One of the great benefits of a lifelong obsession with chasing waves is the motivation it affords to visit places most tourists would never bother with.
While millions cram into the narrow streets of Venice or squidge between the towering capitalist monuments of Times Square, surfers continue to talk themselves into trips to increasingly remote corners of the world, spurred only by the prospect of waves a little emptier or more exciting than those that break closer to home.
Sometimes, said waves are not found, but for those who travel with genuine curiosity and a willingness to look outside the walls of their beachside accommodation, much discovery and worldliness await.
Rainbownesia, a book by Michael Kew billed as a ‘kaleidoscopic arc across odd Oceania’, presents a series of accounts from some such trips.
In it, Kew sets off across a monumental band of blue Pacific, stopping off at eight obscure coral ringed dots along the way, ostensibly to search for waves, but really to peel back the veneer of tropical idyll and reveal what lies beneath.
In each, he discovers an intriguing cultural landscape, shaped by long-ago wars and political upheavals, indigenous traditions and modern-day ingenuity. When the waves are flat, or the tide too low, Kew wanders inland, telling the stories of the people and places encountered along the way.
Despite the superficial similarities between each location, the span of stories discovered is wide-ranging; from the island of Yap, where Kew meets a master celestial navigator, intent on keeping the traditional methods alive to that of Nauru, home to a large refugee camp used to house migrants blocked from entering Australia.
When visiting less westernised communities, the book mercifully steers well clear of the ‘noble savages’ or ‘they have nothing… but they’re happy’ storylines that characterise lazier surf travel storytelling in similarly locales. Instead, it dives into the complex and sometimes contradictory realities of life on the islands, creating three-dimensional accounts that weave together the impact of global forces with the individual hopes, joys and challenges faced by those who live there.
To accompany Kew is to ride along with the best kind of traveller; an inquisitive observer, free from an agenda or rigid preconceptions, happy to go with the wind. The surfing accounts are in-depth without being over-bearing, while the dives into history and geopolitics are detailed without becoming dry. If you’re looking for a wholly surf-centric read, this might not be for you, but for those curious about lesser covered corners of the globe and the tapestry of humanity that exists within them, we’d recommend grabbing yourself a copy.
Find out more about Micheal’s books on his website here.
Cover photo: Michael Kew