Surf's Up In FSM's Kosrae

KOSRAE, Federated States of Micronesia (The Micronesian Alliance): March 25, 2005 - The ancient Pacific pastime, sport, hobby and, to some, religious experience of surfing is taking on new popularity in Kosrae.

The craze is due in part to an enthusiastic group of young Kosraean surfers, two U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers, and world-class surf on the shores and reefs of Micronesia's "jewel" island.

Christian Olsen and Michael Lemmons, both U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers on Kosrae and long time surfers, have over the past half a year been leading a small but dedicated group of young surfers out to the beautiful aquamarine breaks of Lelu municipality's Pihkusrik district for afternoons full of good surf and good times, together participating in one of the Pacific's oldest and most popular activities.

Using donated, borrowed, and left behind second-hand surfboards, boogie boards, and even plywood, Olsen and company have managed to organize a grassroots level surf club that, as he puts it, "is just about going out in the water and having a good time."

He says Kosrae's kids love it.

"I come home from work and kids are just waiting at the house ready to go surfing," Olsen explained on the back porch of his Pihkusrik beach house. "The Kosraean kids are much better learners than the kids in the U.S. They seem to have the skills for surfing already inside them, and they also are very brave out in the water."

Olsen, who has been surfing regularly with the kids at Pihkusrik since June 2004, said he has been excited to see a definite improvement in the kids' abilities since they started.

"Now the kids are out there doing all sorts of tricks, and their confidence of being in the ocean has increased. The more time you spend in the water, the greater your confidence will be and you can get over your fear of the waves and the reef and just enjoy surfing."

Olsen believes that the only thing stopping surfing from growing and becoming a major sport in Kosrae is a lack of equipment available to the people here.

"Supplies are the biggest problem. If boards were more available on Kosrae, it would be big. Lots of kids would be surfing."

Olsen, a surfer for more than 15 years, has surfed in Hawaii, Australia, Bali, Pohnpei, and Fiji, but says that Kosrae is as good or better than anywhere he's ever been.

"We've got excellent waves right here in our backyards in Kosrae, and it's nice because they break very close to shore and are very easy to access," says Olsen.

Kosrae also is lucky to have a variety of surf locations to accommodate a range of different skill levels, and are all dependent on wind and swell direction and tide levels.

"Malem is an intermediate level spot and probably the best all around spot, and really good in the summer. Lelu is a good place for beginners to learn and practice, and also has good waves for more experienced surfers, and Walung has the most advanced surf spots on Kosrae at Inmolsron, Wot and Yela," Olsen explained.

Kosrae is also the only island in the FSM to have a local word for surfing. Although many people on Kosrae today know it simply as "surf," the old Kosraean word for surfing is "lallal", indicating that surfing has been around Kosrae for some time. It is thought by some that surfing could have even been around in Kosrae as early as the early 1800's, before the arrival of Christian missionaries on the island.

It is well documented that surfing was a major part of the Hawaiian culture before the missionaries arrived there in the 1830's, and virtually died for almost a century before coming back to life in the 1900's as a result of fading missionary influence and the changing times.

The same might have been true too here on this surf-friendly island in that surfing basically ended with the arrival of the missionaries in the 1850's, but now may be beginning to slowly resurface on the shores of Kosrae.