Australia

The Australian surfer wearing the Aboriginal flag to take on the world's best

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Soli Bailey has chosen to carry his Indigenous pride out onto the waves, making history in the process.

Watching the swell roll in at Sydney's Manly Beach, Solamon “Soli” Bailey carries the quiet confidence of someone who feels most at home by the ocean.

The 23-year-old Indigenous surfer has recently qualified for the coveted Championship Tour and from April will compete for the title of best in the world.

He is only the second Indigenous surfer ever to compete in the tour after Dean Morrison. 

Soli Bailey in his jersey ahead of the WSL Championship Tour.
Soli Bailey in his jersey ahead of the WSL Championship Tour.
WSL/Matt Dunbar

While it is his first time being named in the world top 24, his debut will also make waves of its own.

Paddling out on the world stage, Bailey will become the first professional surfer to wear the Aboriginal flag on the sleeve of his jersey.

He'll wear it on his right shoulder, with the Australian flag on his left.

“I’m stoked to have it [the flag] on my jersey and for WSL [World Surf League] to support me with that,” he told SBS News on Thursday.  

“My family represents from the Yaegl people and that consists of Maclean, right through to Coffs Harbour and that’s part of Bundjalung Country.

“I grew up in Byron Bay – so a little out of that area - but it’s a beautiful part of the world and it’s always going to be home for me.”

Soli Bailey ahead of the WSL Championship Tour.
Soli Bailey in his jersey ahead of the WSL Championship Tour.

The jersey is an important identifier for surfers within the World Surf League, with judges using the numbers emblazoned on the back to score. Bailey will wear number 44.

“I find it a lucky number and it’s also my grandpa’s birthdate so, you know, that’s special to me too.”

Hoping to encourage the next generation of Indigenous surfers, Bailey told SBS the jersey is “representing in the right way - and proudly.”

“I’d like to hope it’s inspiring as many people as possible to get out there and enjoy the ocean for what it is.

“We’ve hunted on the land and we’ve hunted in the ocean for longer than anyone knows.

“[The ocean] is a massive part of my culture … and it’s really special to me out there.”

Australian surfer Soli Bailey celebrates his win of the Volcom Pipe pro in 2017, in Oahu, Hawaii.
Australian surfer Soli Bailey celebrates his win of the Volcom Pipe pro in 2017, in Hawaii.
Getty/AFP/Brian Bielmann

Bailey shot to world prominence after beating the likes of surfing giant Kelly Slater in the 2017 Volcom Pipe Pro in Hawaii.

Now he has his sights set on the first stage of the Championship Tour, the Quicksilver Pro on the Gold Coast in April.

“I’ve got some big goals, but the main thing is to have heaps of fun, enjoy the journey learn as much as I can,” Bailey said.

“Take the losses on the chin because there is always going to be a couple - and take the wins in my stride and keep them going.”

Former professional surfer Rob Bain, who now works for Bailey's sponsor O'Neill, is one of his early supporters.

“If you look at the simple fact that he’s qualified for the World Tour and where he’s come from - it just shows he has champion qualities,” Bain told SBS News.

“It’s a big, bad world when you get to that stage – they’re hungry those guys and they’ll pounce on you if you make a mistake.

"Soli’s got the talent and especially when the waves get serious … he comes into his own, he just has this look in his eye - he wants it.”

Soli Bailey emerges from the water after his heat at Manly.
Soli Bailey emerges from the water after his heat at Manly Beach.
SBS

Bain views the Indigenous jersey as a powerful show of pride.

“It’s in his blood and it is super important to him,” Bain said.

“I think he's going to be a great role model for Indigenous kids in Australia, I really do.

“I feel that there is a real change happening at the moment, especially with Australian youth of all cultures – to be embracing and to learn about the past.”

Bailey said: “I’m just super stoked to be able to represent my own country and what I love in my culture.” 

“If it makes some noise, awesome, because that means it’s getting it out there.”

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