While she was in the middle of filming the surf documentary Beyond the Surface on India's first female surfer Ishita, which we reviewed in our Spring/Summer issue, we caught up with Billabong surfer and Beyond the Surface International founder Emi Koch
Interview by Anna Langer
When & how did you get the inspiration to found Beyond the Surface International?
Beyond the Surface International as an organization began very spontaneously in August 2009. I had just returned from a summer spent with my friend living and volunteering at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Nepal where we taught English and collaborating with youth in art classes. It was in Katmandu that I founded out about the NGO Skateistan founded by Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich. Skateistan is a phenomenal organization that uses skateboarding as a tool for empowering youth, to create new opportunities and the potential for change that began its focus in Kabul. This idea of harnessing the power of play and fun through sports for peace and development was unprecedented for me. My two passions in life were surfing and social justice initiatives but it almost felt like 90% of the time those two fires were flaring up against one another and I had a very hard time deciding which one would get most of my attention. On the one hand I wanted to be a professional surfer and travel the world riding waves in exotic locations and going on tours and living life in a bikini and on the other hand I wanted to be on the ground deep into communities facing incredible challenges and working one on one with local people to address those key issues and transform them into powerful collaborations that benefited the whole community. After hearing about Skateistan’s mission I remember it was a bit of an epiphany thinking that perhaps I could do something similar with surfing and my two passions could somehow mutually benefit one another… So a few weeks before going back to start my second year of undergrad at Georgetown University I walked into a local shop in California and purchased a book along the lines of How to Start of Nonprofit for Dummies and a few days later Beyond the Surface International came into existence.
My two passions in life were surfing and social justice initiatives but it almost felt like 90% of the time those two fires were flaring up against one another and I had a very hard time deciding which one would get most of my attention.
Have you always had a charitable trait to your personality?
I actually really dislike the idea of charity and sort of wince when I hear the word. If I can point to one aspect of my personality that has driven me in my work with Beyond the Surface it is really the fact that I just like people. I really like people. And I love making new friends and forging new relationships that are mutually beneficial. So now it just so happens that the majority of my friends are half my age and from very different backgrounds than the one I grew up in and face more challenges.
I really like people. And I love making new friends and forging new relationships that are mutually beneficial.
How did the movie Beyond the Surface come about and how much are you involved in it yourself?
Patagonia surf ambassador and all around awesome water woman and human being Crystal Thornburg-Homcy and I did an interview together for Foam Magazine over a year ago that paired one surfer and their mentor. Crystal is the lone female surfer in one of my favorite films, Sliding Liberia, which her now husband Dave Homcy was the cinematographer for. Sliding Liberia in my eyes is the first surf film to venture beyond surfing in examining the civil war in Liberia with riding waves. To me the film really was a courageous trek into unknown territory in using film as a tool and surfing as a medium for storytelling. Crystal and I both got to talking and brainstorming about this concept and soon an idea for a new film along the same lines emerged only this time examining issues women are facing and in a magical land such as India.
The first three surf clubs in the Beyond the Surface International network were WAVES for Development in Peru, Umthombo in South Africa, and the Kovalam Surf Club in India. The next two summers directly after launching Beyond the Surface I dedicated to jumping fully into collaborating on the ground in Peru with WAVES and then in South Africa with Umthombo. I saved visiting the Kovalam Surf Club until the first summer I graduated college because it meant traveling to India... And India was always a place that completely fascinated me and touched a heartstring and I didn't want to limit myself to just a summer there. I was headed to India that summer anyway and then when Crystal and I began brainstorming about a film... The stars really just aligned.
India was always a place that completely fascinated me and touched a heartstring so I didn't want to limit myself to just a summer there.
How did you choose your fellow travellers?
Crystal put together a team of likeminded young women from around the world and when Ishita from India joined our adventure it seemed everything just feel into place.
What were the highlights?
I think the biggest highlight was everyone finally meeting after a year of planning together and after years prior of everyone knowing of one another through the industry and ocean family. As for the other highlights... We have to just wait to see the film!
And what the downsides?
I think our toughest moments were driving around aimlessly for hours upon hours searching for waves and then arriving to a surf spot and finding none. Other tough times were dealing with the heat and the mosquitoes. Personally for me it was leaving Kovalam for a bit to join the team filming in other locations because I missed everyone at SISP so much.
When will the movie be finished and where can we see it?
The film is currently being processed and will be edited this summer. We hope to have the entire movie finished by this fall. Where the film premieres will be has yet to be determined but we are currently speaking with film festivals who have expressed interest from all around the world. Looks like our adventures in launching a movie are going beyond just the filming but into post-production as well!
Do you plan to do more film projects in future?
I am super keen on more film projects and our crew did speak about the potential for collaborating on another Beyond the Surface film highlighting another organization in the BTSI network that is utilizing wave-riding as tool for empowerment and medium for self-expression. We will see the course this film takes launching into post-production and then once it is finished and see what lessons we learn and where we can go from here.
Do you have any ideas in your head yet?
I definitely do... But I will keep them in my head right now so they can continue to get tossed about and strengthened before entering into the real world.
Anything else you'd like to get off your chest?
I want to thank everyone who has supported us throughout this process and everyone who has supported me in launching Beyond the Surface. All the love is so humbling and much appreciated and I feel entirely blessed. A huge thank you to sponsors such as Billabong, Vans Shoes, Sun Diego, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, and Surfindian as well. These companies are made up of awesome people who are super genuine and amazing. I’d also like to thank Free Theo Productions for making this film possible! And to Cooler Magazine! Thanks for caring about our project!