The Green Room is a series of interviews that I’ve conducted with fellow saltwater fanatics, including up-and-coming brands, surf world personalities and various surf industry leaders. This particular interview is with Uriel from Indo Surf Crew. Uriel runs surf coaching retreats in Indonesia using an innovative coaching program while also sharing his passion for sustainable surf travel. Feature image credit: Indo Eye
G’day Uriel… nice to talk to you again. So let’s start with an easy one. What’s your name and where are you from?
Uriel is my name and I was born in Saint Jean de Luz, France. There is a wave there called Lafitenia and believe it or not I’ve never surfed it as I grew up away from my birthplace and came back in my twenties to finally learn to surf in Biarritz.
And what is your role within Indo Surf Crew?
I founded Indo Surf Crew over 4 years ago and along the way I became a photographer and a filmmaker while hosting surf coaching retreats for intermediate to advanced surfers coming from all over the world.
So how did it all that come about?
It happened at a time when I had hit the bottom financially. I used to work for a travel agency in Singapore to pay back my student loan, but I wasn’t fulfilled and ended up quitting my job to live in Bali with the intention to surf more and spend less time in an office.
It didn’t last long as my savings quickly ran out! I thought, “I need to create something, it has to be about surfing, about Indonesia and community”. The name IndoSurfCrew came naturally. I bought the domain name and started a blog using the skills I had learnt in the travel agency I used to work for.
A couple of months later I was invited by surf resorts to create content for them, so I got myself a camera. I started to love filming in the water… just enough to discover that I had a natural gift for it! One of the resorts that had invited me in the first place welcomed me to be a surf photographer full time and so I did that for 5 months.
While I was there, a guest to whom I was giving some tips on his surfing suggested I run a surf coaching trip. I wasn’t enough of a good surfer but Rodrigo Machado showed up on my Instagram feed that same day and so I contacted him.
Rodrigo was living in San Sebastian at that time (just an hour away from where my mom lives). I went there, we got along and we organised our first surf coaching trip together. Since then we’ve done 7 more trips, most around Indonesia and one in Costa Rica, with a break in between during the pandemic.
I love hearing stories like this! That’s epic that you found a way to make a living being in the ocean. Indo Surf Crew is very different to other surf coaching retreats too in that there’s an emphasis on protecting Indonesia and more specifically the areas you run your retreats in. Why is that so important to you?
I like that you see it that way and I wish I could do more to protect Indonesia’s beautiful nature and its coastlines. By living here for 6-years now, I’ve witnessed the landscape and beaches becoming more and more polluted with dead animals and tons of trash on the shore and in the water.
This is due to poor education and a lack of awareness among local people and from tourists. As surfers spending a large part of our time in the water, this affects us directly and I feel a sense of responsibility to give back to nature for all that it generously gives us. My life is based around the ocean and I don’t feel good leaving selfishly and just taking from it.
To do so, we run our retreats in places that act responsibly, give back and in a sense act as a model for eco-tourism. Sadly, those places are rare… but the awareness is growing.
I find it hard to make an impact while running such a small business, but what we can do for now is choose who we want to give our dollars to and bring awareness to the situation with everyone we interact with. As our business grows, this is my intention – to give back!
Do you think it’s viable for other surf tourism businesses to repeat this model in their own backyards?
Yes, we can all choose to support organisations that don’t harm the planet, bring awareness to the ways we consume and spend our money more wisely.
Right on. Tell us about Rodrigo Machado. He runs the surf coaching sessions for you guys. How did you partner with him?
I started the surf coaching retreat with Rodrigo because we both share the same vision of creating trips that can be transformative for people… not only by improving their surfing but also in personal development.
On the surf technique side of things, I was attracted by his method (called Power Surf) that utilises a variety of movements, coming from yoga, ginastica natural and martial arts, performed on land as well as on skateboards and then in the water.
I know that sounds like a lot! Basically, he has broken down the fundamentals of surfing through all of those different practices. We practice them on land and repeat them in the water… all of which is supported by video coaching.
What do you believe it is about Rodrigo’s coaching methods that leads to such radical improvements?
It really is a step-by-step program over the 10-day of training that we do that helps people to relearn surfing, correct the wrong habits and unlock movements by bringing a new awareness to the body while surfing.
We go deep into the root of where the blockages with your surfing come from and we find it. And sometimes, it’s not technical but mental. The mental part of our training is another essential component because there’s a mental game happening in the water. So we bring awareness to the thoughts that limit us from achieving our true potential.
We have few ways of doing this, one of them is the introduction of the mindfulness practice, that I lead myself after it has saved me from one year of chronic back pain (another long story 🙂).
What about the Indo Surf Crew community? They seem to be a very creative bunch. Are there any projects you’re currently working on? (Feel free to talk about the Kickstarter campaign, release dates etc.)
All the content you see on IndoSurfCrew is produced by myself, but I am in the process of changing this to have more time to work on a surf documentary series I started during the pandemic, which is called Surfers’ Dharma.
We’ve just raised the funds for it earlier this year and I’m now working on the script to have the first episode produced. The documentary series will share stories of surfers who are not just talented surfers but people committed to sharing their unique gifts with the world while making an impact within their communities.
This will be something different than the usual surf videos. They’ll have more depth while still showcasing epic surfing. See the video teaser on the Kickstarter page here.
Cool, thanks for sharing. As for the future of Indo Surf Crew: do you have a long-term vision? What does that look like?
As I shared in the beginning, the long-term vision just comes as I go. I started by buying a domain name on WordPress without knowing I would end up running surf coaching retreats and producing a surf documentary series – just to say that the possibilities are endless!
I envision more time in remote islands, creating epic transformative journeys for surfers and documenting the whole of it. My deepest desire is to make a positive impact within the surf communities and bring awareness to the way we live, move, think and consume.
I love running the retreats but I feel we just impact a few people at a time. That’s why I want to produce Surfers Dharma to impact more people. The vision would be to have it shown on Netflix or a similar channel that can bring a big audience.
As for the retreats, it’s something I love and will keep on doing and I know we’ll have to keep finding new remote locations with no crowds and perfect waves… easier said than done!
As a world traveller, is there something that bugs you about the surf tourism industry?
If you look at it, the usual surf traveller has a carbon footprint higher than most people – travelling to remote places, taking numerous planes and boats. And that’s without talking about the equipment we carry that cannot be recycled and is many times left behind. It seems very selfish from the outside.
Sadly, it’s not just surfing but human nature. We want more, to be better and to go further.
Surfing is increasingly popular and so we need to find waves elsewhere to rediscover the joy of surfing without crowds. I think surf magazines and media bear a huge fault in not educating and constantly promoting new places to go to. This is a deep topic and at the end of the day, I believe that our community will awaken and find solutions together.
My motto is to give back as much as I receive, and we can start with simple actions, like taking time to clean the beach, sharing knowledge with local people and so on.
Couldn’t agree more. So what message would you give to travelling surfers, whether they’re in Indo or other parts of the world?
In Indonesia, there is no proper waste management system – everything gets burned or ends up in the water.
That’s to say that all your waste will become toxic to the environment, so the first thing we all can do is to bring a refillable bottle and say no to all plastic packaging… even in the most remote corners of Indonesia.
By saying no to single-use plastic constantly, we can educate the local people as well. They will slowly realise that they could sell more to us without the plastic packaging and find alternative solutions for travellers.
We can also spread the word with local people we meet along the way (especially with the younger generations) in a gentle way, without blaming… we’ll get there!
Finally, spend your dollars wisely and give it to people who are ambassadors for the planet, not the opposite.