Sarah Yani Vann Sander - The Sandswell Movement

We chat to Sarah Yani Vann Sander about the significance of surfing, salty social successes, and her exciting new enterprise The Sandswell Movement. 

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I’m Sarah and I’m 27. This year I’ve launched a social enterprise, The Sandswell Movement, running bespoke programs and events to create social change through surfing.

I’ve always been passionate about creating social impact. When I was younger I believed the best way to create change was to take over the world! (laughs). I had these grand visions about how to generate change and what constituted impact. But, as I travelled further on my journey, I had moments where I would find myself unable to move forward. These situations humbled me and forced me to reconsider what I was doing, where I was and where I wanted to go. Most of my personal pivotal moments have taken me back to the ocean. Eventually this journey led me to co-create and launch Sandswell. 

When did you learn to surf?

I grew up in Perth and was always in the ocean, diving, sailing, and snorkelling. I wanted to surf but my parents weren’t surfers and then we moved to the rural Northern Territory when I was about 12 years old. We lived in an indigenous community and were about as far from the ocean as you can get! Eventually I got the chance to learn when I moved to Canberra to study, which is ironic! I would go down to the coast and try and surf on the weekends. Then when I was 18 I gifted myself a solo trip around Australia and that’s when I properly learnt to surf. I never consistently stayed in one place to get any good until I came back to Perth where I could access waves regularly, even if they are small, and that’s when I really got into it.

Sarah Yani Vann Sander - photo credit Ming Nomchong

Sarah Yani Vann Sander - photo credit: Ming Nomchong

How do you think surfing has shaped your career?

Surfing really challenges me in a way I’ve never been challenged before. I’ve played competitive sport and like most people I’ve faced big challenges in all kinds of personal ways, but surfing is a different challenge all together. It forces me to connect with myself and where I’m at, which of course changes every single day. It also requires connection with the ocean which is also constantly changing. Learning to find a perfect synergy is a really powerful tool. On days I feel disempowered it lifts me up, but at other times it’s very humbling and has helped me learn how to surrender and let the ocean be the boss, which it always is. So for me surfing is a metaphor for balance, harmony and connection which has shaped my life and my career as a consequence. 

You’ve worked in and around the surf industry for some time, what are some highlights?

Throughout my undergrad and masters degrees I was lucky enough to get scholarships to live and travel overseas. One of my highlights was going and studying at the James Martin 21st Century School at Oxford University where I got to look at some of the big issues like energy security, infectious disease and environmentalism. Through that I got to work with leaders from organisations like the World Health Organisation, which was exciting.

I spent time in California helping out the Surfrider Foundation and eventually went on to set up a local chapter in Perth, before handing that role over and working on their National board.

I also spent time teaching Marine Science on an island off LA called Catalina Island, where school children would come out for a week at a time on science camp. We’d get up early and go paddle boarding, go hiking and learn about geology or go kayaking and learn about whales and dolphins and get to see them all. I never took that for granted.

I knew then that I wanted to be working with the ocean because not only was it very important to me but it’s the basis of all life on Earth. Healthy oceans mean a healthy planet and I saw first hand the power of the ocean to create positive impact on peoples lives, on their mental health, their physical health and their general connection to nature and themselves. The ocean is a really powerful vehicle for creating positive impact. 

Tell us about The Sandswell Movement…

I think I always wanted to harness the power of the ocean to create social impact but surfing helped to make that vision more tangible. The core of The Sandswell Movement is creating and encouraging connection to self, society and nature through surfing. My partner Raf had similar visions of inspiring the local surf community and how he could help create a more positive impact. Our visions came together and Sandswell was born.

Sandswell’s purpose is to create access to the transformational power of surfing to create positive impact in peoples lives and for the planet. We run surf for social good programs and events, each with their own specific impact and audiences. Some of them are local and some of them are international and we usually do it all through collaboration with communities and local businesses.

We recently kick-started our first major community event Summer x Salt Markets at our local Scarborough Beach. Our aim was to create a salty scene and a sustainable, ocean-friendly event. We’ve found that one of the more powerful things you can do is get everybody who shares your mission together and create a core community. When you have a really strong centre, that’s when things can grow and overflow. The markets were about taking all the awesome things the surfers and salty businesses are doing in our community by themselves and bringing them together to create wide scale societal change, encouraging people to buy local and connect with their community. When people collaborate things happen a lot faster and the impact is much bigger and shared by many. 

Where can we find you?


Posted by: Sarah Price, on March 9, 2016
Categories: Interviews