• Children of Chopon village on Manus Island learning to surf. (Supplied / Gerry Bobsien)
Manus Island might be associated with its offshore detention centre, but Aussie surfer Gerry Bobsien would like to paint a more positive picture of the island.
By
Shami Sivasubramanian

17 Mar 2017 - 4:22 PM  UPDATED 17 Mar 2017 - 4:30 PM

After being hosted by Manus Island’s Chopon Surf Club last October, Gerry Bobsein a surfer and writer based in Newcastle, has launched a campaign to have young Chopon groms to come to Australia for an in-depth surfing workshop.  

She believes many of the kids have potential to turn pro and compete in the sport on a large scale.

“They're natural water people," Bobsein tells SBS. "None of them surfed when we first got there. But those kids took to it naturally."

She and four of her friends gave the locals at the surf club a few lesson and were immediately impressed with how quickly they'd taken to the new sport. 

Gerry Bobsein's colleague Anna teaching Chloe how to surf. (Supplied / Gerry Bobsien)

The plan, as accounted by Bobsien's Pozible campaign page, is to invite the older children from the village to Bar Reef Boardriders Club in Newcastle, NSW for a two-week intensive surf workshop. Bobsien hopes the experience will allow these kids to go back and teach the younger children on the island how to surf.

Bobsien is a member at Bar Reef Boardriders Club.

Featured: Gerry Bobsein, writer and surfer. (Supplied/Gerry Bobsein)

Most important for Bobsien is how this initiative could help paint a new positive picture of what Manus Island and its people are all about.

"That was a big motivation for doing this project. People couldn't believe I was going to Manus when I told them. They saw it as this horrible place of despair," she recalls. "But it's an incredibly beautiful place with an incredibly strong culture."

The initiative is also a way to help the fledgeling surf shack, Chopon Surf Club, get a name for itself.

Where Gerry and her friends stayed during their time in Chopon. (Supplied / Gerry Bobsein)

Chopon Surf Club opened early last year. It was established by Jeffrey Puller, a local Papua New Guinean, and Leo Cremonese, a Bondi artist who used to volunteer at the Manus detention centre.

Together they came up with a plan to encourage surf tourism in Chopon and Manus. Since Chopon Surf Club's opening, it has provided sustainable employment and a new world of sport to the village.

Bobsein, however, describes the club as much more than a local business. 

Left: Chopon Surf Club's Jeffery Puller. Right: a child at Chopon Surf Club learning to surf. (Supplied / Gerry Bobsien)

The village of Chopon has "territorial rights" to their lands and surrounding waters, she explains. To surf upon their shores or pitch shacks along their coast requires permission from the clan leader. 

What this means from a tourism and surfing perspective is that Chopon Surf Club was developed to be more than a place of business for the community. It's a "village cooperative" that ties in the cultural heritage of the Chopon people. 

The villagers of Chopon are "amazing water people" says Gerry. (Supplied / Gerry Bobsein)

Bobsein and her friends were the first people to be hosted at the Chopon Surf Club, but she's positive they won't be the last. 

Related
Sunshine Coast’s surfing Imam has one message for Pauline Hanson
"I keep saying to people, if you only know Islam from the six o’clock news then, quite frankly, you don’t know Islam. The only time you’ll get to know Islam is when you actually meet Muslims and sit down with them."
We're helping: Manus Island alternatives
With the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruling Manus Island detention centres illegal, Dan Ilic poses some, er, interesting options.
Asylum seekers try surfing for the first time at Bondi Beach
A group of asylum seekers has tried surfing for the first time at a lesson designed to take their mind off the uncertainty of their futures.