Host a Surfer (https://www.hostasurfer.com/)  is a new project that hopes to get local families in Newcastle to volunteer to provide a spare bedroom for women competitors in the Surfest Event. Of course “billeting” pro surfers isn’t a new initiative. Many of Newcastle’s finest surf fans have offered many a bedroom to generations of pro surfers over the years. Although the screening process, usually at the infamous “Fanny’s”  nightclub around 2am, was a little more ad hoc. 

Now Newcastle’s Surfest is one of Australia’s greatest surfing institutions. Since it launched as the BHP Steel International in 1985, it has mixed a grassroots community-run surf comp with elite-level competition. Kinda like a massive local boardriders comp, just with a few World Champions putting their name down after having a sausage sanga for breakfast.

While never splashed with major sponsors and cash the event has however always been great at thinking outside the box. Over the years the prime mover Warren Smith and his team and have concocted some radical new concepts to make sure the show went on. 

In 2003, for example, the idea to invite Layne Beachley to surf as a wildcard in the main event was a masterstroke. Coming up against the top seed, and then World Champion Andy Irons, it generated a publicity shitstorm and attracted 40,000 Novocastrians to watch the “Battle Of The Sexes”. For the record, Andy and Layne finished third and fourth in the heat, but that was beside the point. 

A few years later the idea to gather a dozen or so World Champions for an annual expression session was another great idea that attracted not only the legends of the sport but extra publicity. In 2015 the event became the first to use sponsorship crowdfunding for the Women’s event. Faced with a lack of funding and the prospect of canceling the women’s division, they devised a system where local businesses would submit sponsorship, with just one drawn out of a hat winning the naming rights each year. The other business could also sponsor individual athletes. It’s been a booming success and has continued ever since. 

Continuing that tradition the event has thrown its weight behind the new Host a Surfer (HAS) program devised by Kirsten Ansell. The idea is that local families volunteer to not only provide free accommodation, but also a few hot meals and a spirit of support. Ms Ansell is hoping the organisation will go on to coordinate billeting for competitions nationwide and even at other events around the world.

The Ansell family had been involved in the crowdfunding initiative for the Women's competition of Surfest since 2017. The program allowed Ms Ansell's daughter, Zara, to meet some of her idols. In 2019 the family sponsored 18-year-old rising star Pacha Light and soon became good friends. When the Ansells asked Pacha to stay at their house in 2020, so she could save money, the HAS idea was born. Light has said that “Host-A-Surfer could change the game as competing could be very expensive.” QS surfers can spend up to 20 grand a year chasing their dream on tour. 

The 'host a surfer' program will aim to give more female surfers the opportunity to participate in competitions they may have previously been unable to attend due to financial restraints. The website will source local host families, process host applications which include official security checks. The aim is to match families with the right surfers and make a safe and convenient option for surfers from around the world.

It is also an opportunity for young children of the hosts to connect with elite athletes, particularly female surfers and be inspired to do the same. Go to the website if you are either an interested athlete or family.