When one thinks of the equatorial pacific nation of Kiribati, there are obvious things that spring to mind. Rising sea levels, speeches at climate change rallies, unrelenting sights of opaque blue for visiting consultants name just a few of those things. But amongst the 33 atolls of this vast expanse of pagan democracy and unrelenting trade winds lies a surfing community that is as unique as the I-Kiribati themselves. When the trade winds die down, switch around to northerlies, the wind swept easterly swells are interrupted by ground swells weaving their way around Noumea, Vanuatu and Fiji, the members of the Kiribati Surfing Association (KSA) gather together on a dust heavy and truck battered causeway to check the conditions. Tarawa is their home and they make the most of any opportunity. Nick McDermott, the president of the KSA and the heir to the throne of Kiribati surfing royalty behind Chuck Corbett (Pacific Charlie), is the leader of the pack. He has been running surfing lessons for the local groms for more than twelve years and can feel the swells course through his veins.
Famed for breaks on Kiritimati (Christmas) Island and Tabuaeran (Fanning) Island, Tarawa is also not without its quality. When the south swells roll through and crash on the outer tidal reefs it is a joyous occasion for all involved. As the locals look out from their cars, further smashing coral dust into the road, the KSA are surfing, relishing the warm waters, crystal blue lines of swell rolling through having been uninterrupted since rounding the Tasmanian coastline
With no surf shops within 2,000 miles, the resources are limited. Fins run aground on reefs, boards are dinged and compression spots are inevitable through constant and highly enjoyed thrashing and slashing. The motley crew of New Zealanders, Australians, and local lads ensure that fun is always found. Resident turtles rear their heads as though to check if we will be staying for a while. Dolphins egotistically fly by, showing that they are really the powerhouses of hydro activity. There is no envy or jealousy in these line-ups. The I-Kiribati are traditionally at one with the sea. Fishing is a daily ritual that not only provides the opportunity to spend your days snoozing and searching, but also delivers food for your extended family and community.
There is much unexplored potential hiding in this scattered nation. Once held by British rule, then fought over during the Second World War, left for independence, now somewhat forgotten as the seas fanatically rise and past colonizers turn their heads. The surfing community here does not take heed of the past and instead looks to the future of what surfing can become in a nation that is starting from the reef up. With every atoll having the potential in the correct conditions to produce perfect, solid, long period, reef breaks, it is almost a pleasure to begin thinking of.
It is a strange feeling to be sitting in the line-up, knowing that for thousands of miles you may be the only one sampling the equator at its blessed best. A disheveled foamie nestled between your legs, as parrotfish fly by underneath you, your mind wanders. As surfing is for many of us a release, the messaging of this stoic art is now penetrating the I-Kiribati. The more visible the art is, the more interest will be generated. The love of the ocean is instilled early on in Kiribati. the local kids use planks of wood, styrofoam, or anything else they can get their hands on in an effort to practice “Karibaba,” the gliding in white water on ones stomach. With this as a solid foundation there is much hope for the spread of surfing throughout the Kiribati atolls. This must be done sustainably, as it would be a travesty to lose the elegance and true remoteness of this slice of sand in the middle of the earth.