of knowledge and skills can lead to a brighter future.”

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Lizzie believes that, “Children and the youth of the community are the most beneficial to empower. They are open to adopting new habits, ways of doing things, understanding and embracing them.”

In its first year, A Liquid Future has run free English classes 5 days a week for the adults and children, hosted swimming classes mainly for girls 3 days a week and held surfing classes on Saturdays with excursions to a nearby sandy beach break. All this, run by one woman on her own.

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Proof it’s working:

– The majority of children in Katiet can now have a basic conversation in English.
– They have the confidence to engage in an English conversation with tourists (this is imperative as they can now learn in real life situations to form friendships and share knowledge).
– A group of young adults can now have a basic conversation in English.
– A group of approximately 10 girls between 6 and 13 years old can now swim and have the confidence to paddle out to surf charter boats.
– The first 2 girls ever from the area can now surf and have the ‘stoke’. As a result they have been sponsored by Surfer Girl Bali. The 2 girls have received surfboards, clothing and educational materials plus a support network back in Bali to encourage them in all aspects of their lives.
– The neighbouring villages in the area would like to attend classes and local teachers from the next island north, Siberut, would like the program to be started up there as they see great value to it.

So what is the future for A Liquid Future? According to Murray, in 2013 A Liquid Future aims to:

– Train and employ a local qualified English teacher to run the English classes.
– Install an internet connection.
– Provide 2 computers for teaching/studying resources and to enable contact with local surfing communities in Bali so an exchange of knowledge and experiences can take place.
– Provide teaching and studying materials for up to 90 students, as well as collaborate with other organisations to facilitate swimming and surfing workshops for the girls.

“Educating girls seems to be particularly worthwhile. Girls have fewer opportunities and freedom than the boys. This makes them extremely eager when given this is offered to them. They act as conduits in their communities; skills they learn they pass on to others, friends, family and ultimately their own children. They are natural caretakers and this relates very easily to taking care of the environment. Girls who surf and swim relate to the ocean and have a reason to protect it.”

That one woman that I met on the stairs in Uluwatu has made such a big difference to the lives of many others and has so much determination to do more. Although she has made this journey alone and self-funded, but still managed to gather endless insight into the people that really need a chance, Lizzie still requires the support of donations to keep A Liquid Future alive. Now with the support of 2 other determined women, Morgan Stebbings and Elke Venstra, Lizzie hopes to reach out to surfers and alike around the world to help support this sustainable cultural and humanitarian initiative.

As I sat on the weaved mats at Warung Uluwatu, the first ever to be established on the cliffs that line the epic breaks below, as a few young women in the kitchen prepare my breakfast jaffle, I could not help but wonder what this place was like back then and how it has become today.

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To learn more about A Liquid Future and how you can help, visit their website here. Kat Charles keeps a blog here, where you can check out the fruits of her creativity.