#myLOTW series 7: Giulia Manfrini, survival trainier
A lot of us (me included) scroll through social media, seeing incredible locations and people across the world.
Occasionally one thing stops me enough to question the how and the why. The Instagram account belonging to Giulia Manfrini -Italian born surfer & Apnea trainer- was one of them.
I had to ask, and I'm glad I did.
This is a life of travel, injury and people encouraging a fluid lifestyle from snowy mountains to big waves.
What's your name, what do you do and where are you from?
Hey, my name is Giulia Manfrini, I am a Surf Travel Expert, ISA Level 2 surf coach and Survival Apnea Instructor. I come from the Italian Alps, Torino. I spend my youth snowboarding: I have competed professionally in Snowboard Cross for many years, taking part in a World Junior Championship, Europe Cup, World Cup and 3 Universiades. I am a snowboard teacher as well in Italy and Switzerland.
I am now in Portugal surfing the summer/fall swells, while waiting for travels to resume to go back to Bali, Indonesia, where I have been based for the past 3 years.
What is your earliest memory of being in the ocean? And what's your first memory of surfing?
My parents told me I was brought to the seaside in Italy 2 days after I was born. Of course, I have absolutely no memory of it!!
I surfed the first time in Oceanside, California. I was sent there to study English at College during the summer months. I was very charmed from surfing, so I decided to combine the language course with surf lessons during my time there.
Was there a particular person that guided you through the beginnings of surfing?
There were many people who guided me towards surfing and all my sport life. I will always be grateful to my first snowboard coaches who saw my wild soul and pushed me to give a reason to all the adrenaline and craziness I had inside. And then to all the amazing people and great surfers that I met on my way, the ones who gave me tips to improve my skills or pushed me to surf bigger waves, my friends around the world who have hosted me during my trips and showed me their secret spots and my gorgeous surfer girl-friends who are charging with me on small and big days!
When did you first travel and where?
I have been lucky to grow up in a family of travellers. One of my great-grand-mothers was already travelling a lot back in the days, mainly in remote Africa. My other great-grand-ma lived a while in the USA to then come back to Italy (her brother stood there and I still have family in California). My parents travelled a lot and brought me along on many trips since I was a kid, firstly in Europe and North Africa. The first long-distance travels were Mexico and India when I was 10 years old. All trips with them have been super adventurous and mainly self-organised.
How did you come to realise you could live doing the thing you love?
I didn't really realise that, I have just tried. I think we are often scared of renouncing things we know and giving us stability for something very uncertain. However, when we are driven by passion it's very likely to be successful! I studied Law at University and one week after graduation I moved to Portugal to work as a surf instructor, completely changing my way of living. Since then my life has always been in movement. My family has always supported me during these choices and I think that having someone by your side is very important when you make big changes in life.
In your travels, how have environmental issues affected your health/life?
It's very sad to see a lot of garbage thrown away in nature without any respect. Some countries are getting more aware of this problems and are taking action for a greener planet. However other ones are still very far from this.
I have been to gorgeous remote inhabited islands with white dreamy beaches covered in trash, brought from the currents. Plastics everywhere, so sad and disappointing. Single-use plastic bans like the Indonesia one are quite effective but still I think that what we miss is a general Environmental Education which would need to be addressed especially to the new generations. This doesn't concern only third-world countries. Even in the first world ones the lack of eco-consciousness is huge.
I still see in Europe many places making big uses of plastic (from straws to water bottles and more), campervan parked at the beach leaving litter everywhere and many other problems that really need to be solved.
During my travels, I also went hiking in the Sumatran jungles to spot wild orangutans. For how beautiful this experience was, it was really sad on the other hand. While driving towards the jungles from Medan, huge palm trees plantations were taking over all the surrounding, and the beautiful wild jungles were becoming smaller and smaller. Now the locals are trying to switch from palm trees to gum trees but that would be again another issue. Introducing new species into a habitat has really a big impact on the environment and the reduction of rainforests also means a big change in the ecosystem (one of the riches on the planet) which could have huge consequences on all our lives.
Personally, during the past years, I have started making little steps day by day towards a low-waste (hopefully one day zero-waste) living. It's not so hard and it's mainly about getting used to new habits. I try to avoid single-use plastic, I use reusable stuff, I mainly eat local products Km zero, and I travel supporting the local communities. It's not about being perfect, but making a little part in this big global issue.
When I was younger I also joined many conservation projects as a volunteer, to give my little help and get knowledge about the various environmental issues. I worked for Greenpeace while in Australia to spread the word about what is needed for a change and I wrote my graduation essay on e-waste and related law.
Giulia is wearing the navy fisherman's beanie & Mindsurfing revolution sweatshirt.
Have you noticed a change in climate, shorter seasons, more storms, etc?
I am definitely feeling a quicker and quicker change in the climate. For example last year the water in Bali was really cold during July/August (dry season/winter). That was due to the melting of Antarctic ice and to the cold water that was brought from the currents to Indonesia. For the first time a few great white sharks were spotted along the coast line.
Have you noticed an increase in women's surfing over the last few years?
Yeah, definitely. It's amazing to see year and year many more girls on the line-up and others learning how to surf. I have grown up with an almost male-only crew, there were not many girls who liked to do extreme sports when I was a teenager and I have always loved adrenaline. That didn't bother me at all by then, but when I started to have a girls surf crew, I realized how amazing it is. There is so much connection and inspiration between female surfers and being many girls in the water gives to the whole session different vibes.
Scariest surf story?
In 2016 I had a very bad accident and almost bled out on a very remote island in the Mentawai, Indonesia. I hit the reef and cut the tendon of my left quadriceps and a little arteria. A young doctor on holiday saw me on a wooden bench with a medical sewing kit I luckily brought along. It took me 18 hrs to get back to the mainland and 3 days to go back home. Not only my Indo trip ended up there, but I had to do 8 months of rehab to be able to walk. Then I had to learn how to swim and to surf again, my leg was still very weak. I recovered almost completely from the accident after 2 years.
This misadventure was actually a great lesson for me. I learnt that I am not invincible and I learnt to evaluate all the conditions of the moment. Even if I have a weaker leg, my surfing technique has improved a lot and I catch better and bigger waves than before!
I then got really involved in Survival Apnea, specific breath-holding training which helps to gain self-awareness and self-control in and outside the water through a journey specifically created for surfers! I learnt to deal with intense situations in the ocean with more ease and to stay focused under pressure!
Best wave & biggest wave?
I have surfed so many epic waves, it's quite hard to choose one! The best waves I have surfed were in North Sumatra! Probably also the biggest and heaviest! Nias (go on - watch the video!) is one of my all times favourites and a place where I have left a little piece of my heart.
Go-to surf soundtrack?
Lou Reed, "Walk on the Wild Side"
What are your plans for the future?
I live day by day and I am very bad at making long-term plans. I have many ideas but I always think that if life offers me something else appealing, well, why not? For sure I can tell you that I will keep travelling, exploring and surfing. I have recently started a new personal project "Sliding Chronicles" to connect like-minded people willing to travel and take part in new adventures together! I organise surf coaching group trips, custom trips to Indonesia and other independent trips for whoever loves surfing and outdoor activities!