Hannah Bennett (Rotuman), a professional surfer based in Fiji, shares what makes the perfect wave and how the connection of surfers to the elements makes them such natural stewards of reefs and oceans. She spoke with Fenton Lutunatabua, a Nia Tero Storytelling fellow, on Beyond the Narrative, a podcast that showcases the complex and dynamic truths of everyday Pacific Islanders and those that call the Pacific home.
This is part of our series of Spotlights that shine a light on other Indigenous podcasts and Indigenous stories. Listen to more episodes of Beyond the Narrative.
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Seedcast Season 2
Spotlight: Beyond the Narrative - The Perfect Wave with Hannah Bennett
March 30, 2022
[00.00] Jessica Ramirez: Hey, this is Jessica Ramirez, your host of Seedcast. Seedcast shares stories of Indigenous peoples whose cultures and traditions are the key to a sustainable future. And today we have a spotlight for you of another Indigenous-led podcast.
Theme song “Rooted” by Mia Kami: Once pristine, once untouched once pure, all of that's no longer there anymore.
Stripped down, torn apart, shift away a piece of our hearts, yet still we breathe…
[00:00:39] Jessica: Today we are sharing with you a podcast called Beyond the Narrative with Fenton Lutunatabua. And he shares stories of everyday experiences of Pacific Islanders. Fenton is currently a Storytelling Fellow at Nia Tero, and you can learn more about our Creative Fellowships on our website. This is an excerpt of Episode 11 called The Perfect Wave.
This episode has a chill Pacifika vibe. And what I really liked about it, is that it's about surfing—Fenton speaks with professional surfer Hannah Bennett. She has a kinship with the ocean. Fenton and Hannah get into conversation about what it means to be a product of your environment, and how your surroundings shape you.
[00:01:32] Hannah Bennett is the Vice President of the Fiji Surfer Association, also known as FSA. It's an organization that was founded 40 years ago. Anyone can join, and they teach lots of classes like surfing, CPR training; but they have a massive emphasis on youth coaching. This episode was released in November 2020, and Fenton is currently working on a new season of Beyond the Narrative. So make sure to save this podcast on your platforms. Thanks to Fenton, and enjoy the show.
[music plays, fades out]
Beyond the Narrative
Episode 11: The Perfect Wave with Hannah Bennett
November 9, 2020
EXCERPTED FOR SEEDCAST
[002:25] Fenton Lutunatabua: Bula Vinaka, my name is Fenton Lutunatabua, and this is the Beyond the Narrative Podcast. This is a podcast that values the story that lives in everyone. It showcases the complex and dynamic truths of everyday Pacific Islanders, and those that are blessed enough to call the Pacific home. It hopes to consciously seek out complete narratives and truths, and at its core, believes in justice through storytelling, and purpose through service. Thank you so much for joining us on the Beyond the Narrative Podcast, and I hope that you enjoy the show, [speaks in Fijian].
[003:18] Fenton: Bula Vinaka and welcome to the Beyond the Narrative Podcast, I'm your host Fentan Lutunatabua, and this afternoon, so excited, so stoked, to have in the studio with us Hannah Bennett.
Hannah Bennet: Heyyy!
Fenton: How are you feeling, Hannah?
Hannah: I'm feeling good, thanks for having me!
Fenton: Oh man. Thank you so much for making the time. Actually how this happened was, yeah, like Hannah commented on one of the posts on my Instagram and I was like, oh, I need to get this person on the podcast! And I took a leap of faith and asked if she could make the time. And she did! And I'm really, really excited. Mainly because Hannah is like an all around awesome human being, and is also a professional surfer. And I don't get to chat to a lot of professional surfers in my life. So I'm really, really excited that you said yes!
Hannah: Nice, yeah!
[004:10] Fenton: Hannah, actually, you know, there's a couple ways I could introduce you, but I'd love to hear from you. Like, how would you introduce yourself? Like what are the things that you put front and center of who you are?
