He’s come a long way from Cimaja – a small seaside village in West Java near Pelabuhan Ratu.
Dede Suryana was born there in 1985, the baby of the family.
He has recently been competing in international professional surfing events in France, Spain and Portugal. But, that is nothing new for him.
Dede is the only Indonesian surfer to be on the World Qualifying Circuit, now called the Men’s Star Events Series. His dream is to move up and be the first Indonesian to get into the World Championship Tour (WCT) of professional surfing.
Since obtaining a three-year sponsorship from Quiksilver, a major Australian surfing company, his life has been full of adventure, world travel, new friends and experiences and he has learned a lot.
Dede is the Indonesian icon for Quiksilver and his picture appears huge on billboards and in surf shops across the nation. He is paid a monthly sum, out of which he must pay his living expenses and all of his international travel expenses.
He has discovered how expensive it is in Western countries and that he must always find ways to budget. He has also seen how clean it is.
Yes, Dede is now a dedicated environmentalist and talked with great enthusiasm about the need to take care of the ocean and to keep beaches clean. He told me proudly about programs to clean the beaches of Bali.
“I have seen how nice and clean it is in New Zealand and Australia and when I came back to Indonesia I was shocked. A dirty environment not only looks awful, but if it’s dirty people can get sick.
When I go on a boat trip for surfing, I like to trawl for fish, and now I see so much rubbish in the sea. Ten years ago, when I went to Panaitan Island [in the Sunda Strait] it was clean. I used to catch fish, but now I just catch rubbish!”
Dede continued, “I want to tell all the people in Indonesia – don’t litter. Have bins in your house to sort your rubbish into groups of biodegradable material, plastic, paper, metal and glass. Now we have the program in Cimaja and we have a guy there who picks up the rubbish and sells it. We put the compost into the garden.”
With support from his sponsors, he has helped create an education program in his village involving four participating schools. Dede says it is important to begin with children and hopes they will tell their friends and their parents too.
Dede showed amazing surfing talent from a very young age and since he was in high school has been mentored by various older surfers who recognized his potential. One of them arranged for Dede to complete his schooling while living in Bali, and made a promise to Dede’s parents to care for him while he was there.
Dede worked hard and graduated from school and also kept up his surfing skills, building on his already legendary reputation as the Cimaja kid with surfing superpowers.
His rice farmer parents were once worried about his dedication to surfing. Now they understand that if someone has ability there is good money to be earned from a surfing career.
Dede has been wisely saving what he can and has bought land and built a house in Cimaja, realizing the dream that he expressed in the biographical film Mengejar Ombak. He also has plans for the future, just in case his dreams of battling his way to the WCT don’t come true.
“In the future I plan to maybe have a homestay in Cimaja and I’d like to have a little business, taking tourists to secret surfing and fishing spots. Maybe I’d also like to have a fish farm. And of course, someday, start a family,” Dede said.
The film Mengejar Ombak made by David Arnold and Tyrone Lebon was shown on Indonesian television as a four part series and also screened in cinemas in Jakarta and Bandung. From then on, Dede became quite famous and it boosted his professional surfing career.
He says, “It also gave ideas to a lot of other people. They realized that it’s possible to make a career from surfing, and even if they are not good enough to be a professional surfer, they can probably use what they know about surfing to create a business for themselves if they live near a top surfing spot. Indonesia is world famous for its incredible waves. A lot of people in the world dream of coming here to surf.”
But being a professional Indonesian surfer has its good and bad side.
The good side is that Dede’s country is probably the world’s most incredible surfing location. The huge number of spots with excellent waves in warm water has made it every international surfer’s dream trip.
However, on the bad side for Dede, it is very difficult to organize his international travel. Dede says he must obtain a visa for every country, whereas some Western surfers do not always have to do that. Also, as an Indonesian and a Muslim, he faces extra questions and paperwork.
“There are a lot of things I have to show them,” he said.
For visa applications he needs to go to Jakarta, which is expensive, and he cannot get any surfing practice while there. Sometimes his passport is delayed so long that he is forced to miss a competition.
There are about 500 surfers in the World Qualifying Series and a surfer needs to get up to at least the top 15 to even have a chance to rotate into the WCT. “I have a long way to go yet. I think I am at number one-hundred-and-something,” said Dede in a more subdued tone for the first time in the conversation. “It’s not as easy as I thought before. I travel a lot. It’s hard but I cross my fingers and try my best.”
Asked about his favorite surf spots in Indonesia, Dede said, “Cimaja. I like home. It’s not the greatest wave, but it’s a fun wave every time, because when I go home I see my brothers. It’s peaceful there. In Bali, I like Canggu, Keramas and my favorite spot to hang out with my friends is Padma beach in Legian. Social life is a big part of surfing too.”
As for the Mentawai Islands, Dede said, “Oh, my God! The waves are SO good – better shape, bigger and the water is nice and clear. No plastic. The beach is so white. It’s awesome. Oh, my God – what a paradise!”
He is very grateful and excited about all the opportunities he has had and all that he has learned up to now.
Dede is a surfing ambassador to the world of whom Indonesia can be proud.