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Surf's Up

Special Features
Jamal Raslan
Tioman Island Conservation Day (TICD) 2019 organised by Berjaya Tioman Resort

Tioman’s own Kahuna making a splash for Malaysia

The Tioman SurFestival 2020 promises to be another qualified success for a humble local effort that is slowly but steadily rippling beyond its beaches.

Just as in past years, Tioman SurFestival (TSF) 2020 will be held at its spiritual home, Juara Beach on the east coast of Tioman Island, organised by Tioman Boardriders Event Management in collaboration with Tioman Cabana and the Tioman Boardriders Club. TSF 2020 will be presented by loyal long-time sponsor and partner Rip Curl Malaysia, and is supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MOTAC) under the Visit Malaysia Year 2020 campaign.

The surfing competition will be the main draw for TSF, but it will be complemented by a host of exciting land-based activities around the beach and the entire island. The activities include rock climbing, team tug-of-wars and even mini skateboard arenas, not to mention recreational activities such as diving, kayaking and snorkelling.

In recent years, the festival has evolved into an island appreciation effort, including environmental components to its already exciting program, resulting in a holistic and sustainable island-friendly event for the small but avid surfing community of Malaysia.

The Take-Off

The Tioman SurFestival has earned its reputation as Malaysia’s first surfing event. Its inaugural edition was a simple competition to introduce surfing as a fun recreational activity for both Tioman’s locals and tourists visiting the island. At least that was what its founder, Wan Ahmad Hishammuddin - more known as Hisham Uyub or Shamrock amongst the locals, had in mind when he came up with the festival.

Tioman Surf Festival 2020
Hisham Uyub (front, second from left), also known as Shamrock among the locals.

He started the festival with only two reasons in mind; passion and the surfer community in Tioman. Hisham said that he was inspired by a good friend working with a Malaysian skateboarding, surfing and motocross company based in Kota Tinggi.

“I just want people to know that you can still come to Tioman even during the monsoon season,” Hisham said in an interview last year, explaining about why he decided to hold the event early in the year. 

Tioman Surf Festival 2020
Aerial view of a resort along Tioman's coastline.

Tioman is known for its sunny afternoons, warm and breezy evenings followed by cool nights. Due to the monsoon, tourists frequently visit the island between May and August when the rainfall is the least, before the wind turns into heavy rain and strong waves from October all the way until January. The island is less active during this time, ferries running only once daily, with few hotels operating at discounted rates. The Tioman SurFestival signals the end of the monsoon season and welcomes visitors from all around the world. 

As a passionate surfer and islander, Hisham remembers his early surfing days. The travellers were the main reason why surfing started in Tioman. “I remember our parents told us not to go to the sea because it’s very dangerous (during the monsoon). But when we saw the tourists who came surfing, we were like ‘Wow! That’s cool!’ So, we tried. We had a few boards left by the tourists so we shared one surfboard between eight or nine of us to learn,” he recalled. It is more affordable to surf now compared to previous years. There are also several surfing schools in Malaysia these days which provide an opportunity for the community to learn how to surf.

Tioman Surf Festival 2020
Tioman's beaches offers vast stretches of sand where spectators will be able to enjoy watching the surf competition from. 

Hisham’s joy and content are not without reason. When he first started out at Juara, no resorts were available at the time and the beach was empty. He got the locals to help him build the judges tower using bamboo sticks and leaves. At the time, they resorted to a loudhailer in order to talk to the surfers and run the competition. The prize was only RM300, and they even made trophies using driftwood themselves. That first edition of the festival remains Hisham’s most memorable and meaningful moment. “Of course, now it’s getting better every year but I will always remember the first one”, he added.

Now, Juara is home to chalets and resorts that help with the huge influx of tourists during Tioman SurFestival and the months that come after. One of them, Barat Tioman Beach Resort, is a proud community supporter and co-host for the Tioman SurFestival.

Tioman Surf Festival 2020
Tioman SurFestival 2017.

