Episode 33: Meet Amanda Prifti, Co-Founder of SeaSisters Sri Lanka and Surf Photographer

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Episode Summary

Meet Amanda Prifti, the co-founder of SeaSisters Sri Lanka, a passionate surfer and surf photographer. She originated from Boston, Massachusetts but later fell in love with the magical waters and humble culture of Sri Lanka. It was when she was writing her thesis that she had her first encounter with the Sri Lankan waters. Back home, her memories kept her connected to the wonderful world of surfing.

Episode Notes

Months later, she was back to Sri Lanka, but this time for a bigger purpose- empowering the women of Sri Lanka through swimming and surfing. Amanda met co-founder Martina Butscher and they both decided to set up an NGO on the south coast to encourage more women to step up and break gender stereotypes. That is when they founded SeaSisters, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering and creating a safe space for women by teaching them to swim and to surf.

Despite the worldwide campaign for liberalism and equality, gender roles still create biases and limit the participation of women in social, economic and political affairs. This is especially observed in rural communities where tradition confines women inside the home. SeaSisters intend to rouse women to get out and improve themselves. The ocean is for everybody and connecting with it is a way to help the female community find their place. Swimming is also a skill that is not necessarily taught to girls in Sri Lanka. With SeaSisters, Amanda and Martina are on a mission to bridge that gap between genders and create a happy and safe space for mothers, daughters and sisters alike to enjoy the privileges of the ocean.

This exchange with Amanda speaks how great a woman can be without the boundaries imposed on her by prejudiced opinions. Amanda reveals the challenges and legal issues they faced to make SeaSisters come to life and how they were able to overcome each one of them even when their funds were running low. Their passion to empower women and break stereotypes became their fuel to set bigger goals for the next season. Amanda also shares how interested ones can apply for internship and other ways to help SeaSisters continue their mission. Sri Lanka is a paradise, not only for surfers, but for everyone.

As a surf photographer, Amanda talks a little about this profession and the must-haves for those aspiring to enter the field. If you are into visual arts, surf photography comes also as a splendid choice. Our world is so beautiful that no lens can fully capture how stunning it is. Everybody, regardless of gender, is accountable in sustaining our only home.

Episode Highlights

  • 02:55 Academic Research Turns Sea Search
  • 06:08 Seasisters- In Touch with Womanhood
  • 12:37 Conquering the Fear of the Ocean
  • 16:10 Overcoming Obstacles
  • 23:38 Surfing for Sustainable Development
  • 28:24 SeaSisters Internship Opportunity
  • 29:15 Good News in Sri Lanka’s Political Climate & Tourism
  • 31:53 A Magical Surfing Experience in Sri Lanka
  • 34:51 The Surf Photography Profession

So today’s conversation is a chat with Amanda Prifti. Amanda is an amazing young woman who started surfing later on in life. In fact, she took to surfing a few years ago when she traveled to Sri Lanka for four months to write her thesis. You could say she loved the lifestyle and the country so much.

She decided to co-found a nonprofit organization called SeaSisters with her business partner, Martina Burtscher. SeaSisters is empowering girls and women by teaching them to swim and surf. You’ll find out what it’s all about in the podcast. In this discussion, Amanda shares her story with surfing and with Sri Lanka, and the inception of her beautiful project. Today, Amanda is making a shift with the project to make it into a social enterprise. And we actually get into the nitty gritty of what a social enterprise is, and how it creates a financially sustainable alternative to the current project that has left Amanda and her business partner with a dangerously low bank account. Amanda is also a surf photographer and she shares some of her feedback in an ever-evolving digital landscape. Amanda’s story is proof that you can make that shift and make a difference simultaneously, and she is really busting through the surfer stereotypes.

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07:25 “I'm sure anyone who thinks back to their journey with surfing, it's a very up and down, challenging process where it builds confidence. It sort of makes you stronger in a lot of ways.”

11:06 “…as women begin to do something different, it'll start to change mindsets and expectations around gender roles… it doesn't matter if you’re man or woman, the ocean is for everybody.”

11:51 “One of the great things about it is seeing how everybody learns differently; seeing the pace and the sort of journey that everyone takes and just seeing the confidence that gets built...”

23:46 “When you reconnect local communities to the environment and the ocean, it spreads awareness of the challenges facing the environment, and then will foster a greater care for the environment and more sustainable practices."

39:49 “I think it's important to even just be there and show that it is something that women can do and forge forward in that space.”

