By Jed Smith
Oney Anwar arrived in Australia with nothing but a couple of boards, some clothes, a bottle of his prized Sumbawan honey, and the phone number of a guy’s family he’d met back on his island in Indonesia. He was just 14 years old.
Today it all seems to have worked out well. In October last year, he equaled Indonesia’s highest-ever finish at the World Junior Championships, narrowly losing in Round 4 to Conner Coffin. Anwar is now fluent in English, his disposition sunny, and his manners impeccable. But the journey hasn’t been easy, and if he is to get what he really wants in this world—a slot on the World Tour—he’s still got a ways to go, with his biggest challenge only now beginning to loom on the horizon.
Born into a family of 13, money wasn’t tight in Anwar’s household. It was non-existent. For food, he and his brothers would attack a nearby bay with rods and spears while the women foraged for vegetables and rice. School was too far away to attend regularly, healthcare was not an option, and with his village under the punitive law of a conservative brand of Islam, indiscretions were dealt with severely. “It was really hard,” he says, “but we are really strong because of it.”
A short walk from Anwar’s house put him at the horseshoe right that would one day be featured in films like Modern Collective. A five-minute bike ride got him to Lakey Peak, one of Indo’s most consistent high-performance waves. It was at Lakey that Anwar scavenged his first board—a 6’6″ he had shaved into a 5’4″. By the time he was 9, he’d won everything a surfer could on Sumbawa.
When a seemingly well-meaning American tourist offered to cover his trip to Bali so he could compete in larger events, the Anwar family agreed. Within hours of landing, however, Oney found himself in a Kuta nightclub, staring at wasted Westerners swinging from bamboo cages. A few hours after that, he was walking the streets alone, the American nowhere to be found.
He spent the next three days living on the streets before getting in touch with a Balinese surfer he’d met back at Lakey Peak. Later, Oney moved in with expat American photographer, Nate Lawrence, who helped him land his first board sponsor. Meanwhile, his domination of Bali’s competitive scene had also earned him a deal with Rip Curl. The sponsorship would prove life changing.
With the Search campaign benefitting so much from Indo’s vast wave resources, Rip Curl founders Brian Singer and Doug “Claw” Warbrick had long thought about the appropriate way to give something back. Their solution: relocate the team’s number one junior prospect to Australia. “We just wanted to see him achieve something,” says Rip Curl Indonesia Marketing Manager, James Hendy. “He had already taken a big leap moving away from his family and we could see what could happen if he went off the rails in Bali.”
Moments after landing in Sydney, Anwar dialed the number of the family he’d been told to call. Jenny McDougal, who eventually became his Aussie mum, answered. “He asked if I could come and pick him up,” she recalls. Except there was a slight problem: Jenny and her husband Mark live approximately 1,000 miles north of Sydney, on the Gold Coast. “I told him, ‘Sweet, you’ll have to get a connecting flight from the airport,’” says McDougal.
Once on the Goldie, Anwar found himself immediately embroiled in a bureaucratic tangle. Before arriving, it had been agreed that he would bunker down with the rest of the international students way out in the suburbs. But this left him with no way of getting to the beach. “He was almost in tears,” recalls Jenny. So the McDougal’s went to bat for him, hacking long and hard at Australia’s bureaucratic jungle and eventually securing his release.
After being enrolled at Palm Beach High, Anwar finally joined the nation’s premiere surfing program (headed by coaching guru Phil Mcnamara) and his surfing took off. National schoolboys titles, state titles, a pro junior, and a runner up in four-star WQS followed. Anwar was on fire. He even won his school’s Sportsman of the Year award an unprecedented three times. (Parko, who also went to Palm Beach, only won it once.)
But at home, things weren’t going so well. “I was young and missing my mother and the food and the weather at home,” he says. “It was so cold and hard to go surfing every morning, to put on my wetsuit. It felt like a nightmare.”
Anwar phoned home and begged to return, but was talked out of it—thankfully, he says today. “Now I can see what I actually have to do to make the Tour. If I really want to be a pro surfer, I have to use this opportunity and take this as my job.”
Now 19, Anwar is counting on gaining residency in Australia and traveling the WQS under the green and gold passport. As it stands, Indonesians are banned from entering several of the countries required to compete on the World Qualifying Series, a main reason behind the country’s failure to produce a single World Tour surfer. And unless Rip Curl can work a miracle, Anwar will be forced back to Indonesia. For Anwar, there is no question: “Australia is home,” he says. But when I ask what he wants out of his future, neither Indonesia nor Australia warrant a mention. “I just want to stay fit, keep training for the WQS, and hopefully make the WCT.”