Writer from the UK
Flora Christin Butarbutar rides a wave on her longboard. (Instagram.com/florachristin/Tatiana Mikula)
Flora Christin Butarbutar from Sumatra was living in Jakarta when she decided that city life was not for her. She then booked a trip around Southeast Asia and landed in Bali, where she rented her first surfboard.
Just two years later, Flora is a sponsored surfer who participates in international competitions, and she wants to bring more women along with her.
Slim-built Flora puffs on a cigarette as she sits on the edge of a fishing boat cruising around the east coast of Bali. She is on a surf trip with friends to a break called Serangan, which means attack, in reference to unexpected waves that sneak up and regularly knock surfers off their boards.
Flora is in attack-mode herself; she smears some sun cream on her face, launches her nine-foot longboard across the water and powers into the line-up.
Before long, the curve of a wave looms toward the crowd, Flora powers ahead of the other surfers and hooks herself lightly onto it. As her board starts to move with the wave, she hops to her feet – for a moment crouching low – then gracefully rises up to stand.
With her arms raised, she lifts her right foot and easefully steps sideways to the nose of the board, gliding across the face of the wave. As the wave slows, she lowers herself belly down and cruises back to the line-up, grinning.
An onlooker would never guess that Flora has been surfing less than two years and can hardly swim.
Most professional surfers start surfing as young children to reach a competitive standard, but Flora’s story is slightly different.
“I’ve only been surfing for 20 months, but here I am, having the best time of my life,” said Flora, this time sitting on her veranda on a fragrant Balinese evening.
Flora hasn’t won any competitions yet, but she is participating in international events, such as the REnextop Asian Surfing Tour (where she is the only Indonesian in her division) and the Deus 9ft & Single competition in Bali. She has also picked up three commercial sponsors who help pay for her flights and competition entry fees.
“I want to show people, especially the girls, that there is an Indonesian female longboarder out there. I want to share my story that nothing is impossible.”
Flora came to Bali in early 2016, rented a surfboard in Canggu and threw herself in the deep end in of Bali’s most famous longboarding waves, Batu Bolong.
Today you will find her in the water for up to seven hours a day, popping back to the shore for a drink before paddling out again.
Since Flo’s shaky first few sessions last year, she has picked up one main sponsor, Folklore Surf, and two other brands that support her, Indosole and Cotoswim.
Odd one out
Flora's dream life is not without its obstacles; at Batu Bolong there are hoards of female surfers in the water, but few are Indonesian.
“All we see on TV is adverts for skin-whitening products. Our parents only teach us to study and have a career, sport is not part of the story,” said Flora. “When I go back to Jakarta my friends say, ‘what have you done to your skin? You look horrible’.”
While there are a few well-known female shortboarders, such as Diah Rahayu and Yasnyiar Bonne Gea, there are fewer Indonesian female longboarders.
Flora wants to share her passion for surfing with Indonesian women and let them know about the incredible opportunities in their own country.
This year, Flora is filming a documentary called Bali Goddesses about inspiring female surfers living on the island. She is also planning female surf camps to get more women on boards.
“It’s pretty sad. When I am surfing, people always say, ‘why don’t you get your own people to surf your waves?’ I want to change that.” (kes)
Elly Whittaker has worked as a journalist in London and Singapore for CNBC, Sky News and GlobalCapital. She is now a freelance writer and yoga teacher. Her portfolio is available at https://goo.gl/Ec9pGP and her Instagram can be found at www.instagram.com/ellywhittaker/.
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