41:32 “I wish that everyone has the opportunity to bond with the ocean and their environment and really experience the joy of surfing.”

Episode Transcript

Imi Barneaud: Hi everybody and welcome to The Oceanriders Podcast, conversations with creatives, entrepreneurs, thinkers and dreamers who also happen to be surfers. My name’s Imi Barneaud, and I am your host. I’m an entrepreneur, a mum, and I absolutely love surfing. So today’s conversation is a chat with Amanda Prifti. Amanda is an amazing young woman who started surfing later on in life. In fact, she took to surfing a few years ago when she traveled to Sri Lanka for four months to write her thesis. You could say she loved the lifestyle and the country so much. She decided to co-found a nonprofit organization called SeaSisters with her business partner, Martina Birchip. SeaSisters is empowering girls and women by teaching them to swim and to surf. You’ll find out what it’s all about in the podcast. In this discussion, Amanda shares her story with surfing and with Sri Lanka, and the inception of her beautiful project. Today, Amanda is making a shift with the project to make it into a social enterprise. And we actually get into the nitty gritty of what a social enterprise is, and how it creates a financially sustainable alternative to the current project that has left Amanda and her business partner with a dangerously low bank account. Amanda is also a surf photographer and she shares some of her feedback in an ever evolving digital landscape. Amanda’s story is proof that you can make that shift and make a difference simultaneously, and she is really busting through the surface stereotype. So without further ado, please welcome Amanda Prifti. Hello Amanda, and welcome to the ocean writers podcast. How are you today?

Amanda Prifti: I’m great. Thank you so much for having me.

Imi Barneaud: Oh, you’re welcome, it’s a pleasure. And I guess before we start, do you think you could introduce yourself to the listeners?

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, absolutely. So I’m Amanda. I’m from, just outside Boston, Massachusetts in the U.S, and I am a surfer, co-founder of SeaSisters Sri Lanka, and a surf photographer.

Imi Barneaud: Fantastic. So, I just wanted to sort of get your backstory before we talk about your business, SeaSisters. And do you think you could tell us how you actually landed in surfing? What actually sparked the whole surfing bug?

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, absolutely. So I actually got into surfing quite late, when I studied abroad during my undergrad degree in Australia, I had a one day sort of lesson where I was completely horrible. Not sure I even stood up on the board, but it was something that at the end of the day I thought, wow, that was really fun. But unfortunately, I did it in my last week of study abroad. So I returned to my landlocked university and it wasn’t until about six or eight years later that I had the opportunity to go surf again. And as someone who had just surfed once but had this hunch that it was something they would really love, it’s really difficult to position yourself in a place where you can surf more frequently to see if that’s actually true. So it wasn’t until I found myself in Vietnam doing my master’s research on environmental issues and I had three months to write my thesis, and I decided I needed a two week holiday before I really dove into that. And I had heard about Sri Lanka through some friends that it was a surfing destination, warm, had great curry. So I booked a ticket and ended up spending the next three months writing my thesis in between surfing sessions, and completely fell in love with surfing and Sri Lanka, and it changed my life.

Imi Barneaud: That’s beautiful, that’s just gorgeous to think of writing a thesis in somewhere as exotic as Sri Lanka. That must have felt fantastic.

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, it was not easy.

Imi Barneaud: I’m not surprised. I mean, in terms of research and everything, had you already done your research, or would you, are you just writing it out, or did you have to do this sort of research online and things like that at the same time,

Amanda Prifti: Yeah. I had done my research in a community along the coastline of Vietnam where I had looked at flooding and other environmental hazards and the impact that that was having on those communities. So once I arrived to Sri Lanka, it was nice to be by the coast again.

Imi Barneaud: Right.

Amanda Prifti: Cause it sort of spoke to the topic and the focus of my work. But I would surf in the morning at sunrise, I would try to focus and write my thesis in the heat of the middle of the day, which is difficult. And then, I would surf again at sunset and had that on autopilot for three months and got to the end. And I was in love with surfing, and I had a finished thesis so it was pretty, pretty good outcome.

Imi Barneaud: Absolutely. So what exactly did you study at university?

Amanda Prifti: So I studied international development with a focus on environmental issues in coastal areas.

Imi Barneaud: And what was the subject of your thesis?

Amanda Prifti: It was environmental hazards in KimKim province in Vietnam.

Imi Barneaud: Okay. That sounds super exciting. And so moving forward, was that time in Sri Lanka something that sparked in your mind that, the wish to create SeaSisters, or did that come later?

