The Solomons Board Run

In 2019, I was speaking to a mate about surfboards.

Ian’s a water engineer, a Kiwi living near Manly, an enthusiastic surfer and a helluva good fellow.

He’d just come back from a small village called Gizo in the Western Solomon Islands where he’d been doing pro-bono engineering work, mostly giving locals the tools they need to plan and control the ample water in and around their village. Australia is a big-time partner in the Solomons (as you’ve seen in the news) and we fund people like Ian through NFP organisations to go and do their stuff. It often makes a huge difference to the lives of people living there.

Like almost everywhere in the Solomons, Ghizo Island, and the Gizo village is surrounded by water. Though I haven’t been there yet, it looks like what I imagine paradise looks like – tropical adventures in boats, crystal clear water, fresh tuna right off the boat, smiling locals and coconut palms. And it also turns out that Gizo is home to some of the best reef passes in the Solomon Islands.

When Ian goes to Gizo,  he goes surfing with all the local guys.

But Ian also tells me that the local guys don’t really have much in the way of surfing equipment. Turns out that nearly everything is flown or boated into the Solomon’s, and so something as big and as bulky (and expensive) as a surfboard blank just doesn’t make the cut. So no-one is making surfboards. A few surfers go through there, and some of them will leave a board or 2, but there’s nowhere near the number of boards for the crew and their kids to have their own board. There’s also zero wax, no repair materials, no fins, no leggies, no grips, … nothing surfing related really. Just lots of frothers.

On top of that, youth unemployment in the Western Solomons is somewhere around 80%. In Australia we’re at about 8%. Here, we have local council programs like skate parks and playing fields, and surfing, which are proven to make a difference in outcomes – read: keeping young dudes outta trouble. And what is making the biggest difference in Gizo is their local surf club – Western Solomon’s Surfing Association (WSSA). This crew LOVE their surf club!

So when Ian told me all this, my immediate thought was how many boards I had in the garage. I’m an absolute hoarder of surf gear, and I reckon most of the crew at QBC have at least 1 extra board that they don’t use. You can grab yourself way below the value on Gummy or Facey, or you can keep it as a dust gathering backup, or you can give it to someone who needs it.

And so after about 4min of contemplation and a chat with fellow QBC frother Azza Amavisca, the Solomons Board Run was born.

We decided we’d try and get 20 boards donated, and somehow get them over to Gizo.

Jeremy Baea runs the WSSA in Gizo. His family are pretty important in the local community, with his dad and mum owning the best accommodation in the area, and his younger brother Shemiah being the local ripper. In 2021, when Covid had locked down almost everything, Jez and Shemiah spent a month cruising and surfing and exploring the Solomon’s on the Indies Trader with just Martin Daley. They’re ‘get things done’ kind of people. So when I started speaking to Jeremy about getting some boards over to him, he was more than thankful – he started putting plans in place on how he was going to fairly distribute them to the local crew and how he could move them and us from Munda Airport (on another island) to Gizo. Jez and I haven’t met in person yet, but we’ve been on constant email for about 3 years now, and he’s been a real driver in the Solomons Board Run and for his community.

So we had some ‘meetings’, made some ‘proposals’, drank a few ‘organisational’ beers, and fleshed out how we’d make it a ‘win-win’ for everyone involved. It was loose, but it’s how these things come together sometimes.

The plan was a long shot but pretty simple. We’d make a little surfing documentary about our venture, and swap it with the Solomon Airlines marketing department for some flight tickets for us and 20 boards.

The idea pitch to docco maker Shane McLaughlin, who I’d worked with for years, was done in seconds – ‘Hey Shano, surf trip to the Solomons with your camera?’. ‘Hell yes’. Tick.

Solomons Airlines was in after a couple of coffees, some sweet talking, and some logistical understandings.

We had Solomons Tourism calling daily with support ideas and the knowledge of customs and ways around the rules for filming in the Solomons.

Everyone was keen to get on board.

Next we just needed to get some surfboards. And that’s where the good folks of The best boardriders club in the world came into this story.
I won’t say it was hard actually. Ox threw it out that there’d be a surfboard collection at the first contest of the 2020 season. We stuck up a couple of posters. On the day we pitched up for the Welcome to Country, which we filmed, and as the clouds drooped and the rain drizzled and the crew flared, members of our favourite club started dropping boards with us. Rob pitched up with a Sam Egan stepup that Sam had shaped for his son Luke – the 90’s Aussie legend. JD dropped in some of Kai Otten’s old boards. Maz donated a grom board. Uncle delivered a few Californian gems. There was everything, Warners, Haydens, CI’s, MGs, Psillakis, and randoms. We got over 25 boards, heaps of fins, heaps of wetties and leggies and everything else. Even a bit of cash (thanks Cav). QBC really came to the party that day as surfing citizens and we were hugely stoked with the contribution the club had made.