Riding The Crest Of The Waves

Hisham’s story is proof of a thriving surfing community in Malaysia. His genuine passion and love for the culture certainly helped rally the community along with the TSF especially during earlier days. His initial goal was to instil surfing culture amongst Malaysian youths especially for the locals. Eventually, a new generation of surfers were brought up and became a means to contribute to the community. 

And he is certainly accomplishing that.

The Tioman SurFestival has inspired other similar efforts such as the Music and Surf Festival at The Tip of Borneo in Sabah and the recent Borneo Surf Festival, but it was not an easy journey. Hisham started out small – first, by gathering local supporters during the earlier editions of TSF. Eventually, he started getting more and more assistants, resulting in other local businesses and communities partnering up for the festival.

Tioman Surf Festival 2020
Borneo Surf Festival 2019.

Tioman Cabana, a popular budget beach cottage and beach bistro in Kampung Tekek that is 5.6km away on the opposite coast to Juara, is among the partners of Tioman SurFestival. It is also where Hisham works as a manager. As the festival’s main partner, it hosts the surfers competing in the TSF and also the festival’s visitors. The local business, established in 2006, started out as a watersports hub and café built with recycled materials and driftwood. It is one of the many local efforts that benefited greatly from the TSF, and is evidence of its ongoing achievements.

Tioman Surf Festival 2020
Tioman Cabana, in Kampung Tekek, Tioman. 

Hisham’s and TSF’s success has also resulted in the founding of the Tioman Boardriders Club, a local surfing community that has come onboard to be a fellow festival organizer.  TSF’s biggest success so far is garnering loyal support from Rip Curl Malaysia.

Alongside Billabong and Quiksilver, Rip Curl makes the Big Three of the surf industry. It is the designer, manufacturer and retailer of boardwear that has sparked big waves in North and South America, Europe, Oceania, and South Africa. Known for their innovation and campaigns (such as The Search), Rip Curl is also a major athletics sponsor and has won many industry awards not just for their products but also for their efforts in instilling the surfing culture within a community. 

An Island's Effort

Surfing is not Hisham’s only passion. Environmental conservation is another. He constantly working hard to preserve the environment. As a non-motorized sport, surfing is not only good for the environment but also relaxes the mind and unite people with the beauty of nature.

True to his words, Hisham finds ways to incorporate environmental conservation into Tioman SurFestival. In recent years, a ‘no plastic’ advisory has been implemented at the festival. Food vendors and booth operators are discouraged from using plastic packaging.

Then, a volunteer-driven campaign was conducted to encourage visitors to crush discarded glass bottles for recycling purposes. The crushed glasses are then mixed with sand to produce an alternative concrete mix. Rumah Hijau, which is one of the many brilliant ideas by Hisham Uyub, is the force behind this effort.

Tioman Surf Festival 2020
Conservation efforts and sustainability projects ongoing at Rumah Hijau Tioman. 

Rumah Hijau is funded by 10% of Tioman Cabana’s income and profits. Their work extends beyond the TSF. They were part of the Tioman Island Conservation Day (TICD) 2019 organised by Berjaya Tioman Resort. This 3-day event saw 120 divers from Malaysia and Singapore alongside members of the media and sponsors collaborating on activities to restore and preserve Tioman’s natural beauty. There was a massive underwater clean-up operation, a rehabilitation of rescued corals, beach clean-ups, and also a coral adoption program.

Tioman Surf Festival 2020
Tioman Island Conservation Day (TICD) 2019 organised by Berjaya Tioman Resort.

Respect Culture, Respect Nature

In its first year, Tioman SurFestival saw less than 300 surfers and spectators. These days, more than 2000 people will turn up just to watch over 70 surfers from South Asia, Australia, Bali and other countries to compete with the Malaysian athletes. Hisham is looking beyond the swells.

Along with Hisham’s dreams to turn TSF into a 5-day event in the future, he hopes to further expand the Malaysian surfing industry and build a platform for aspiring professional surfers to represent the country. 

It certainly seems as if Tioman SurFestival will only get bigger in years to come, and looks set to ride the waves into becoming a major surfing event in Asia, if not the world.

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