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, it definitely all linked into itself. So while I was in Sri Lanka and as I discovered the world of surfing, it was the first time that I also became in touch with being a woman. So in Sri Lanka there’s traditional gender norms where women are, particularly rural areas, responsible for raising families and taking care of the households. And traveling the Sri Lanka as a foreign female who could wear what I want, and go where I want, and surf, and do whatever I want. There’s this contrast between myself as a female, and seeing the local females, and what their daily lives are like. And it was that growing awareness that sat in the back of my mind.

Imi Barneaud: Ehm.

Amanda Prifti: And then at the same time I was becoming a surfer in a very male dominated space. So being a woman who would go out into the lineup as a very inexperienced beginner, I was shy at times and nervous, or I would get feedback given unexpectedly from men, or people would jump in on me, or all sorts of things happen where I’m sure anyone who thinks back to their sort of journey with surfing, it’s a very up and down challenging process where it builds confidence. It sort of makes you stronger in a lot of ways. So these two sorts of things were happening at the same time and really got me in touch with what it means to be a female in a male dominated space that surfing can be.

Imi Barneaud: Hm. That’s really interesting. And so that’s basically the foundation of a SeaSisters. And did you meet your co founder, Martina Birchip in Sri Lanka, while you’re there?

Amanda Prifti: Yeah. So that happened in July, 2018. So after I finished my thesis, I returned to Sweden where I had been doing my degree and I graduated, and then went right back to Sri Lanka with the goal of using my degree to create some positive change in the communities there, and while surfing at the same time. And that’s where I met Martina, who actually had the same exact situation as I. She had just graduated from her masters in international development from a university in Austria where she’s from. And she had actually gone to Sri Lanka to do her research on surfing as a tool for women’s empowerment. And she had connected with Tiffany Carothers and a group of women in Arugam Bay on Sri Lanka’s East Coast. And spent a few months at them, and researched surfing as this tool of empowerment as these women there were beginning to surf and sort of do something that wasn’t expected of them.

Imi Barneaud: All right.

Amanda Prifti: And Tiffany, along with these women were surfing and that was the foundation of the Arugam Bay Girls Surf Club. And then I got involved, and Martina, Tiffany and I founded the Arugam Bay Girls Surf Club in October of 2018.

Imi Barneaud: That’s amazing. So it’s less than a year old?

Amanda Prifti: Yeah.

Imi Barneaud: Yeah.

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, exactly. They had been surfing with Tiffany since 2015, quite on and off as there was a bit of pushback. But by 2018, as soon as the stars aligned, and it was a better time within the community to sort of step up a notch with this sort of change. And the support that came out of that was really, really exciting, both locally and internationally. Everyone was really excited to see local women in the water surfing, and Martina and I decided to keep that momentum going and bring it to the south coast as there is a lot more surf towns on that coast, a lot of women down there, and there were no sort of opportunities yet to begin surfing. So Martina and I moved to the south coast and founded SeaSisters.

Imi Barneaud: Oh, that’s fantastic. So could you explain what the goal of SeaSisters is?

Amanda Prifti: Yep. So, currently we are a nonprofit organization that empowers Sri Lankan girls and women using surfing and swimming as tools for social change. So we provide free surf and swim lessons for Sri Lankan girls and women with the goal of creating a safe space for them to get out of the house, do something a bit different, and connect with the ocean. And the idea is that, as women begin to do something different, it’ll start to change mindsets and expectations around gender roles in Sri Lanka. So showing new possibilities and saying it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, the Ocean is for everybody and surfing, and swimming, or these positive activities that bring all sorts of benefits to everyone.

Imi Barneaud: Wow. And so, what age group do you focus on?

Amanda Prifti: This past season we had girls starting at 8 years old upto 44, so it’s a big range, which is what we really pride ourselves on is that it really is for any girl and woman, regardless of your age, whether you’re a mother, an aunt, a child. So we had a lot of mother daughter pairs in our program, and a few sisters, and cousins. It was really exciting.

Imi Barneaud: And so in last season, how many women did you teach to swim? For example,

Amanda Prifti: we had probably 15 girls and women at each lesson, and sort of 20 that we have in our program.

Imi Barneaud: Right, right. That’s amazing. And so just to really understand the demographics in Sri Lanka in your bio, you’re saying that a lot of these women don’t even know how to swim? And in the Tsunami in 2004, there were a lot of mortalities linked to not knowing how to swim. Do you think you could sort of elaborate on that?

