Grass Skirt Project - The Women Behind Women's Surfing NGOs Series Part 1

oct 2018 surf, empowerment, papua new guinea

We are excited to be kicking off the series with Grass Skirt Project.

The Grass Skirt Project is an NGO based in Australia and working in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The team works closely with Papua New Guinea (PNG) communities to provide training and education programs on gender-based violence to the athletes and community. One of the projects that Grass Skirt Project is developing and supporting is surfing. Tahina Booth is the Founder of Grass Skirt Project with strong ties to her family in PNG. Tahina is also an athlete competing in powerlifting and weightlifting competitions at both the South Pacific and Common Wealth Games. Dr. Sofia Barlett heads the research and development for the Grass Skirt Project, is an avid surfer, and overall sports enthusiast. Dr. Barlett has witnessed domestic violence as a child and brings her own experiences to the Grass Skirt Project in combating domestic and sexual violence through sports Let us hear from Tahina (pictured on the right) and Sofia (pictured on the left).

1. Can you share with the audience some background about your organization? (mission, goals, etc.)

Grass Skirt Project was founded with the mission of providing equal opportunities for all people in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to participate in sport. The organization's primary goal is to improve the health & status of women in Papua New Guinea, and we believe that the cultural & societal change required to achieve this can be brought about with the help of sport.

2. Each of your organizations targets a specific need/gap you saw in a local community and/or the surf community in your respective locations. What were some of these needs/gaps, and what are the steps you took to address this/these gap(s)?

Grass Skirt Project began when Tahina first identified a gap in grassroots sporting communities in PNG, which was the lack of basic equipment. Through contacts in grassroots sporting communities in Australia, Tahina began collecting new & second-hand donations of equipment (everything from barbells, to sports bras, and eventually surfboards), and then shipped them to PNG & distributed through her contacts in local PNG sporting communities. This began as an ad hoc system but has evolved into a network of 'ambassadors' who distribute equipment and run training sessions and workshops in PNG, as requested by local communities.           


3. For you personally, what was the primary motivation to get involved with this cause/issue, and using surfing as part of the strategy to create change? What aspects of your own upbringing, sporting or cultural experiences lead you to this?

Tahina and I have both witnessed and experienced gender-based violence, and we have both also experienced the immense freedom and individual power that can be discovered through sport. When Tahina began supporting sporting communities in her home country of Papua New Guinea, it was an easy decision for me to get involved and help the cause. Surfing has given me an enormous amount of joy throughout my life, and the opportunity to share this with other people was impossible to turn down. When Papua New Guinea hosted it's first WSL World Longboard Tour Event in 2017, this was the perfect time for Grass Skirt Project to get involved with the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea and help to provide their clubs with surfboards and other essential gear.

4. As an organization, what are some of the challenges you are facing at the moment? What are some of the strategies you are using to help overcome these challenges?

One of the biggest challenges we face is not overstretching ourselves. In some aspects, we've been a victim of our own success in that more and more opportunities have begun to open up to us, but for our current stage of growth, we really need to focus on delivering goods for the projects that we have already committed to before we take new things on. It's extremely hard to say no to people, especially when we are all working towards the same thing, but being strategic is essential for long-term success.

5. This will be a three-part question. I am sure you all are aware of this; on Thursday, September 6th the World Surfing League (WSL) announced equal prize money would be awarded to both male and female surfers.

a.     When you first heard what were some of your reactions?

b.     Do you think this will have any impact on your organization?

c.     What areas still need to be addressed in terms of equity in surfing?

This decision was very unexpected, but not that surprising if you think about the women who are involved in the upper levels of surfing management right now, both in Australia (Layne Beachley, Jessi Miley-Dwyer) and globally (Sophie Goldschmidt). I was extremely happy, but also very proud. Surfing is very much in the beginning stages in Papua New Guinea, so for us, our focus is still on grassroots development and supporting the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea in capacity building for local clubs. An area that no one is openly talking about with regards to equity in surfing is the role of sponsors and whether their sponsorship arrangements are equitable, so this definitely still needs to be addressed.


6. Tokyo 2020 is a big year, with surfing making its debut at the Olympics. Have you seen an increase in interest in surfing NGOs as a response to Olympic inclusion? (e.g., in people wanting to learn how to surf, more interest from volunteers, more support from donors, industry, corporations).

We haven't seen increased interest in surfing in Papua New Guinea yet, but hopefully, it will eventually filter down. During the period when the WSL event was being held in Papua New Guinea, we definitely saw an increased interest there, so maybe it's just that people don't see the Olympics as being directly relevant to surfing in Papua New Guinea yet.

7. Finally, based on your experiences, what do you see as the biggest challenges for women trying to create social and community change via surfing NGOs? And why is it important for women to be involved in leading such initiatives? Do you feel women bring something different to this type of work?

Women 100% need to be involved in leading any types of sport based NGOs, not just surfing so that we can ensure women's wants and needs are considered from the beginning. With women being involved in leadership, it is much more likely that women will become involved in whatever activities that organization is planning or running, it's just a no-brainer really. It's also really important for NGOs that are serving particular populations, for instance operating in a particular country, that those people are also represented in the leadership. There are too many charities with boards that don't represent the people who they are supposed to serve, and that really needs to stop.


A: responses



Impressive work happening in PNG. 

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