Imagine quitting your office job to travel the world and make a life through surfing. While it's amazing to daydream about, in reality it takes a lot of courage. Imagine now, making the same jump after growing up in a society that frowns on and sometimes forbids girls from going out into the sea. A place where traditionally girls should stay at home and build their career as they grow up…
This is exactly what longboarder Flora Christin did after quitting her office Job in Jakarta in 2014. Since then she’s become Indonesia’s most recognisable female surfers, won international acclaim and found a following of women across the planet, inspired by her surfing style and her self belief.
Sophie Everard recently caught up with Flora to chat about self identity, culture, love of the ocean and surfing, and find out what she’s going to do next.
Interview: Sophie Everard
Where are you from Flora?
I’m originally from North Sumatra. I was born there and stayed for six years, then my family moved to the West of Sumatra, before going back to North Sumatra for High School. After that I moved to Jakarta, a concrete jungle, which was scary!
Did you start surfing as a young girl?
I actually started surfing in 2016 when I moved to Bali after two years of travelling. I was wondering where should I go next and thought Bali would be a nice place to find a new job after two years of being jobless. Deciding to get into surfing, I rented a surfboard for six months from the beach. Then I bought my own board and got my first sponsorship.
When you started surfing, were there lots of other local girls surfing?
There were a few, but they weren’t doing it regularly, because most of them were working. I was pretty much the only crazy Indonesian girl that was out there every single day. All the boys were like, “what are you doing here, what do you do for a living, what do you do with your life. You’re here all the time!"
Do you think that’s a cultural thing?
They were probably in shock, because it’s not in our culture, and were confused to see what I was doing. For them an Indonesian girl is supposed to be at home, not in the sun, not in the sea, and just not doing sports really at all. Girls should be at home, cooking, cleaning, making themselves pretty. Their standard of being pretty is when you have a white skin colour, not tanned one from being outside.
"You’re the one who needs to find out what makes you happy and live your life to the fullest because you only live once, remember that"
Do you think now you’ve been out there surfing for a few years consistently, the guys are more accepting?
Yeah big time, for sure. Whenever I used to come down to the beach the boys were like, “seriously Flora what do you do with your life. How come you can come down to the beach every day, I see you here all the time, you’re just like a fish!". They called me the “Ghost of The Sea!"
They are a bit more open now. When I started surfing, I got abused a lot, but I just didn’t give up. I was just like ‘yeah, I’m going to surf, and one day I’m going to gain your respect’. After one year, they saw me growing, getting sponsorship, doing competitions and stuff, and now they are more like ‘oh wow, it’s actually pretty cool what you are doing’.
Do you hope to see more Indonesian girls out in the water?
Of course! It’s nice to see lots of girls from all over the world in the water, it will be amazing to see more of my people doing more of that. If I see Indonesian girls out there, it’s just amazing. I feel like 'wow, there’s another one of me.'
What's it like meeting people from all over the world in the line up?
From being in such a tiny, remote village in Sumatra and coming down here, getting to meet people from all over the world, getting to hear their stories, getting to watch them surf, it’s just amazing. I get inspired by lots of girls I see out there that are doing all these crazy moves on their longboard. When I was still a beginner I was like “Wow! That girl is dancing just like a ballerina on her board. I’m going to be like that one day!" Lots of girls come to me now and say “oh you’re the girl who’s dancing like a ballerina". It has opened my mind, its opened everything up for me. I would never have thought that surfing would have brought me this far, going to Japan, going to the Philippines to represent my country.
And you finished third in the Philippines, right? How did it feel to do so well in your first competition?
It feels amazing. Even now I’m feeling stoked. Compared to these other Asian girls who had been surfing for over five years, I was the only who had been surfing less than two.
And do you hope to do more competitions?
I am going to do more competitions, I told myself since I started surfing that winning is not my goal, but I will always do my best. For me, my goal is to inspire more people through my story. Through surfing I find my happiness, through surfing I find my freedom. I want more girls to get out of their bubbles, to find what they really want to do in life. It’s not easy, nothing has ever been easy in life, but it’s possible.
You used to look up to those other girls dancing on their longboards. How do you feel about the fact that you're now inspiring other young girls?
I feel like my life is amazing because its useful. I’m not only doing it for myself, people get inspired by what I am doing, and it feels amazing.
And what is it you love about longboarding?
What I love about longboarding is the style really. It’s just chill! It’s beautiful. I don’t have to do all the duck dives, I can put whatever bikinis on, whatever swimsuit, because I don’t need a super strong bikini on.
A lot of your adventures are shared on your Instagram account. What has social media's role been in your story?
Social media helps me a lot. I’m just going to keep doing it as a way to share my story, to share my happiness out there, to get more girls to find what they want to do with their life.
Do other female longboarders inspire you?
Another thing that gets me better with my surfing is practicing and watching movies and surf videos. I really admire Kassia Meador, she is just amazing. Maybe one day I’ll be able to surf with her. One day, I’ll make my way to California and surf Malibu with her, shouting “Kassia! You’re my inspiration!"
So you'd love to go to Malibu. What other spots are your dream breaks to surf?
I would love to go to Peru, Chicama, the longest left on earth. That’s going to be really epic if I get there. One wave a day, that’ll put a big smile on my face for the rest of the day. And I would love to go to Australia, which I’ll find my way to in March. I would also really love to explore more longboard waves in Indonesia. There are a lot, it’s just the transportation problems. Hopefully I’ll get to discover more longboard waves in my country and get to go to all these dream breaks.
How do you feel about Canggu and the development of the spots here?
There are always plus and minus points when a place gets bigger. One good thing is for the locals, they get more opportunities to make more money from the tourism, but a sad thing is unfortunately, not everyone has a good attitude and could be happier in and out of the water.
I just hope that more people will be aware and respect all the culture here because from what I’ve seen, Canggu in the past three years has grown so fast. Hopefully all the tourists will think more, not be rude and respect everything this island has to offer.
It's a very special place. What would you say for girls travelling here are your must-do things on the island?
First, try to surf of course! Get a surf lesson, get out there, and when you spot me come say hi! Second, get to know about the culture because it is so beautiful. The way people do their offerings no matter how crowded the beach is, they just do their thing. That’s what makes this island become really strong, full of energy.
What are your hopes and dreams for your surfing right now?
I hope that I can start my surf retreats soon. They would be a way to get girls together, for them to hang out with me and for me to talk to them. Just to help them to open their minds, see another perspective of life and get them to find what they really want to do in their life. And also to get to travel more with my surfing.
What else are you into aside from surfing?
My other passion is that I would love to be an environmentalist, because one of the biggest problems in Indonesia is the environment. To be surfing out there with lots of plastic in the water, it just breaks my heart. Hopefully one day I can get into that line too, through my surfing.
For girls who have never surfed before, it can be intimidating. What are your top tips to give it a go?
First, remember that it’s only water if you fall, it’s soft, it's not concrete. Second of all, get a surf lesson, and third, watch lots of videos!
Then, just do it often. Surf with people you trust and surf with someone that you feel is better than you, so they can give you more tips. Just keep going really, it’s a matter of time and hours. Just like any other thing, it’s the practice.
Do you have any life mantras you dig?
For me, I always have this motto. When you’re happy, everything falls into place. You always need to put happiness over money, and be out there and spread your love.
You girls out there, you know what? Life is too short to let yourself stop doing what want because society forces you, because your family forces you, because your parents force you. Just think, is this the best way to live your life? Get out there. Because in the end of the day it’s you who lives your life, it’s not your parents. You’re the one who needs to find out what makes you happy and live your life to the fullest because you only live once, remember that.