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, absolutely. So in Sri Lanka, local women are hardly seen in the ocean and they’re not taught to swim, nor the men actually. So swimming is not a skill that is taught as you grow up. So a lot of people grow up unable to swim and have this fear of the ocean. This is less in men because they grow up getting to sort of be outside a bit more. They start to become fishermen, surf instructors. So they spend a lot of time in the sea, and sort of learn to surf and swim to some degree.

Imi Barneaud: Right.

Amanda Prifti: But the women are more sort of in the households and don’t have that same accessibility to the ocean. So we really start with swimming, and that’s an important step because it provides a space for them to connect with water in a different way to practice the basics like floating, blown bubbles, holding your breath underwater. Things that, for a lot of us in the U.S or other parts of the world, we’re taught from a very young age. So those become a sort of second nature skills that you don’t realize are hard to learn if you’re sort of 20, or 30, or 40 years old and have never ever tried that before. So we really focus on those basics and making sure that our girls and women feel comfortable and safe in the water in doing these activities. And then we bring those who are comfortable and ready down to the sea and start with the basics of surfing, pop ups, and learning about currents and ocean safety. And then of course getting in the water on some whitewash, and practicing the surfing basics.

Imi Barneaud: Wow. And so, how long does it take for you to teach a woman or a girl how to swim?

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, so it ranges quite a lot. I think some younger girls feel comfortable quite quickly and pick up skills at different sort of paces, or maybe some of our older participants, it takes a bit longer to feel comfortable, but each person is different. And that’s one of the great things about it is seeing how everybody learns differently. Seeing the pace and the assertive journey that everyone takes, and just seeing the confidence that gets built when somebody who has never been in the ocean or even a pool before, joins our program and start to come alive with the ocean and the environment, and smile, and have fun, and just sort of this transformation that you see in these girls and women. Just by being together in a group of other girls and women in the environment, and doing something they didn’t know that they can do.

Imi Barneaud: Mmm, I bet the smiles on everybody’s faces. Must be just priceless.

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, definitely.

Imi Barneaud: And so, what brings you the most joy about this program?

Amanda Prifti: I think it’s the amazing women that you get to spend time with from our volunteers who are surf and swim instructors to the local community that we get to interact with. So the girls and the women that are in our program, and just the unity and excitement that gets generated by all being together and doing this.

Imi Barneaud: And what are the challenges on a daily basis of this sort of program?

Amanda Prifti: One of the main challenges I’d say is, just creating something so new. So Martina and I spent this whole first eight months or so setting up the structure of the organization. So we did the branding, made a logo with a great designer, and set up the legal structure, all of that sort of behind the scenes work. And then meanwhile, starting the actual swim and surf program. So deciding how to run that program, the structure, the format, the actual logistics of where, what time, and making sure that all of that stayed in line with the cultural norms and the sort of social structures in Sri Lanka. So making sure to be respectful of the local community, making sure that we designed the program in a way where it enabled and empowered the women to join and didn’t actually create more barriers, which is why we keep all of our instructors as females because it creates this female only safe space, where one of the barriers to women actually getting out of the homes in participating in something like this is the fear that they will be around men, and then their reputation will be damaged, and they won’t be able to find a husband. So just understanding all of those dynamics and the cultural norms, and then sort of being in line with those things. So there’s a lot to consider, and a lot going on at once. And Martina and I had to sort of navigate and learn all those things at the same time that we were doing all these things. So it was a lot of multitasking, but really, really exciting too.

Imi Barneaud: Well, that’s really interesting that you have to, the legal structure must be really, really important. And so did you get help from lawyers, or how’d you actually sort of decide on what kind of a legal structure you would be performing these surfing and swimming lessons in?

Amanda Prifti: Luckily we did connect with a lawyer in Sri Lanka who was really helpful in helping us do some of these things, and we hired a local translator present at our lessons and making sure that the language barrier was kept as minimal as possible. So we really had to rely on great connections and help from people in Sri Lanka as well.

Imi Barneaud: That’s amazing. And you actually managed to make those connections quite easily? Or was that sort of historical from when you went there for the first time?

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, it was quite natural the way it came about. And that’s one of the great things about Sri Lanka is that it’s very sort of word of mouth still and very accessible. So people are very open to share information, ideas, and connections. And so, we met our lawyers through another foreign business owner that we had connected with around SeaSisters, and the same with the translator. And we continually have people reach out that they heard from us, or got in touch with us through a friend of a friend. And that kind of sort of connection is still going on in Sri Lanka that is, can be one level further away over in our busy cities like Boston or New York.