Hannah: Well you know what, for me, it depends on where I am. For example, I mean, it depends on my environment. If I spent some time in America, my dad's American, my mom's from Rotuma. So yeah, it depends if I'm in America, if I'm in Rotuma, if I'm out in the water surfing; that's kind of what dictates how I introduce myself, you know? But I am part Rotuman, part American, like I said. And I'm a passionate ocean enthusiast, entrepreneur. Yeah, a really active person! And I'm a family-oriented person, and yeah, I love living in Fiji!
[005:12] Fenton:Yeah! Hannah, one of the things I love hearing from folks that I speak to on the podcast is the story of their names. So would it be cool if you told us the, you know, any stories of your either first name or last name, or both, that you'd want to share with us?
Hannah: Yeah, well a lot of people don't know that my first name is actually Hannah-Marie.
Fenton: Ok so like with a hyphen?
Fenton: Whoa, ok.
Hannah: Hannah-Marie. My middle name is [Rotuman name] and that’s Rotuman. And my last name is Bennett, so I mean, nothing too special, but from what I've heard from my mom—and I don't know how accurate this is—but she said (I've got two older sisters) when I was born, they were both fighting on you know, one was like, “It's Hannah!” and the other one was like, “No, it should be Marie!” So that's what I got: Hannah-Marie. But I eventually went with Hannah. Hannah banana!
Fenton: Oh, amazing!
[006:17] Hannah: Yeah. My middle name [Rotuman name]. So in Rotuman culture, namesakes are a big deal and I was really blessed to have twins as my namesakes. And this name has been passed down through a couple of generations. So yeah, I'm really fortunate and honored to inherit the [Rotuman] name.
Fenton: That's so cool that your name Hannah-Marie is like an intentional choice by parents to make peace amongst your siblings.
Hannah: Pretty much, yeah. And now that I've grown up I guess, you know, like in hindsight I feel like who I am is a bit of both of them. There's three of us in the family and I'm the youngest. So yeah, I totally feel split in the middle. And we're all Geminis! And my middle sister and I were born on the same day, even though we're nine years apart, and my eldest is a week later. So yeah, we're all kind of like the same person in three different bodies, but I feel absolutely a hundred percent split between my two sisters.
Fenton: That's so cool. And what an inheritance right? And I love that you used that word and like, this is the name that you inherit from your namesakes, ‘cause I feel like the word inherit has so much like sacredness to it as well.
Hannah: Absolutely. Absolutely.
[007:40] Fenton: Amazing. And Hannah, the other sort of thing that I want to dive into a little bit with you is, maybe a quick chat about if at all—how much of a role, like, spirituality's played in your upbringing—and define that how you will. One of the ways that folks have spoken about it before in the past is just like their connectedness to something. And I really love that you said how you introduce yourself depends on where you are because of that connectedness to place, so, yeah.
Hannah: For sure, I'm so happy you asked. That's a great question and a good way to start this conversation. But, spirituality to me, has always been from a young age nature-centered, the natural world, you know, just my environment. I truly believe that for me, in particular, I'm a product of my environment. And so, for me, that experience is received in a spiritual manner. And I'm, you know, I'm 28 years old, so I'm still, you know, finding that groundedness. But yeah, it's always been nature-centric and I mean, I pretty much let myself follow the elements and let the elements of nature kind of guide certain decisions or crossroads that I find myself in. And I try to put that at the forefront of most of my decisions—I wish all, but not all of my decisions. And yeah, I find it's peaceful, but you know, it's also frustrating at times and conflicting, and it's full of passion and emotions, which can make it a bit hard to navigate sometimes. But I don't think you can go wrong with trusting your instincts. And over the years of just recognizing that that's where I placed my spirituality, I feel like it's enabled me to develop a strong sense of intuition and judgment of character, and just self-confidence as well. So those are all things that I attribute to just my wellbeing with nature.
