With the end of the year not far away, some people may have already booked a holiday somewhere that offers plenty of shopping. But Jakarta-based surfer Gemala Hanifiah has another idea. She prefers to fly to a place with a beautiful beach offering perfect waves, and thinks other people might want to try it.
Gemala tells My Jakarta that she wants to see more Indonesians get to know their country’s natural beauty and experience the excitement of catching a wave.
When she’s not riding the swells, Gemala hosts a TV travel program, and also works in a Jakarta design studio with her husband.
Tell us about your work.
I have two major occupations: I’m a professional surfer and a TV host. I’d been surfing for quite some time when in 2008 sports equipment brand Roxy invited me to be the brand ambassador for their surfing range. That same year, I got an offer to be a host on two local TV channels for the travel programs ‘Nuansa 1000 Pulau’ [‘Nuances of the Thousand Islands’], ‘Mutu Manikam’ and ‘D’Journey.’ I was excited to accept these offers, because I love exploring exotic places as much as I love surfing. Besides, by being a TV host, I could promote surfing to Indonesians.
Why are you so enthusiastic about promoting surfing in the country?
First, because I love it so much. Second, I see that many Indonesian surfers have the potential to be really good. Compared to surfers from most other Asian countries — except Japan — our surfers are better, but of course, they still have room to improve. And it seems that this sport is becoming increasingly popular, but the hype is only being felt in Bali. I want the sport to spread across the beaches of the archipelago, not just in Bali. If I only promote surfing by competing in surfing tournaments, it won’t be very effective, because the audience is already familiar with this sport. That’s why I hope that by hosting travel programs I can promote it among TV audiences.
Where do you recommended people surf in Indonesia?
They have good waves in different parts of Sumatra, Java, East and West Nusa Tenggara, and definitely Bali. Indonesia actually houses a lot of good surfing spots. Do you know that 30 percent of the tourists who visit Indonesia intentionally come for the waves? If the government improved surfing access and facilities, I’m sure it would give a boost to our tourism industry.
What are the biggest problems in promoting surfing to Indonesians?
I think it’s our people’s typical definition of good entertainment. From what I’ve observed, people here prefer to visit places that have comfortable and luxurious shopping malls, rather than visiting adventurous or natural places. Many people have no idea about Indonesia’s natural beauty, that it is worth visiting all year round. On the other hand, foreign tourists appreciate our natural sites more than locals do. That’s why it’s hard to promote surfing among Indonesians.
What about the never-ending argument about natural preservation versus improving access for tourism?
Yes, this can sometimes be a double-edged sword. If those places are more exposed to tourists, it can improve the economic condition and quality-of-life of local people. But unfortunately local residents are not very aware of the need to take care of and preserve the beauty of nature, and focus only on maximizing profit. I think the best solution is to find a middle ground, where some places should be promoted for mass tourism, while others should be preserved for more exclusive visitors.
What do you do when you are not filming or surfing?
For me, I have to exercise and break a sweat every day, like doing yoga or jogging. I often have gigs in Jakarta, whether it’s writing about my travel experiences on my blog [www.gemalahanafiah.blogspot.com], photography or just doing some long-board skating with my friends. My husband and I have our own visual design studio where I work as a designer. That’s what I got out of my time studying visual communications design [laughs]. Due to my travel schedule, my husband knows to handle our design projects himself in Jakarta when I’m out and about.
Have you had any unforgettable moments from your adventurous and sporty life?
I was once pronounced missing while I was working on the travel program in the Mentawai Islands, because our phones couldn’t get reception. The insurance company that covered me even asked my family who would get the insurance claim before my body was returned to Jakarta; they thought I had died! In fact, our schedule was delayed for a few days due to unfriendly weather conditions, and when we had to decide whether to go back or continue, we decided to continue. Eventually we were able to reach a small village and reported back to Jakarta.
If you had to choose one place to settle down in or outside Jakarta, where would it be?
I often imagine what it would be like to live in Batu Karas [West Java], the place that feels like a second home after Jakarta. The beaches are beautiful and the waves are perfect for surfing.
Gemala Hanifah was talking to Irvan Tisnabudi.