Imi Barneaud: Absolutely. And how do you fund the sort of the seasons of SeaSisters?

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, so this first year was actually funded by me and Martina’s savings, which have now come to an end. So we are fundraising, we currently have a crowdfunding page up on GoFundMe.

Imi Barneaud: Right.

Amanda Prifti: So we’re fundraising, and we have local fundraisers that we do in Sri Lanka, a few international fundraisers. And then, we’re actually in the process of shifting towards a different model for our organization. So there’s a concept of social enterprise where it merges the nonprofit and for profit models into almost a hybrid. So they’re socially driven for profit businesses where you have income generating activities that the main focus of the income and profit is to advance and drive forward the social mission versus just to make profit.

Imi Barneaud: That’s really interesting. And how were you actually sort of negotiating this change of structure and of positioning?

Amanda Prifti: This coming year we’ll be launching a line of ethically made sort of surf related products, which will sell locally to start and those products and the profit will go to funding the program, the swim and surf lessons. And so, we really want to make it more sustainable where you’re not relying on fundraising completely. It will still remain an aspect of our fundraising, but it won’t be the sort of sole source of finances.

Imi Barneaud: Yeah. Cause as we were talking about before recording the show, there’s an amazing community of people who create nonprofits and who can only use them as a side hustle. And it’s really difficult to actually find that timing and that opportunity to turn that side hustle into something that’s lucrative, and that they can pay themselves, or own a living. So when did that actually sort of spark in your project that you needed to change the structure?

Amanda Prifti: I think as Martina and I were seeing our bank accounts run very, very low, dangerously low, we started to think, okay, this isn’t going to be sustainable. And then fundraising for a lot of nonprofits becomes the focus, but also a sort of stressful process, especially for some of these smaller sort of newer nonprofits where you don’t have a lot of staff and a big sort of team behind you. So to get to that point, it can be really challenging. So we actually both have a background in social entrepreneurship. I had studied it a bit in my undergraduate degree and Martina as well. So that became this sort of alternative model that we thought, okay, how can we shift towards that model? And I guess we’ll see. In the coming year how that goes. But we have quite an exciting strategy and plan ahead of us for that.

Imi Barneaud: That’s excellent. And do you find that, this is what more on a general kind of a view, do you find that the connection with the ocean has sparked, kind of, awareness on the environment and on the pollution, and plastic pollution and things like that? Completely random question, but I was just wondering whether that connection with the ocean, with your participants, if that sparks something as a kind of byproduct of your amazing courses.

Amanda Prifti: Absolutely, and that’s actually one of the core areas that we focus on with SeaSisters, we have three sorts of areas that we focus on, women’s empowerment, ocean safety through these lessons, and then environmental awareness is our third sort of pillar. So we really believe that when you reconnect a local communities to the environment and ocean, it spreads awareness of the challenges facing the environment, and then will foster a greater care for the environment and more sustainable practices. And in particular with the women responsible for shopping for fruits and vegetables where they use a lot of plastic bags, and then also responsible for the household, and in consumption. They’re the ones responsible for throwing away in the trash and into disposing. And the practices for that in Sri Lanka are very unsustainable currently. So we really believe that when our women get into the environment, connect with the ocean, see the plastic all around the beaches and in the water, it’s going to sort of connect the activities in the household with the output and the outcome there. And then, we run an educational program where we provide canvas bags, refillable water bottles, and instead of educate on how we use these products to reduce the waste in plastic pollution, and sort of connect the dots a little bit through some education and resources, and things like that.

Imi Barneaud: That’s fabulous. So, I guess it’s a bit early to sort of see if there’s any difference, but did you notice anything before you left with, sort of came back to the U.S after your first season? Did you notice any differences?

Amanda Prifti: We definitely noticed differences in the girls and women as individuals, and as a group, and just in their confidence. And we sort of conduct little chats with them at the end of the season to see what they thought about the program, what we can improve, what they learned, all that kind of sort of evaluation if you will. And one of the biggest feedback that we got was that the majority of our girls and women didn’t think they would be able to serve for swim. And we’re really excited that they had done something different and new, and almost everybody said that they would go surfing every day if they could, which is something I could definitely relate to, and that they all set goals for next season of becoming stronger swimmers and improving their surfing. And really this sort of new energy around, just even setting personal goals is something that’s new for a lot of these women. And thinking in terms of personal achievements, and confidence, and things is our new ground for them.