[009:57] Fenton: Oh, that is so insightful, that is so deep. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. And like, intuition is so underrated.
Hannah: Absolutely. I mean, it's gotten—I mean, if you just listen to it and practice it because it does take practice, right.
Fenton: That’s right.
Hannah: Intuition takes practice, but it's there. And gosh, for me, it's just gotten me through so many hurdles and decisions. I mean, intuition's been like the one thing I've relied on when I travel. Absolutely. It's gotten me through so many hard situations, you know. I can definitely pinpoint that to intuition.
[010:36] Fenton: Yeah. And like, if like, yes, it's a practice, right? Like even like a lot of people say, “Oh yeah, I want to be kind.” But kindheartedness is a practice, right?
Fenton: Right you cannot just like wake up one day and be like, “Oh, I'm a kind person.”
Fenton: That needs to—you need to develop some sort of muscle memory around that. Just the same way with intuition. And I think if more people trusted their intuition, I think intuition and self-confidence are so beautifully connected.
Fenton: Right. And so much of the modern world has told us to like, silence that intuition, right?
[011:18] Hannah: Mhm yeah. Yeah. There's so many practices in our modern day life that shut that part of you out, right. And it might not be intentional, but I think that's why it's so important to be aware, right? Do things with intention. And it's not just like yogi talk or hippie talking, but that's real! That's who we are, like, that's inherent, you know? So yeah. Intuition. And so powerful.
Fenton: I'm so glad talking about all of these really important things, because awareness of self and awareness and like, to be in tuned with your surroundings and with nature again, so connected.
Fenton: Right, in order to know where you're at, you need to know who you are.
Fenton: And, yeah, because in so many ways it can literally change the trajectory of life that you're on.
[012:17] Hannah: Right. I think it's also important as well, to let your surroundings help you figure out who you are. Some people think, you know, “Okay, I'm figuring out myself and then I get to know the outside, my surroundings,” right? But I think it's just as powerful to let your surroundings help define you. But you know, there's obviously a balance. You want to have boundaries with that as well, you know. If your surroundings aren't so positive, you also don't want to let that negativity define you. So, it's a balance for sure.
Fenton: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Such, so so much, so many gifts that you're offering up so, so generously. I appreciate it! And I think this is also a really good place to take a break.
Fenton: Yeah. And then maybe when we get back, I'd love to talk a little bit more about—because you are a surfer, right, which means you're like, connected to the ocean. And I'd love to hear about that relationship when we're back.
Hannah: Sounds good.
Fenton: Excellent. Stay with us. We'll be right back
[013:33] Fenton: Bula Vinaka and welcome back to the Beyond the Narrative Podcast. I'm your host, Fenton, and in studio with me I have Hannah Bennett, a pro-surfer and currently the Vice President of the Fiji Surfing Association. Just before this, we were talking about connectedness to nature, following intuition, and all of the good things that you could possibly talk about. Again, Hannah, I'm so grateful that you are here and like, just breathing life into so many of these things that often get missed out.
Fenton: Right. And actually one of the things I want to talk to you about right now is a little bit about surfing!
Fenton: Right? I don't know much about surfing. So forgive my ignorance with some of the questions I'm gonna ask, but I'm really curious to learn. And actually, you were saying a little earlier, before we started recording, was that Cloudbreak—right?—is actually one of the best.
[014:31] Hannah: Yeah. So Cloudbreak is a surf break, situated in [unknown] on Nakuru Kuru Malagi Reef. It's the Great Sea Reef. And it's a world-class wave. It's the reason why so many surfers—world-class surfers—come to surf in Fiji. It's the reason why Fiji is one of the stops on the World Tour. And it's a magnificent wave. I mean, if you see this, it's just perfect. It gets really big and it stays perfect. And it's blue, clear, you know, beautiful water, easily accessible. And because Fiji is situated in the middle of the ocean, basically, right? The reason why Cloudbreak is so grand is because these swells travel for miles across the oceans, right, they travel for days and eventually what makes a wave is it hits the reef. So if you've got this energy that's traveling for a long time, gathering and building as it's going, and eventually hits shallow water. And that's what creates this really amazing wave.
