With 2 months complete and only 1 month remaining I find myself already reminiscing about the highs & lows of Surfing 28 States. Whilst the endless culture shocks and ridiculous surfing will always bring a smile to my face, I know that the organisations we have teamed up with will have a lasting impact on my life.
From the energetic grommets of Asha Mission orphanage, to discovering the way Going to School uses art & film to motivate Indian children to bring about social change. Sharing the 88 Bikes ‘moment of happiness’ as we presented 34 former child slaves with their own bicycle to teaming up with the Thin Green Line and meeting the heroic rangers of Kaziranga National Park who put their lives on the frontline to preserve endangered wildlife, the journey has been that much richer thanks to these non profits.
The hardest part of highlighting the great work that is happening in India is our time restriction that forces us to spend only a few days with each, knowing that they all need support both voluntarily and financially.
Surfing 28 States has created a way that you can benefit all 7 organisations and discover them for yourself. By visiting our Donations page you can read about their work in India and even contribute to the causes through our pay pal account. 100% of your donations will be evenly distributed to the non profits, supporting the amazing change that is taking place.
As a token of appreciation, Surfing 28 States will provide you with a Certificate of Change, thanking you for playing a role in spreading happiness and making an impact in many lives.
While the Lassador (our Ambassador named Lassi) received some much needed love from the mechanics of Calcutta, we were left with the challenge of finding our own way through the seven Northeast States of India. We had to find one way or another to experience the mountains of Tripura, the forest of Assam, the tribal community of Nagaland and the rest of the Seven Sisters by public transportation.
It’s interesting how different you can perceive a land by the mode of transportation you experience it in.
9 seater airplane. Breaking the cloud level overlooking the various grooves of the eastern Himalayan mountain as we were headed to Manipur.
Train. Wheezing through the remote, luscious jungles of Assam, passing by villages and tribal communities that simply stare out at the fading faces of the train riders.
Bus. Gnarley, bumpy rides that really churn and instigate your insides. Luckily, ours had a make shift removable window for emergency bladder/intestinal urges.
Rickshaw. Drivers that provide a lens into the local people and culture. Even after pretty obvious failures on learning how to simply start the thing, this one amiable driver still allowed Campbell to give him a ride.
Sumo. Two months ago I could not tell you what a sumo was but now it’s a word that immediately triggers the image of windy, zig zaggy, rocky roads that fulfill any rollercoaster urges we were missing.
All these methods in addition to the 20+ other ones we’ve experienced throughout the past couple months makes me think of how much they’ve impacted and influenced our trip. From the people it’s allowed us to encounter to the communities we’ve immersed into, they’ve all had a unique way of unveiling how we perceive the local culture.
People before me who have experienced these landscapes as we are, all in a similar state of mind. When you’re in transit, you’re able to recharge and reflect amist two places. You’re not quite where you started or where you’re headed but somewhere in the middle of it all.
Smriti “Smithers” Keshari
If the 7 northeast states had to be likened to Snow Whites dwarfs I’d bet Mizoram would be Sleepy. Bordering Burma this peaceful state feels so far from the chaos of India that you begin to feel like you’ve entered southeast Asia.
As we drove through the lush mountains towards the capital of Aizawl we passed though villages and collected smiles, a refreshing interaction after 8 weeks of stares. We soon learnt why some refer to Mizoram as the ‘Bamboo State’, as we discovered everything from houses to dancing sticks being created from the stuff. The stand out favourite was the Bamboo Billycart, a common sight in the hills where very few cars dominate the road.
With the addition of a surfboard we revisited our childhoods, creating “Billycart Surfing”. As I struggled to keep balance Jonno was putting Jamaican bobsledders to shame, sprinting down a bumpy hill with a huge smile and no brakes.
After all the dramas of jail, transport and permits the simple act of playing like a grommet on a Billycart was just what the doctor ordered.
Hi-5’s, Smiles, Shakas and Yewwws!
We may have mentioned somewhere that trains are the best way to travel in India…we changed our mind.
Flying is the best way to travel!
North East India is killing us – we have failed with permits, we have failed with surfing, we’ve failed with staying out of jail and we are running out of time.
So….we took a flight, and knocked off 29 hours of travel time!! We landed in Agartala, the capital of the state of Tripura and within 10 minutes we were surfing!
We we’re bargaining with the 15 auto rickshaw drivers outside the airport and soon there were over 50 gents standing around gawking. Then we had the surfboard on a rickshaw roof and surfing around the carpark! Lots of Indians were laughing….a lot!
The next day we did yoga in front of a palace….
I always considered myself a pretty good kid and couldn’t see myself going to Jail, especially when abroad.
Four out of the seven states in the NE need permits and getting these is a nightmare of thick paperwork and slow processes. Not keen to wait around for weeks on end we thought we would just wing it. After getting rejected at the border of Arunachal Pradesh and being forced to sneak in by river we thought Nagaland would be the same deal. Get rejected then shimmy in.
But as we rolled over the Nagaland border we were not stopped nor confronted. Things started to feel strange when we checked into our hotel and were forced to pay in advance, something we had never done before but we went with it anyway. Once settling in the room we spy police cars outside the hotel and feeling invincible we joked about them coming for us.
BANG BANG, two heavy Hulk like thuds land on the door and we freak! The hotel has set us up! Ditching Smriti to answer the door us boys hide in the bathroom and listen in as Smriti tells the Police she is alone. We stand there dumb struck and scared. Slowly an officer pokes his head around the corner and for a second our eyes lock. He just stares at us and we just stare back, all frozen. He breaks the stare and yells to the others and we are ushered out into the crowded hotel room where 8 armed Police officers are going through our bags confiscating our laptops and cameras. At this point we soiled ourselves.