Imi Barneaud: That’s lovely. So what are your goals for this season with SeaSisters?

Amanda Prifti: Our main goal is to undergo this transformation into a social enterprise by launching our small line of products and stocking them locally in shops and markets. And then focus on really nailing down a structure for this women’s surf lessons. So developing a swim passport where we can track the progress of each girl and woman, and then bring in the environmental component of it more into the lessons as well.

Imi Barneaud: Wow, that’s amazing. That’s really, really cool. And so for the moment, how many people are in your team in Sri Lanka and abroad?

Amanda Prifti: Currently, it’s mainly Martina and myself.

Imi Barneaud: Ehm.

Amanda Prifti: And then during the season when we run our lessons, which is from October through April, we have a local translator and a team of about eight swim and surf volunteers that work with us.

Imi Barneaud: Wow.

Amanda Prifti: And this coming year, we’re hoping to welcome three or four interns.

Imi Barneaud: Oh, excellent.

Amanda Prifti: That’ll be exciting.

Imi Barneaud: So maybe for season three, if anybody’s interested, they can get in touch with you to sort of joining your team and help out. Is that something that you’re looking for?

Amanda Prifti: Absolutely. Season three we’ll be welcoming volunteers as well as interns to the team between October and April. And that can all be found on our website.

Imi Barneaud: Yes. So we’ll put links to your website in the show notes of this episode. So people in there with their podcasting app, they can just scroll down and they can find all the details and click on them. So that was, that’s really, really cool. And so when you say interns, are they interns in Sri Lanka or can they be abroad sort of working freelance, or things like that? How do you pick your interns?

Amanda Prifti: Right now we would have them in Sri Lanka, but we definitely could consider sort of abroad freelancers as well. But I think one of the really great things about joining SeaSisters as an intern would be getting to experience Sri Lanka, and the surfing community there, and then be involved and engage with this community and the women. So I think it would be a lot more fun in Sri Lanka.

Imi Barneaud: Right. And actually, just sort of focusing on something that right now, which could be problematic, the political status of Sri Lanka and since they were bombings a few months ago, what is the climate, like, in terms of political climate light right now in Sri Lanka? I mean, is it safe to go, and has that sort of prevented you from making special decisions?

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, that’s a great question. Yeah, it was a really unfortunate stressful situation. Of course when that all happened, and the rebound effect that had in SRi Lanka was that overnight tourism basically came to a halt where businesses were closed, tourists left. It got really, really quiet for a few weeks, and so there’s this atmosphere and stress amongst the local business owners that have all invested money, or taken loans, or builds up their businesses with the anticipation of just even more growth in tourism. And yeah, there’s a bit of stress, but as I hear in this past three weeks that I’ve been away, things have normalized, and tourists are coming back, and everything’s finding a bit more of a normal flow. It will be interesting to see in the next month or two how fast things rebound, or so. But I think the most important thing is that, it does continue to take backup and it is just as safe as anywhere else in the world where fortunately these sorts of incidents can happen almost anywhere. But Sri Lanka is really beautiful, and safe, and comfortable for the time being I think.

Imi Barneaud: Yeah, yeah. And it’s a really good idea to sort of go and visit and support the businesses there too because they deserve support from the international community more than ever I guess.

Amanda Prifti: Exactly. And I think the daily life is still so normal. Everything feels normal there. It’s just a quieter season in these months than it would be normally. And I think one of the great things that happened in the aftermath was this community support that came out where everybody was supporting each other. There was this sort of collective struggle in a way where everyone was going through this together, and that energy sort of created this bond and really united everyone. And that was characteristic of Sri Lanka and the people there, but also just humanity and how people sort of come together in hard times. So that was really beautiful to see, and definitely important to just go and continue to support this place that is safe and really lovely.

Imi Barneaud: So could you sort of describe what the surfing scene is like in Sri Lanka, for anybody who’d like to visit.

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, it’s warm, tropical, and there’s sea turtles in the water so you don’t have to worry about any dangerous animals, and a lot of different surf breaks, all levels. So you have your beginner beach breaks, and then you have your A-frames, you have reef, you have some heavier sort of more barreling waves. And it’s really great that there’s waves year round. So from, maybe October through April, you have waves all along the south coast and then it sort of shifts, and you have waves up on the east coast in a town called Arugam Bay from about May through September. So actually there’s this great migration that happens, or businesses, and everybody in the south shifts up to the east, and then goes back down. So it’s quite a nice mix of things and options for everybody around.