We booked our tickets with Solomon Airlines to leave in April 2020.

We shot about 5hrs of footage for our docco. I stuttered through about 45 takes of my 12 words. Azza nailed his lines like a pro. QBC’s collection made the newspaper in Honiara. We surfed, we planned our shots and our interviews, we booked plane tickets and started working out boards packaging and how to travel the 4hrs between islands to Gizo with 20+ boards. Surfing NSW got on board and donated ex-WQS comp vests for the WSSA club. We organised a comp and a prezzo with a pig on the spit for while we were there.

It was all on, until it wasn’t.

Covid hits.

1 week out from our flight to Munda, with everything set to go, Sydney’s first spike of COVID-19 hit. Airlines were grounded immediately, including Solomon Air, and we had to unpack our boards and stick them under the house. Suuuuuch a bummer.

I don’t know if you all remember – you probably do – but the surf pumped that whole year. And the year after – 2021. It kept us entertained, and made things a lot better. Azza and I would go down to DY, Curly or Queeny, surf for a few hours, and then hit an apre´-surf beer(s) and speak about how we could get the boards over to the Solomons. It’s like a dream that happened now, but the fact that everything was put on pause here, didn’t help out the guys in Gizo. We were speaking to Jez about once a month, trying to work out a plan to get the boards over.

Those boards, eventually about 40 of them, stayed under my and then Azza’s house for next two and a half years. Every-so-often we’d take them out, give them a clean up, see what was good and what wasn’t, and then stack them all back in the cave under Azza’s place.

At the time I was running an age group for the Freshy nippers, and one of the dads was a navy guy with rank, stationed in Honiara, Solomons. He was pretty sure he could get the boards approved to be transported there, but it wasn’t to be despite 20 chats and a whole lot of ‘clearance’ questions.

Solomons Air to their credit have continually called me and pursued the project. They really wanted this project to go ahead, and for that I am hugely thankful. If we’d been continuing with the docco, and we’d been able to fly there, then they’d be our ticket to paradise. We’ll be continuing with that relationship because they’re a good crew of people.

Turning around a bad session

Anyway – years have passed, and it was due to a bit of grit but more luck, and the end of Covid madness, that about 6 weeks ago in September 2022, we got an email from Jez with news that an epic surf/fish/dive/adventure charter – Tradewinds –  was heading over to Solomons. Simon from Tradewinds is a a sailer and adventurer, and friends with some of the Indies Trader crew. He was on a mission of losing themselves in the island chain, and finding some of the WW2 relics and remote reefs with pro surfers Kirra Pinkerton and Sally Fitzgibbons.

Azza and I packed up a trailer with 32 surfboards and a whole heap of surf accessories on the wettest weekend of a very wet year, and headed for there Goldy to drop the boards for their voyage to Gizo. Anything for a surf trip, and lemme tell you – 28hrs driving in 3 days of torrential rain was worth it for pumping and empty Lennox on the way back. Nuff said about that.

That was us – we couldn’t change it now, and we just had to wait to see if the boards would make it to their destination.

Shemiah visited us at Queeny from where he’s been working in an abattoir. The waves were pumping all weekend, and Shemiah was really stoked to meet and chat with a heap of the QBC crew in the water, calling him into waves and hooting – it was a great way for QBC to welcome a surfer from outside. ABC TV were doing a show on Shemiah as the Solomon’s best surfer, and they included Azza and I, and gave QBC a big shout out in the show. Check it out here on iView.

It’s about a 4 day sail from Townsville to Gizo when the wind is good. Tradewinds left around the 8th of November, and then on 13 November – yesterday that is – we saw a ping in Facey from the WSSA. Azza opened it, sent round the photos, and there were all the WSSA crew with the boards. All the boards we’d sent had arrived, and they were passing them round, checking them out, getting stoked on wax and fins!! We couldn’t have been happier – it was just so good to see it all arrive.

What’s next?

Having the WSSA as a club that we’ve helped in the Pacific is a cool thing. QBC has stepped up massively to help Azza and I achieve this, and I feel like QBC owns part of the project. It won’t be for everyone, but I’d like to think that if anyone wanted to go to check out Gizo and surf their waves, that we’d be welcomed as surfers and friends.

My next dream would be to get some of the QBC crew together for a long weekend trip across – and perhaps surf a little comp with them. A few QBC members have expressed their interest – so I might organise it.

Expanding on that, I’ve had a lot of emails from around the Pacific in the last few weeks both asking for boards, and asking if they can help. It’s something that we’l be working away at too, and if QBC members can help then it would be great to see that spirit of surfing that busts down doors come through and give us a hand.