By Nora Ebaid
Photography by Kicau Beduri & Omar Jamaludin
Meet Alia, a 16-year-old Malaysian surfer whose dream is to compete in international surfing competitions around the world, representing Malaysia. Alia started surfing in 2015 in her hometown, Cherating, Malaysia. Cherating is a small traditional fishing village that is located 47 kilometres from Kuantan. Her love for surfing grew as she entered competitions in Malaysia and became the first young Malaysian female to win 4th prize in the Women Open category in Thailand, May 2019.
“I started to surf in 2015 when I was only 12-years-old. Since I was young, every day I was at the beach with my father while my mother worked at the restaurant on the beach. During the monsoon in Malaysia, I saw many people surfing. I wanted to try it, but I was scared. I only saw grown-ups surfing, no kids like me,” explained Alia.
In Malaysia, unlike most surf regions around the world, the only time to surf is during the monsoon, which is from October up to March. With heavy rains, most of the East Coast region becomes a haven for surfers all over the country.
While the sport is dominated by males, in Malaysia you will find more and more females interested in learning how to surf, just like Alia. Alia explained that surfing first caught her eye when she saw all the boys in her village surf. She started to ask around to find someone who could help her learn.
“There is a surf school called Cherating Point Surf School near my house, so I asked to borrow their board. They lent me a soft top board and taught me how to surf,” she said.
And thus, Alia began her journey in becoming Malaysia’s youngest female surfer to compete internationally.
A humble dream of becoming a lifeguard at only 12-years-old has eventually evolved and brought her to the international stage of the surfing scene. “I want to surf because my ambition is to be a beach lifeguard. My dream [now] is to be a successful international surfer and make my family proud with my surfing career,” Alia said.
Alia had taken part in local and international competitions. She was also selected to be in the national Malaysian surf team for the Sea Games in the Philippines in 2019. “It was my dream to compete internationally and when I was chosen to represent Malaysia for the SEA Games, it was like a dream come true. I feel scared to compete with so many good surfer athletes out there, but I am proud of myself and I tried my best,” explained Alia.
“I grew with the beach and waves. To see people compete, it makes me more ambitious to surf.”
Alia said her attraction to surfing grew after seeing competitions being held in her hometown village of Cherating. It was her favourite place to surf and she saw Cherating as having the best waves. “My home is the best place to surf in Malaysia because it is a point break,” said Alia. A point break, which is different from a beach break, has a rock or headland where the waves roll into the bay and are generally longer than beach or reef breaks, which are waves that break in the middle of the ocean.
As awesome as Cherating is though, Alia does not limit herself in surfing locations. There are plenty of other places to catch some good waves and Alia looked to try out all these places, both locally and internationally. “In Malaysia I also go to surf in Terengganu at places like Batu Burok, Kijal and Tioman Island. I have also surfed in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines,” she said.
When asked where her favourite place to surf internationally Alia said, “The most place I like to surf is Indonesia,” Different Islands in Indonesia like Bali and Lombok are well known for their amazing wave and surf scenes. “I wish one day to surf in Waikiki, Hawaii.” Alia continued.
For a young 16-year-old female surfer in Malaysia though, things were not always easy. “It is hard, because there is no good support for a new surfer like me,” explained Alia. With Malaysia’s small surf scene, funding and sponsorship is not an easy thing. And being a female surfer does not make things easier.
“I do not care what other people say. I just do what I like to do for my future as a surfer,” she said.
Despite the hardships though, Alia kept on striving for her dream. Even though surfing in Malaysia is only available for six months every year, Alia used other methods to stay on top of things. “During the monsoon, I surf every morning for 2 or 3 hours and in the afternoon, I continue to surf again. When there are no waves, I just like to swim,” she said.
Alia also found inspiration in some of her surfing idols. “My inspiration is Kelis Malia Lei Kaleopa’a and Dhea Natasya,” said Alia. The motivated surfer actually met Dhea Natasya last year in Bali, in what she describes as a “dream come true.” As a young surfer, Alia looked forward to improving and upskilling her talent saying, “My advice to young surfer girls is just don’t be shy,”