Imi Barneaud: All right. That sounds absolutely gorgeous. And obviously the tropical climate, and that the water temperature must help as well to make your foot, the surfing sessions even more enjoyable.

Amanda Prifti: Definitely. And the sunset.

Imi Barneaud: Even the sunsets, really?

Amanda Prifti: Really, really beautiful sunsets, all sorts of pinks, and reds, and you have the palm trees, and sea turtles are popping up, it’s really quite magical. Definitely recommends everyone to go.

Imi Barneaud: So yeah, maybe we can focus on beautiful image that you describe of Sri Lankan sunsets to talk about also your, your side job as a surf photographer. And I just wanted to know how that actually sort of popped up in your agenda.

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, so my parents are actually both photographers. So, I grew up in a very photographic grief focused households where I was taught to look at the world and into the environment in frames, in angles, in with different lighting. I sort of grew up with that photographic eye. But it wasn’t until this past December, about eight months ago, once I had discovered surfing, and after The Argum Bay Girls Surf Club, we had a month pause before we really got into SeaSisters. And something just clicked where I was seeing surf photographers out in the water, and I just had this urge that I had to do it. And I bought the housing to get in the water with a camera, and just sort of took that leap. And I remember the first session I got in in early December and it was, as if everything aligned and this sort of way to connect with surfing and the environment in such a deeper way that I was immediately hooked.

Imi Barneaud: So, what kind of equipment would you recommend starting with a surfer photographer?

Amanda Prifti: It’s definitely expensive. So that’s the one barrier that I hear a lot of other people talk about, that they really want to get into it, but the water housing is really, really expensive. But I think, what I recommend the most is starting off by shooting on land. So just taking photos of of surfers and the coastline there, and seeing if you get this energy with it. And then the water housing is of course the best decision that I made. So, I could never tell anyone not to do it.

Imi Barneaud: That’s really interesting. Actually, I was reading an article the other day about the status of surf photography because as we move from print magazines where there was a real money to be made as a surf photographer to digital media, there are lots and lots of surf photographers that are popping up all over the place, and it’s kind of stealing the whole job of a surf photographer because the barriers of access is a lot lower to actually get in. And I just wondered what your opinion was of this, the whole sort of status.

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, I think that speaks to photography in general a bit too. I watched my parents go through that when they shifted to digital. We’ve had a dark room in our house growing up my whole life. And as the digital revolution came along, it really shifted everything for them. And the way they did photography, and I think it’s similar with the surf photography, is with this whole shift on to Instagram, and and online platforms, and everybody has a camera in their hands. And I’m so new to the surf topography that I’m almost navigating it in this changing landscape. So it’s, it’s a question I still haven’t answered myself, but I think what sets people sort of a bit apart is if you are in the water. So having that housing, taking photos from the water, sort of creates a smaller pool of people that you’re sort of working alongside. But yeah, it’s an interesting sort of question and thought to see how it continues to change and shift as technology and platforms like Instagram and to the Internet in general, continue to shape these kinds of professions.

Imi Barneaud: Yeah, yeah. And I mean, is there still money to be made in these sorts of professions? Or do you have to have something else to be able to survive?

Amanda Prifti: I think you can make a bit of money, but it’s definitely a hostel, and I think always having a side job helps. And I’m especially not currently sort of living surf photography, and I think most of surf photographers I know are not living off surf photography. They have sort of other jobs, and it’s almost a side passion project, or side job. And I think that will continue to be the reality for me as well. And with SeaSisters as my sort of main focus and main job. Surf photography is a bit of that side, which is a passion and something I love, but do generate a little bit of income from as well.

Imi Barneaud: Yeah, absolutely. And so, do you prefer underwater photography? Or from the water photography? Or from the shore photography?

Amanda Prifti: Definitely from the water.

Imi Barneaud: Right.

Amanda Prifti: It’s this feeling where you’re in the action, you get to be in the ocean and it’s a perspective that’s really different from anything else I have experienced. And I’m currently not surfing at a level where I’m catching barrels, or anything, but I can be shooting in that water. So it’s quite fun to challenge myself by swimming out and being in the ocean during sort of conditions that I wouldn’t be able to go and experience on a board. So it, yeah, it challenges me and brings me closer to being able to surf those conditions by having experienced it in a different way.