Hannah: Yeah, it's pretty rad.
Fenton: That’s so cool. So, okay. So what makes a perfect wave is the size?
Hannah: Not necessarily, what makes it per—I mean—for surfers, every surfer defines their own perfect wave.
[015:49] Fenton: Right, what's a perfect wave for you?
Hannah: For me, my perfect wave, believe it or not, is situated in the middle of Suva Harbor.
Fenton: Like, just out here, huh? No way!
Hannah: Yeah. I've traveled the world, and my favorite most perfect wave is called Lighthouse, and it's at the harbor entrance in Suva. And for me, it's perfect because it's where I grew up surfing. It's the most—it's the one place where I'm the most comfortable surfing, and you know, it's my crew. And even though it's not the cleanest water, it's a beautiful mechanical wave. It's just perfect. And it's the same almost every time.
Fenton: Right, what do you mean by mechanical wave?
Hannah: Mechanical, it's like, literally, like, have you seen any footage of wave pools?
[016:34] Hannah: It's like a wave pool, so it looks like it's been genetically modified, you know. It's like the GMO of bananas, but it's just perfect. It's consistent. So I think in surfing, what makes a wave good is the consistency. Yeah. It’s pretty consistent out there.
Fenton: Okay. Do you feel like there's a growing trend now for young females— young surfers in general—coming out of Fiji because it's more accessible?
[017:10] Hannah: Yeah. So definitely now there's more. I mean, the surfing development has grown a lot and especially for females, which is so encouraging. I mean, for me that was a main focus—not just be a surfer, but be an advocate, especially for young girls. But interesting that you brought up accessibility because back to how your environment shapes you: and so I believe countries like Australia, and America, and Hawaii even, that are so dominant in surfing, is because of their environment. They're able to just go down to the beach, paddle out, and surf. And that creates a really strong culture of surfing because of their environment. However, in Fiji, our surf breaks. You know, we're surrounded by barrier reefs, right? So like fringing reefs. And so that alone, I believe, creates the disconnect between communities and being able to surf, and surfing being something that's popular. Like literally the landscape. The fact that you need a boat, right? The fact that it's tidal. So all these factors come in and that's why, you know, it's taken a while for surfing to emerge in the communities here. But now, because I think tourism has been helping—surf tourism—has helped because it's been able to provide boats and a lot of our surfers become surf guides so they can go out and surf on a daily basis. That, you know, and then they come back home and then they share that with their family. So it's becoming more and more accessible. A lot of surfers are buying their own boats now. But just that simple thing, the fact that there's a wave somewhere out in the middle of the ocean, you can't see it all the time.
[018:47] Hannah: That just changes, you know, creates a different type of surfing culture here. But I think it's so great because the pursuit of surfing in Fiji provokes ocean stewardship. Because like I say, the pursuit of surfing, in order to actually go surfing, you need to watch the tide. You need to know where the channel is. You need to know how to drive a boat, where to throw an anchor. So the pursuit, like in trying to go surfing, you have to be aware of all these elements. You have to be acquainted with your environment. So it requires that to even go surfing. And so that's why I think it's such a contagious sport as well, because our surfers aren't just beach bums, you know. They're actually super knowledgeable. They're stewards of their ocean environment.
Fenton: Yeah, I love that anti-narrative, you know, a lot of people just think like surfers and beach bums.
[019:42] Hannah: Totally, there's a stigma around it. And I think we could use surfing, especially in the Pacific, as a vessel to promote stewardship. To use surfing as a way to reconnect and just notice that like, I don't want to trash my playground. Right? Like, a lot of our surfers don't even throw their anchor anymore. They make their own moorings because they know that throwing their anchor isn't healthy for the reef. They don't have to be educated to know that, they just have to be surfers.
