Name: Samantha Suendermann
Pillar: Business, Leadership and Community
What is your dream?
My dream is to contribute actively and positively to people’s lives through surfing, especially those that face adversity and challenges in everyday situations. I have been extremely privileged to grow up in Australia, surrounded by a supportive network of family and friends and to attend both school and university. I understand that I am one of a small number of women in the world that has access to this universal right to an education. I want to use my knowledge, skills, experience and passion to allow others, especially women and girls, to realise their full potential. I use surfing as a way to engage women and girls, to give them opportunities for skill and knowledge development, social and environmental education and to inspire confidence, self-belief and inclusion into the community. I am the co-founder of Solwota Sista, the female branch of the Vanuatu Surfing Association and I am currently working with local Ni-Vanuatu women and girls to create a better future for them through their involvement in surfing.
Tell us a bit about you.
I grew up in the small town of Anglesea on the Surf Coast in Victoria. From a young age I loved the ocean, surfing and being active. Training to be a competitive swimmer and surfer taught me commitment, drive and an ethos of hard work that I hold to this day. My love for surfing has also given me an appreciation for the environment, a healthy and holistic lifestyle, and has introduced me to people who have taught me about myself, the world, respect and diversity. After high school, I studied a Bachelor of International Community Development. I believe that surfing can act as a catalyst for change and have been active in this sphere, using surfing as an instrument for education, empowerment and community building. I was also an active competitive longboarder, qualifying to surf at the World Titles in Hainan China and came top three at the Australian Longboard Titles multiple times. I have transitioned from competitive surfing because I was no longer enjoying it, and have found my passion in travelling to new locations and playing my small part in creating opportunities and putting the power and confidence back in the hands of those who need it most.
How have you demonstrated commitment?
During my final three years at high school I was given the opportunity to run sport- and surf-related programs and events to a diverse range of people within the community. For a sixteen-year-old, teaching surfing and sport to people with a disability, indigenous communities, bush fire survivors, at-risk youth, migrants and women was an eye-opening experience. I saw how surfing can connect people from diverse backgrounds, strengthen ties to the environment and community, promote a healthy and holistic lifestyle and put smiles on participants’ faces. The last few years, I have gone out on my own, or collaborated with various partners to deliver surf-based development programs including an indigenous women’s surf program in Fiji and childrens’ surf lessons in a Mexican refuge. In 2015, I undertook a study at the Surf Coast Shire Council as part of my final research paper investigating the social value of surfing with the paper being endorsed by Council. While I was interning at the Surf Coast Shire Council I was also the main project officer that implemented a plastic reduction program to minimise single use plastics within the community, the first of its kind in Australia. In May 2016, I delivered a six-week surf, water safety and environment program to Afghan and Kareni refugees and produced a video to promote the program and the refugee organisation that supported it. I am currently volunteering in Vanuatu under the Australian Volunteers for International Development program where I am womens surf development officer. In this position I work with local women and girls to develop their surfing skills, ability to lead and initiate projects and provide skill and knowledge development through the Solwota Sista program.
What challenges do you face?
Living and working in Vanuatu as a young woman who is using surfing as a catalyst for change is a slight challenge. Young women are the lowest rank in society, and it is sometimes hard to find my voice and let it be heard. Sometimes people are not so open to surfing and what we are trying to achieve through it as it has negative images and connotations associated with it. In response I let my actions and the program’s achievements to date, program leaders and participants do the talking. We also operate on very limited resources when it comes to budget, internet, paid staff, and equipment. While this is an issue in most countries and it is often a challenge for us, we are definitely able to be more resourceful and innovative to ensure that the program/s are still in operation.
How will you use the money?
The grant will contribute to the overall running of Solwota Sista. We are currently under staffed and resourced and we need money to purchase program-related equipment including second-hand soft boards, fins and leg ropes, purchase a second-hand lap top for program use and purchase and print Solwota Sista merchandise to be sold. It will also go towards program running costs, including transportation and staff. Solwota Sista operates under the Vanuatu Surfing Association, which is implementing a for profit arm in early March next year to deliver surf coaching, equipment hire and food and merchandise sales to consistently generate a source of income over a long term period. This will ensure the financial sustainability of its programs and activities, including Solwota Sista, however the grant money will come in use during the transitional period to ensure the female programs can continue.
How do you plan to give back?
Through Solwota Sista, I aim to develop the skills and ability of local female surfers in Vanuatu so that they can become the complete owners of the program. By doing this I believe that women and girls will become more confident and will build on personal and professional skills that will put them in better positions for employment, education and leadership in the future. I will also continue to run programs to ensure that their surfing skills improve and that they have access to various programs, such as surf coaching, first aid and ocean safety, enterprise development, communication skills and photography that are not regularly available. Outside Solwota Sista I will continue to use my influence to advocate for those that have no voice, such as the environment, and oppressed and exploited individuals and communities. I will continue to share the findings of my surf study so that organisations and people who are in a similar space can use facts and statistics to generate support and funding. I will offer my expertise to people who are thinking of establishing surf or community based programs so that I can assist in any way and potentially collaborate to maximise our impact. By practising values I believe in, such as respect and equality, safeguarding the environment and generously helping out, I can lead by example and become a role model for the next generation.