Keeping the Light Love Shining

Ideals manifest in many ways. For Anja Light, the house she built near Iluka stands as a symbol for the family ethos. Using reclaimed, recycled and sustainable materials, it grew from a shed to a home, part of a life devoted to raising her children Pacha and Yani in a non-materialistic way. Then the kids started surfing, and everything changed. Or so she thought.

It all began when nine-year-old Pacha wanted a surfboard for her 10th birthday. As a single mum this was unaffordable, so Anja suggested Pacha busk for a board. As dancing was Pacha’s passion, she gladly set up her boom box on the boardwalk at Tugun and started to dance.

Not only did she raise money, but she attracted the attention of pro-surfer Laura Enever, who admired Pacha’s determination and gave her one of her own boards. Since then, Pacha has surfed almost every day and has made surfing her career. Pacha is now sponsored by Billabong.

Younger brother Yani was already a surfer and a talented artist. Yani is in his element free surfing which he describes as ‘dancing on water’. He has also recently begun designing and shaping his own boards. Anja is now a surf mum, but as we talk it becomes obvious that the Light family are still living by the same ethos, just along a different pathway.

pacha and yani shakaYani and Pacha Light. Image by Sam Clarke

They left their bushland home to care for Anja’s mother on the Gold Coast, where Pacha was accepted into Palm Beach Currumbin High School’s highly competitive Surf Excellence program (that Mick Fanning attended), initiating huge change.

“It was a leap,” Anja says, laughing. “All the other kids had stickers on their boards from sponsors. Pacha had no stickers and an old spring suit patched up using dental floss.” Did that matter to you? I ask Pacha. “No. We know where we come from and why we started: to have fun, out of love for the water.” “We have so many memories of surfing in Iluka,” says Yani. “In crystal clear water, with dolphins popping up alongside you and it doesn’t matter if you have the worst wetsuit in the world, it’s being in the moment.”

“It was actually Yani who got us into the whole thing,” says Anja. “He was junior champion surfer at Iluka Boardriders, but he knew you don’t need all those things.”

“I remember my first class at Surf Excellence,” says Yani. “We were given a form to fill out that asked us to list our sponsors. I just put a line through it.”

the light familyThe Light Family. Image by Sam Clarke

Ironically, shortly afterward Yani was sponsored by Billabong. I ask if Pacha and Yani’s success with the commercial side of surfing has ever altered their non-materialistic approach to life. “Mum was an environmental activist when she was a child and we surf for the love of the ocean.” replies Pacha. “She has always believed that anything is possible. So, if I don’t win a comp I put it aside and go surfing for fun.”

“Our family has always been environmentally active – it’s part of our family to protect what we love,” agrees Yani.

“I remember when I was eight or nine-years-old,” says Anja. “Being part of a protest with my mother, led by Rabbit Bartholomew, to stop Currumbin being turned into a massive marina, some 35 years ago!”

Anja went onto a career as a musician, touring Japan every year as part of their environmental protest movement, taking the kids with her.

yani on a waveImage of Yani by Shayne Nienaber Photography

In 2016, Pacha joined the campaign to save Kirra Beach from a casino and cruise ship terminal. She then lent her support to a successful campaign to protect the southern Gold Coast as a world surfing reserve, organising her peers to paddle from Snapper Rocks to Currumbin, to draw attention to the issue. “It’s totally natural to look after what you love,” says Anja, “and surfers can lead the way in caring for the ocean.”

“Billabong are supportive of my environmental work,” says Pacha. “And I’ve sought sponsorship by other brands that are leading the way in environmentally sustainable production, like Firewire surfboards.”

“When we first met with Billabong,” says Anja, “we explained that our family vision is purpose before profit. They said ‘Awesome – we want you to be who you are.’”

Pacha has become the face of Billabong, modelling their clothing and swimwear range. “It’s daunting when you first start,” says Pacha. “But as soon as you build relationships with the people behind the camera, it becomes fun.”

We discuss 3am calls for swimwear shoots in the middle of winter. Anja talks about Pacha’s determination and drive, forgetting to mention that for every 3am call, she was the driver and chaperone.

Surf RidersPacha plays ukelele. Image by Sam Clarke

Now 17, Pacha organises her own shoots, chooses the locations and manages her own media profile. She recently spent some weeks in South Korea and Japan, documenting the ancient cultural tradition of freediving as it is practiced by the Haenyeo and Ama women of these countries. Documentary making now works alongside surf competitions.“I love to compete,” says Pacha. “I love to strive to be my best and always push myself. Watching Yani progress with free surfing looks like such a beautiful way to interact with the ocean, but I love to hustle.”

Could this be an attitude born from gender, where women are forced to prove themselves to be taken seriously? “Maybe…I’d like to be known as a hardcore surfer who shreds.”

“It’s so funny when guys talk to me about Pacha and say she’s so pretty and I think, yeah, spend a few weeks with her and you’ll change your mind – she’s fierce!” says Yani, laughing.

I ask Anja if she ever questioned the fearlessness with which she raised Pacha and Yani. “In retrospect, maybe. Once they went surfing in a thunderstorm and I wondered if I should hold them back, but they came out of the water saying ‘Oh My God, that was amazing!’ And that’s what life is about.”

“You know when Mum was 18 she bought a one-way ticket to China!” says Pacha. “We do what we love,” says Anja. “Whether it’s surfing or the environment.”

The kids grab their musical instruments and start to play, another love they have learned from their mother. It’s all about the love.

Follow them on Instagram @yanisurfer and @pachalight

Yani and Pacha are part of the Billabong Surf Team. Grab your Billabong gear at Coopers Surf at Coffs Central and Stormriders at Port Central.