Fenton: Wow. I have a couple more questions. Thank you for being so generous, but I think this is probably a good place to take a break, right? And when we get back, maybe like two other things that I want to dive into a little bit with you.
Hannah: Yayyy, that’s good!
Fenton: Awesome. Thanks. Thanks for being with us, we’ll be right back.
[020:41] Fenton: Welcome back to the Beyond the Narrative Podcast. In studio with me, right now, I have Hannah, and we're talking about all things surfing. I'm learning so much! And I love this idea of like, the pursuit of surfing, right, and I love the way you phrase that, because it really is like surfing in Fiji is so different to surfing anywhere else in the, well, in most other places in the world.
Hannah: Yeah, it is.
Fenton: Right. ‘Cause you, like, you have to pursue it.
Fenton: Right, and actually does the pursuit for surfing make you, do you feel, just makes people better surfers?
[021:19] Hannah: I wouldn't necessarily say better surfers. Maybe, you know, because it takes so much effort to go surfing, sometimes you spend more time trying to get surfing than you actually go out surfing. For example, you know, every day we've got a tide window of two to four hours, right? So in some places you can only surf for like two to four hours. And yeah, I wouldn't necessarily say it makes you a better surfer, but I think it makes you appreciate surfing more than a lot of people do because, you know, of what it takes. I think it makes surfing a communal thing here. You know, who's got the boat, who's got the fuel—
Fenton: That’s it!
Hannah: You know, who's got the anchor, like you're not going to go out by yourself. So it's not so individualized as a lot of places. Surfing's kind of an individual thing, and you can feel it when you paddle out to North Shore in Hawaii, or you paddle on the Gold Coast. Everyone's just in their zone. They know what wave they want to catch. But in Fiji it's such a communal thing. And with the Fiji [Fijian phrase] spirit, I mean, it's just a whole ‘nother level.
[022:17] Fenton: Yeah, that just reminds me, I have a colleague and she's actually living in Japan now. And she said whenever she comes down to Fiji, her little brothers wake up so early in the morning, to take out something [inaudible]. She's literally their driver to catch the two to four hours sort of wave, and it's so communal. Like, you know, the kid brother brings in all of his friends and they sort of all go out and do this together. And it's like watching your Instagram stories. It's so beautiful. It's just like all of these kids, like manifesting literal joy out on the ocean. Like with the sunrise in the background. It's just so magnificent.
Hannah: It’s so cool. And like, as a kid to experience that, I think it adds an element of maturity for kids, you know. Like a lot of our youth surfers, they’re so mature, because they can drive a boat before they know how to drive a car. And they're so mindful of their environment, they're so mindful of everyone—is everyone safe, like safety. You know, that's what we try to promote first and foremost through the FSA is safety. Our reality for surfing in Fiji has a lot of dangers to it, you know, with the whole boat and reef and you know, not a lot of hospital facilities readily available. So safety is our main thing. And I think with the youth, they’re so mature because they understand that.
[023:39] Fenton: Yeah, like coming back to this idea of like, practicing intuition. I think even with stewardship, there's a practice to it, right?
Hannah: Absolutely yeah.
Fenton: And like, to practice, listening to the heartbeat of the ocean and to be able to follow that is just like to learn that at such a young age, it's like, whoa!
Hannah: Right? And then cultivate it. And it's never ending. I mean, you think you've mastered it, you know how many times? That's the beauty of the ocean. How many times do you think, “Oh, I've mastered Cloudbreak!” and then it just, boom, reminds you like, nope! You know, you have a bad experience. We call it pounded—you know, you have near drowning and then you're “Well okay. Let me take a step back. Who's in charge here?” You know? So it's very humbling. And I mean, that's why I love competitive surfing too. There's this comradery, like unspoken-ness, within competitive surfers that we all know who's in charge of the end of the day—it's mother nature. So our environment for competing is constantly changing. You know, it's not like a basketball court or a volleyball court. You're constantly having to adapt, and that eventually reflects in your personality and in the way you live your life.
