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FAR-EAST SIDERS: Bhutanese Monks Take Up Surfing, Leave Their Mark On Honolulu

| posted on July 22, 2010


Although I can’t understand a word they are saying, the expressions on their faces say it all. From what I’ve gathered from their hand gestures, smiles, (they’re always smiling) and the Bhutanese translator, the five visiting Bhutanese monks love Hawaii, and even more so, they love surfing. Coming from the landlocked and predominately Buddhist country of Bhutan in Southern Asia, the monks had never before seen an ocean, much less surfed in one. All that changed when they arrived in Honolulu to participate in a program set forth by the Honolulu Academy of Arts to educate the monks on the finer points of restoring decaying Bhutanese art and religious artifacts.

Check out amazing photos from a surf adventure in China.

The restoration classes couldn’t have come at a better time as thousands of centuries-old, priceless Bhutanese works of art are falling victim to the elements at a rate that has art curators from LA to NYC white-knuckle gripping their venti pumpkin-spiced-double-shot-skinny lattes. Running parallel with the restoration classes was an exhibit at the Honolulu Academy of Arts entitled “The Dragon’s Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan” showcasing an impressive display of Bhutanese art and religious artifacts for the people of Honolulu. With the restoration classes and the traveling exhibit occurring simultaneously, smiling, red-robe-adorned monks abound in Honolulu.

“They’re just such a happy group of people and I’m so glad they’re here,” says Cynthia Derosier, author of the book, The Surfer’s Spirit, and part-time Bhutanese monk surfing instructor. “They’re just so happy and peaceful…and they LOVE surfing.”

After producing her book, Derosier befriended a Bhuddhist monk who wrote the closing epilogue on the back sleeve of her book. As fate would have it, he also acted as a teacher and friend to the monks currently in town honing their restoration skills. Before you can say kuzo zangpo la (hello in Bhuatnese) a very stoked Derosier lined up an early morning session at Diamond Head for the monks in hopes of instilling some of her love of the sport upon the Eastern visitors.

“I just had to take them surfing. At first, they were a little hesitant…’cause they can’t swim and all…but then after they got rolled around a little bit and realized the water was only waist-deep, they got pretty comfortable and had a great time. They were genuinely stoked when they came in, they were all smiles for sure,” said Derosier.

Sangay Rinchen, one of the leading monks, reaffirms Derosier’s evaluation of their first session. “At first, I was little bit scared. But then…happy. Very fun. I’d like to surf more in future.”

The monks are scheduled to leave Honolulu early this summer and head back to their home in Bhutan, but not without leaving a little bit of their culture behind in the city. In an effort to raise money for the monks’ art- and religious-art-conservation program, Eddie Jose of the Honolulu Academy of Arts, purchased a dozen or so boards from the Town and Country surfboards factory and had the monks paint religious and historical Bhutanese figures and scenes across the deck. The ensuing results were amazing. Surfers and art collectors from around the state have purchased the boards-turned-works-of-art at an astounding rate, raising much needed money for the monks and their restoration program, all the while helping to ensure the preservation of their art for future generations.

“I’m so happy I’ve gotten to know the monks and share surfing with them,” said Derosier. “They’ve come all they way from Bhutan to share their history and spirituality with us; I’m just glad I got to share something historical and spiritual of ours with them…surfing.”

  • Tshewang Tashi

    Really touched by the effort from Honolulu to preserve bhutanese art and especially creating a once in a lifetime experience for the monks. Thank you. By the way, these surfboards look way out! Murals in homes, walls of institutions or city parks could be other innovative outlet for traditional bhutanese art. It’s a good way of showcasing the arts while enabling bhutanese traditional artists to earn a dignified living; at present, artists barely survive solely on this.