Imi Barneaud: Oh, that’s so cool. And what’s it like being a woman in surf photography today? Is there anything special, or is it you’re treated like everybody else, like all the men?

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, it’s a good question. It’s definitely feels like quite a male dominated space. I see a lot of men surf photographers. There’s a few women photographers that I really look up to that are sort of setting the stage for even more women to do surf photography. But yeah, it’d be great to chat with some men and see what their experience is like because I only have my own, and it’s so new to be honest, that I can feel this energy when, when you’re shooting mainly men surfers and there might be another man photographer out there, you definitely feel like the odd one out in a way. But I think it’s important to them even just be there, and sort of show that it is something that women can do and trying to just, yeah, forge forward in that space.

Imi Barneaud: Right, right. So before we sort of wrap up, maybe you can remind us how we can support SeaSisters in this beautiful project and future profit.

Amanda Prifti: Yeah, definitely. We have a GoFundMe page under gofundme.com/seasisters-srilanka, so that is the main way. You can also visit our website, and donate through the website. And you can also find us on Instagram and Facebook to connect.

Imi Barneaud: Right, great. And so the handle on Instagram is SeaSisters?

Amanda Prifti: It is sea_sisters_lk.

Imi Barneaud: Okay, that’s great. Well this will all be in the show notes of this episode as well. And I guess before we actually getting to the end of this interview, which has been a lovely conversation, and I can’t express how much I’m sort of admiring with the stamina and the whole sort of flow that must be in place to actually achieve this amazing project. I just wondered if you had time to answer the questions I like to ask my guests at the end of the interviews would you be up to that?

Amanda Prifti: Absolutely.

Imi Barneaud: Yeah. So their sentences that you finish, so the first sentence would be, I love.

Amanda Prifti: I love my dog Ruby.

Imi Barneaud: I miss.

Amanda Prifti: I would have to say that I miss Sri Lanka, and the warm water waves there.

Imi Barneaud: I wish.

Amanda Prifti: I wish that everyone had the opportunity to bond with the ocean and their environment, and really experience the joy of surfing.

Imi Barneaud: That’s beautiful, and I want.

Amanda Prifti: I want to go surfing. I guess that’s always in the back of our mind, right?

Imi Barneaud: Yeah, absolutely. Well, this is great. This has been a lovely interview. How do you feel?

Amanda Prifti: Yeah. Great, I’m so happy that I could join in here, and really appreciate you inviting me for this.

Imi Barneaud: Well, it’s been a pleasure and I really, I wish you all the best for the next season. So when are you going back to Sri Lanka?

Amanda Prifti: I’ll be headed back in the first week of September.

Imi Barneaud: Excellent.

Amanda Prifti: And we’ll really kick things off in the first week of October.

Imi Barneaud: Okay. Well, so for the listeners, so there’s a go from me going on right now as we speak and yes, just to look you guys up on, on the Internet to support these amazing women who are learning to surf and swim, that’s brilliant. Amanda, thank you ever so much for being my guest today, and take care.

Amanda Prifti: Thank you so much. It was really fun and take care also.

Imi Barneaud: All right. See you two ciao.

That was a wonderful conversation, I really hope you enjoyed it. I really liked the way Amanda’s turning SeaSisters into a social enterprise, and this is the perfect balance to meet your past and project, or side hustle work for you financially. To find out more about SeaSisters, please skip over to their website. So, it’s seasisterslk.com, all in one word. Or their Instagram account at sea_sisters_lk, or their Facebook page just look up SeaSisters Sri Lanka. You can also support the course on GoFundMe, and you can find links to it on SeaSisters website and links will also be in the show notes of this episode.

The Oceanriders Podcast is a passion project too, and if you like it, you can support it in a number of ways.

Number one: Share your love for this podcast on iTunes by giving it a few stars, or a review. Better still, subscribe. Anything in this direction increases my ranking and lets more people hear about my fascinating guests and how they are busting the surfing stereotype

Number 2: Comment, and join the conversation on social media. You will find links to my social media accounts on theoceanriderspodcast.com.

Alternatively, you can connect with me on:

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Number 3: Join me for an episode or sponsor my podcast! Just send an email to hello@theoceanriderspodcast.com and I’ll take care of the rest.

Thank you Amanda for being such a lovely guest, and thank you guys for listening. Until next week, take care, have fun and enjoy the waves. Ciao.


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