[024:50] Fenton: Yeah. Yeah. And what important life skills to teach young people, right? Adaptability like, respect of the ocean, stewardship practice.
Hannah: Yeah. Yeah. I would love to see surfing just have more of a stronghold in Fiji when it comes to developing those skills, and those virtues, and values, you know. Like I said, I just think it's such a beautiful vessel to be able to reconnect young kids and the next generation to our environment.
Fenton: And you've surfed in a couple of really cool places like El Salvador, we just learned at the beginning of this. You've done Japan, Hawaii with your sister.
[025:35] Hannah: Yeah. So I actually finished high school in Hawaii and graduated there. So I spent some time surfing in Hawaii, and I've been competing in Australia, I was just in Japan this time last year, California. I haven't surfed in Europe yet, but I would love to go to surf in France or Spain.
Fenton: That's just like one of those—like I wouldn't put Europe and surfing together, you know?
Hannah: Neither did I, and it's crazy, but there's a strong surf culture there. It's cold. It's different. It's so different. Like, to me, it's not even surfing. It's something like ice, snowboarding, or something. But it's different. Yeah, there's great surf there. Even Japan. I mean, you'd be surprised, Japan's got a really strong surf culture.
Fenton: Whoa, oh man. I'm like, this has been a highlight of my day. Thank you so much.
Hannah: Awww, me too, me too, I’m stoked, thank you!
[026:30] Fenton: Thank you so much for making the time. And again, just being so generous with your experiences, with your expertise, with your knowledge, it's really appreciated. And, if it's okay with you, we could start wrapping up. Yeah? And I guess a good place I sort of want to end our time together, Hannah, is maybe with a final question. And it's a question—I'm obsessed with time travel, right, I think about—
Hannah: That’s rad!
Fenton: I think—and actually one way I heard the language just today was, somebody who I was in a conversation with said the Indigenous perspective of looking at time is so different.
Hannah: I agree.
Fenton: ‘Cause in order to look forward, we need to look back.
Hannah: I agree.
[027:16] Fenton: Right. And then even the way that it's language literally is, it like flips this concept of time. And so. Anyway. Time-travel, to me, is always so interesting, right? Because even for me, if we do this work around ocean stewardship, around environmental stewardship, around, you know, like, breaking generational curses of stewardship of resources and how to do that better, we have to hope for the future.
Fenton: So we have to reimagine and revision a future. So, constantly, we're doing time-travel ourselves without even thinking about it, right?
Hannah: Yeah, definitely.
Fenton: And actually one of the questions I want to ask you, Hannah, you said you were at 28, right?
Fenton: Right. And I feel like you've done so many things, represented you know, Fiji and of course Rotuma on this international platform, and you've, you've done so many really, really cool things. What if you could travel into the future and visit your 40 year old self for a day
Hannah: That's a tough one!
Fenton: What's one thing you'd like, tell your 40 year old self—with everything that you know, to be true and feel so deeply about right now. What's a reminder that you'd like to tell your 40 year old self?
[028:40] Hannah: Wow. That's a tough one. First and foremost, you know, stay rooted. I hope that when I'm 40, I am still as strongly connected to my roots of my culture, my homeland. I hope it's just as strong as ever, right. As strong as a dilo tree.
[028:59] Hannah: But, my 40 year old self? Wow. You know, I hope to remind—you know, I hope I still have that spark of enthusiasm and ambition. I think ambition is something that should never die in any of us and enthusiasm for, you know, whether it be goals or even just like—I hope when I'm 40, I'm still searching for my next perfect wave. Whether it's still at Lighthouse in Suva, or somewhere on the other side of the world, I hope I’m still enthusiastic and ambitious about finding that. That's the perfect wave in that perfect session.
[Theme song “Rooted” by Mia Kami]