Over the next 12 hours we were arrested, processed and locked up for an uncomfortable mosquito ridden sleep on wooden benches. Luckily things worked out well for us, we made it out unscathed and we were only deported the next morning with a convoy of 11 police. From here on we wouldn’t try and get into a state illegally… at least until we hit Manipur.
Campbell “Handsome” Brown
Aranachal Pradesh is a beautiful mountain state that is a beautiful pain in the bum to get a permit to enter. We tried in Kolkata, we tried in Guwhati, and we tried at the border. No good. Kolkata was closed for 2 days, Guwhati was going to take 5 days and the border said we couldn’t get the permit there.
Luckily there was a river that runs along the border..so we went rafting surfing! Just to make sure we weren’t going to get in trouble, we dressed as river ninjas.
Imagine floating down a crisp but not cold crystal clear river with class 0.83 rapids at most, sun out, surrounded by jungle leading to cobblestones and grey sand…magic! We laid the surfboard on the bow of the raft and got the toes over floating down this picturesque river through Assam and Aranachal Pradesh.
Guest Post by Special Guest Sean Wilmore – World Famous Ranger / Surfer / Founder of Thin Green Line
As a ranger and a surfer, I’ve often combined the two… but never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that would be in a land locked state of india, with endangered one horned asian rhinos, tigers (ever present but secretive), elephants, buffalos, hog deers and two crazy Australian film makers/surfers/philanthropic fellas, Jonno and Stefan.
And life’s like that when you’re prepared to step outside the circle a bit. I was thrilled with the opportunity when Jonno contacted me to combine my passion for conservation and the work of rangers on the frontline with surfing and film making.
The ranger network around the world is pretty much a big family, and as part of it the legendary DD Boro, Senior Park Ranger in Kaziranga National Park, helped set up this trip with his son DB. DD couldn’t take us to the park himself as he had just been transferred for his own safety after he arrested a member of parliament for poaching, had a hand scuffle with an AK47 the politician had on him, then in the following months refused to drop the charges….. the politician got a month in jail…DD got transferred and the real threat of a retaliation loomed…but he won’t be silent… he is one of my heros…an award that is often over used for sportsmen and film stars…but one totally appropriate here.
So after some typical Indian “hurry up and wait” we finally hooked up in Guwahati nearing dusk. The 3 hour trip loomed with Kaziranga as the goal and Jonno, Stefan, Campbell and Smriti all pumped to see tigers and the wildlife. Now I soon learned the guys had a good sense for a practical joke, but this ranger wasn’t about to be undone. With the three guys fully exhausted and asleep, I teed up Smriti and DB and we all yelled “tiger tiger”. The three boys sprang bolt upright wavering this way and that, their sleepy eyes trying to focus, us saying “there, there, there”…. they looked like those punching dolls that get whacked down and bounce up as they searched in vain for the tiger…then I couldn’t stop laughing….. but yes they got me back with an “unopened coke”.
Back to the nature and the park. The first night was sleepless as we heard very loud gunfire or fireworks. I thought it was possibly rangers hazing or scaring animals back onto the forest to avoid human/animals confrontations which is a large problem in many places of the world, as population and the resulting footprint moves into the raining “islands of nature” we have kept….but no it was just another Indian Festival!
I couldn’t sleep again so I went walking into Kaziranga to see what was going about and hook up some things with the field rangers..the others slept ..exhausted I think from 14 states before.
By the afternoon, after some mandatory bureaucracy we headed out with some great field rangers, one had been attacked and gouged on his face by a rhino years before. There they were, the endangered Asian one horned rhino, with only 1900 of them left in this region. Although the rhinos and the Bengal Tigers are the iconic species, there are also so many other animals and plants that call protected areas like Kaziranga home.
It’s an amazing experience to be meters from a 2 ton animal that has its prehistoric roots. These rhinos have poor eyesight, but great hearing/smell and a horn and weight to defend any potential threats. Unfortunately it is that horn, like that for its African relative, that make it a target for humans keen to grab hold of it for its immediate $25,000 price tag to later be sold on the asian market as a medical remedy, for up to $100,000. It’s basically made from the same stuff as your finger nails, keratin, so if you think a rhino horn will help you with erection problems- chew your nails!
We saw so many animals but I was here to highlight to the boys the work of the rangers in keeping the animals on the face of the earth. Over 1,000 rangers have been killed in the last 15 years, usually by commercial poachers (not substance poachers). Many of the families are not supported at all..and that’s where The Thin Green Line foundation comes into it. We aim to support the families of rangers killed and prevent further ranger deaths by implementing social conservation programs in areas around national parks.
In the ensuing days as we tracked tigers, rode on elephants, met the rangers on the frontline and felt the hugeness and energy of a place like Kaziranga, I think Jonno and Stefan picked up on the sacrifices these men and women make for conservation. Perhaps for me it was most poignant to see the boys interact with some rangers on an elevated platform, their patrol post deep in Kaziranga. The rangers spend months out here on patrol, facing poachers and sometimes the dangerous animals they protect. They go home for a week, then do it all again, year after year. The least we as a world community can do is to look after them and their families if something goes wrong. These frontline conservation workers are my true heroes. I’m not sure what they made of Jonno and Stefan, but the eccentric duo certainly put a smile if not a bemused laugh across their dials.
Thanks to the boys and crew for highlighting the work of rangers and The Thin Green Line, and for looking after me at the end when I was pretty crook.
Go well you crazy cats….cause I don’t know anyone who likes surfing not surf like they do!
*Surfing 28 States would like to thank Sean for making the effort to meet us in India and introduce us to the inspiring work of Rangers and Thin Green Line. The stories that Sean shared with us opened our eyes to the importance of Rangers worldwide and will hopefully have the same impact on you when it hits the screen. Yeehaww!