Life or Surf

By Michael H. Kew

Photos: Kew.

Early July. In the wall-less dock shed sat an obese young woman. Her name was Paloko and she ran the village council’s hotel.

“You are our second tourist this year,” she said as she studied my passport.

A man behind her saw my surfboard and asked me what I was going to do with it.

“You will be the first to surf in Tokelau,” he said.

You will be the first—nonsense. Such was the silly human conceit, the ilk of ego that corralled localism, the my-wave, the me-first. Though I had no proof nor cared about others surfing there, I’d been intrigued while watching The Solar Nation of Tokelau, a 43-minute documentary produced by Germany’s Ulli Weissbach. At the 19:23-minute mark, on the right side of the frame, Tokelauans are seen transferring a day-bagged surfboard from the barge to Nukunonu’s dock. I could not reach Weissbach for questioning, but I suspected it belonged to Shane Robinson, a Canadian solar engineer featured in the film.

Indeed, the board was his.

“Unfortunately,” he told me by email, “there’s no surf on the atolls. Unless you don’t value your life.”