For most Kiwi surfers, the biggest decision before heading out is usually which board to take, but for one Indonesian wave-rider, when she had to choose between her passion for the ocean and her marriage- she chose the waves.

At just 16, Lisa, who only goes by one name, was married for a year and six months, but despite her love of surfing, her husband barred her from the waves.

On Lombok, an island home to more than three million people, the 20-year-old works as the sole native female surf guide at Kura Kura Surf Camp. Lisa is also believed to be the only local female surfer on the island.

"In Lombok, as a girl, it's very very hard [to surf], for parents say it's not possible. When they are grown, they just start cooking and stay at home with their parents. But for me, my parents just let me go, they want to make me happy."


She told the Herald without surfing, she was not happy. But thankfully, after asking her father's permission, Lisa was able to divorce her husband and return to her passion - the waves.

Indonesia is infamous amongst surfers for being the "Land of the Lefts", the idyllic isle is a dream for board-riders the world over, but for Indonesian women, cultural and religious barriers are making it harder to turn the tide on low participation in the sport.

Lisa said it was hard to pinpoint what was preventing local women surfing like those in Bali, but skin colour, religion and the patriarchal views played key roles.

"Every girl in Lombok that is my age, they get married young and stop surfing. Many girls don't want to have dark skin, they stay at home, lazy and have white skin."

Nowadays you can't wipe the smile off Lisa's face, but her wave-riding isn't without backlash.

"My friends talked to me like 'you should not go surfing Lisa,' they say 'you should stay with us making a new different life without surfing,' but I say surfing is my life."

Although there are many female surfers in Bali, which is primarily Hindu, for most women in the majority Muslim nation, surfing is still a boys club.

One organisation trying to break the glass ceiling is the Pelita foundation, an education charity based in Gerupuk - a fishing village in South East Lombok.


The foundation was started by Surf Camp Lombok 12 years ago, and is now fully run by a local board.

Co-founder Rachel Conroy said the surfer girls group began after their students kept telling them they wanted to go surf with the boys but didn't think they were "baranis" -brave enough.

"They also don't want to get too dark, because their friends tell them they won't be able to get husbands if they get too dark."

As well as building confidence, the group learns basic safety and will be doing theory work this year.

"We had a surf camp guest from Adidas, who has designed some burkinis for the girls, so they won't have to surf in their skinny jeans any more."

Although they aren't surfing on the real waves yet, she said their primary goal was to encourage participation in sport.

Conroy said getting more girls involved in physical activity was a priority, but young marriages in the area were stifling their progress both on and off the water.

The disparity between the countless foreign female surfers making yearly pilgrimages to the tropical oasis and local women on the foreshore is stark, but change is coming.

Heaven on the Planet surf guide Dion is holding his breath gender equality will come to local surfing.

"The number one problem is the dark skin. Women think that going in the water will make them have darker or the red skin."

For Dion, the differing religions in Bali and Lombok were also responsible for the jarring gap in female surfing participation.

"For Bali people, about their religion it's no problem, they are already really modern. Bali girl and Bali man do not feel really different. Whereas in Lombok the girl and the man, it's much different."

Going forward, Dion said if he had a daughter he would like to share his passion for surfing and diving with her.

Amnesty International Indonesia director Usman Hamid said although they could not discuss what impact low female participation in surfing would have on their wellbeing, they wished all discrimination against women in the country would vanish.

He believed the popularity of the sport was what determined the level of female participation, not religion, but said child marriage was a huge problem in the region and in Indonesia in general.

"We need to acknowledge the deep-rooted patriarchal culture in our society. It goes beyond religions. In this patriarchal perspective, woman is considered unequal to men, even worse, a subordinate."

In spite of what others may say to Lisa out of the water, she said surfing made her happy and she would continue to ride waves for as long as she can.

"About the dark skin, for me it doesn't matter, my skin black dark, I just keep going."