Having joined us on our recent trip to explore southern Portugal, we sat down with world-traveller, surfer and model Shaanti Senaratne to discuss her live-aboard upbringing and why the sea always feels like home.
Shaanti Senaratne: Citizen Of The Sea
So, tell us about yourself. We heard you spent most of your childhood on a boat growing up on the sea in Indonesia – what was that like?
Yeah, my family and I lived on a boat in Sumatra until I was about 11 or 12. It was actually a not-for-profit surf charter and community development project. It was this big old Indonesian fishing boat that we renovated and turned into a charter boat. We travelled around a little island group called the Hinako Islands in Nias, taking foreigners surfing and going into the villages with them to help teach English, install water filtration pumps and teach agriculture skills to all the locals that had been affected by the destruction of the earthquake and tsunami in 2004. Dad even introduced the fibreglass canoe to the area, as the original wooden ones had all been damaged.
We never experienced the actual impact of the earthquake and tsunami first hand, but as our connection to the country was so strong, we definitely felt some of the trauma that the local people were suffering from. So all my parents wanted to do was be a part of helping heal from that and give back in any way that we could.
You’re Australian by birth but you’ve lived most of your life outside of the country. Do you feel any connection to your Australian nationality or is it more global?
I love Australia and I love my family and friends there. But honestly, I never really fitted in when I was younger. I’d been homeschooled, lived in a developing country, with locals and a lot of older people from all walks of life and countries. Going from that, straight into a private school in Australia at 12 was a really challenging transition for me. I got bullied pretty badly and I just really struggled. I was also so confused by it all, because I saw the world so differently and had spent more than half my life somewhere else. So I’ve never felt a strong connection to it and I rarely miss it, just my nearest and dearest.
I went back to Indonesia when I was 17 and lived there for three months in Bali. I travelled a lot, came home again, moved to Byron Bay and lived there for 5 years… but I just always had an itch to get out.
But you always lived by the sea?
Yes. Everywhere I’ve lived, the sea has always been a constant for me. Even now, I’ve moved to France and live in Biarritz. I just naturally gravitate towards the ocean.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being in a city and being amongst the hustle and bustle, I do need it for my work, however I find I can get overwhelmed so easily. Having the ocean as a space to just go and breathe is really important for me… I definitely think I “need” it, if I’m apart from it for too long, I miss it.
So what does it mean to have the sea in your life, what does it give to you?
I think it’s a comfort. Because I literally grew up on the sea, on the boat. It’s as simple as that. It gives me this beautiful comfort. It makes me feel instantly calm and safe, like I’m at home, no matter where I am in the world.
It’s always been a constant in my life, so I like to have it close. My mind and body want and need it, so we always come together. When I surf, I love just sitting there, not feeling like there’s any pressure to speak to anyone or think about anything else that’s going on. I struggle with anxiety a lot and the ocean has been a big part of my healing journey. I also struggle with meditating, but I find that’s my place where my mind allows me to be in this state.
How did you enjoy the trip and meeting the crew?
It was all really fun, but also well organised and professional. The team was beautiful, such a nice community of people, and it felt like a trip away with friends. We were all super comfortable with each other and had a ball – staying up and playing celebrity heads by the fire, psyching each other up when having to do the harder parts of the shoot like ice cold swims in swimwear. Everything we did was enjoyable because we all got along so well. It felt like we had known each other for quite some time, not just a bunch of crew we met two days prior!