The third part of our series we will hear from the co-founders of Solwota Sista, Stephanie Mahuk Sam Suendermann.

Stephanie Mahuk is a Senior Associate, Geoffrey Gee & Partners Law Firm in Vanuatu and Sam Suendermann is a professional surfer and heads the women’s development program for Solwota sista. 


1. Can you share with the audience some background about your organization? (mission, goals, etc.)

STEF– Solwota sista was conceived from the Vanuatu Surfing Association’s vision to encourage and promote the sport of surf amongst girls and women in Vanuatu communities who were absent from the lineup. Solwota sista became a catalyst to inspire social change and achieve gender equality while providing a safe and inclusive space for girls and women to express themselves.

SAM– I started up Solwota Sista with a group of young passionate Ni-Vanuatu surfer girls. They had been wanting to establish a platform that focussed on the encouragement and development of female surfing in Vanuatu. As the first generation of female surfers, they wanted to make it easier for the younger girls to access surfing, and to challenge the expectations and barriers that they had experienced. It was a really organic process, we invited all of the girls and young women who were interested in surfing, or already surfed, and had a massive brainstorm session to determine what our guiding principles would be. We had around 20 girls aging in range from 10 to 25 who all gave their input on the direction of Solwota Sista.

The mission of Solwota Sista is to help the women and girls of Vanuatu experience and access surfing, surf and nonsurf related skill development opportunities and to inspire strength and confidence to all women and girls who participate in surfing. Our vision is to create a safe and inclusive community of women and girls around Vanuatu who have a special connection to the ocean and each other through surfing and are committed to gender equality and safeguarding the environment. We keep the following key points in mind: values, equality, respect, helping hands, communication, and working together.

2. Each of your organizations targets a specific need/gap you saw in a local community and/or the surf community in your respective locations. What were some of these needs/gaps, and what are the steps you took to address this/these gap(s)?

STEF-Gender disparities particularly the cultural view of a girl or women’s role as well as the access to opportunities based on these views were vivid in the surfing scene. To the extent the extent that the VSA felt it wholly unacceptable and sought to apply to the Australian government-funded volunteer program seeking out a female surfing development officer. Samantha was placed in this challenging role and nurtured the sport amongst girls & women simultaneously dissolving the gender divide in the sport and promoting girls and women’s equal rights.

SAM– My role as women’s surf development officer was a strategy that the Vanuatu Surfing Association took to prioritize female participation in surfing, which was a gap that they had identified. I worked with the board and a small leadership group of young male and female surfers to identify needs/gaps and strategies to address these. We recognized that there was a need to create a safe female friendly supportive space to foster female surfing. This was a motivating factor behind the creation of Solwota Sista. In terms of equipment, we trialed the pink nose initiative- which aimed to put surfboards painted pink in the hands of the girls. However we found that it was extremely hard to monitor, the younger boys still didn’t respect the girls. The younger boys or other male family members would take the boards off of them. As the boards were given out freely they also were often returned in damaged conditions. We find that what works best now is to work with one of our male leaders who are responsible for looking after the boards, and is respected and looked up to by the younger boys who will now refrain from taking boards from the girls. The girls feel comfortable approaching his board shed and will rent out a board to use. Instead of using boards free of charge they need to do a five-minute beach clean up to earn their board. As Vanuatu is an archipelago of 83 islands we also make it a priority to extend our work to islands and communities outside Pango Village, which is where we are based near the capital city. Working in some of these communities is even more challenging because tradition and kastom are extremely strong and women and girls face significant barriers to accessing surfing. Again we have recognized the need to identify a group of leaders on the ground and to work with them closely to stress the importance of women and girls inclusion. READ MORE