Surfing Doctors member Gemma Van Huysteen, from Cape Town, was doing her first stint in G-land. It was early season, during May when we caught up with her at the Jawa Jiwa Resort.
Tell us how you found yourself in Indonesia?
I’ve always wanted to spend more time volunteering in Indonesia. I was working in a Covid hospital, and then I was working in emergencies in the northern suburbs of Cape Town. I had built up some leave, so I decided to take the leave, and I might as well stay on. And see what opportunities arise when I’m here.
I’m drawn to nature; the warm ocean is my biggest thing. It was my 4th time coming here. I’m also interested in the culture and the history of Indonesia.
I surfed the first month in Lombok and applied for a job in Raja Ampat – it was like a Wilderness Medicine / Dive job. Only when I was here did I receive confirmation that I could join.
Where does your diving experience come from?
I started diving in 2018, scuba – I did all my courses over time. I also did my Dive Master training back home. That’s how I met Ekhard Brand (a long-time member of Surfing Doctors), who invited me to work at the Macaronis Resort. Diving has been my main obsession for the last five years.
I’ve spent all my money on diving. Now it is transitioning more away from scuba diving to free diving. The diving job was at a conservation project, they have scientists that live there for 6 to 12 months, and they dive every day doing research n coral and coral conservation, so my job was twofold, looking after the staff and looking after western guests that were visiting.
People who were coming to learn about marine science and to dive.
Dealing with related injuries and working as a dive master, taking people on dives, so just switching between the two roles throughout the day
Then I went to do my freediving courses in this little free dive capital called Amed.
So how did you make the connection with The Surfing Doctors?
When the project with Eckhard and the Macaronis Resort fell away, Eckhard recommended I contact Dave Hateley. I did, and then I matched up with a vacancy with May for G-land, and it worked out. Then I met a guy called Robert Abel in Cape Town, and he told me to reach out to Phillip Chapman. Then I realised that it was all the same group. I also followed the Surfing Doctor’s socials before applying for the stint at G-Land.
What are your perceptions of the Surfing Doctors at this early stage?
Judging by our equipment and inventory, you don’t just get that by accident; people have put a lot of effort into bringing the correct supplies and equipment.
Then reading the website, I realised the conference and their involvement with the WSL and all the various locations. It is much more organised than some of the other remote medicine-type opportunities. They are clearly jacked and organised. Also, the support network drew me to it, knowing that if something significant went down, I could contact Dave or Phillip and get first-hand advice. When I was working at Raja, I had no medical support.
Hanging here in G-Land and Jawa Jiwa. Is it what you expected?
It is way, way nicer than what I expected.
I thought it would be rudimentary with very little around, but it was way more advanced than expected.
I’m super grateful to be here at Jawa Jiwa. There are more people around, and the food is excellent. Now there is a bit of work in creating a new clinic and setting it up.
I see myself doing vessel or expedition work, period work, with downtime periods, so I can do other stints like this.
There are opportunities at Nias, Tavaura and at Macaronis.
That would be amazing. I’m trying to structure my life to have more opportunities like that.
The long-term plan, career-wise?
I had to let my dream as a general surgeon go last year. I worked in the General Surgery department and realised it wasn’t for me. I can make it in on wilderness medicine field then I will do that for as long as possible. Then keep specialising, do a dive medicine degree or alpine medicine and try to become a specialist as it grows. It is still quite a niche and quite a speciality.
This lifestyle is quite addictive.
I’m open to that being my life going forward. If I do Emergency Medicine as a speciality, I could also do that, as it directly applies to this environment.
One of the central themes of The Surfing Doctors is that so many people come to a place like G-land who are out of their depth and not skilled enough to surf these dangerous waves. How do you feel about guests who are inept in waves of consequence?
You will always have free will and can’t tell people not to go somewhere.
But if you go skiing, for example, you don’t go on a Black Diamond slope.
You kind of need to qualify first.
Exactly, get through some levels.
Yes, I feel strongly about this. People should be conservative about the surf that they throw themselves into. The ocean is a super humbling place. Ignorance is bliss; you don’t know what you don’t know. You only know how badly you can get messed up once it’s too late.
Gemma Van Huysteen Bio
Nationality: South African
My fave surf destinations: Cape Town and Victoria Bay, South Africa. Lombok, Indonesia & Siargao, Philippines.
Previous volunteer work: Tropical and dive medicine in Raja Ampat for an ocean conservation NGO. (4 months 2022-2023). Informal employment in a rural dive town on the border of Mozambique and South Africa.
Travel experience: Indonesia, Philippines, Mozambique, Spain.
Education & Work Experience: MBBCh at The University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (2017). Medical internship in George, South Africa (2018, 2019). Community service in Trauma & Emergencies in Cape Town, South Africa (2020), Postgraduate Diploma in Primary Emergency Care at the College of Medicine of South Africa. (2022).
Medical interests: Wilderness and Dive medicine, Trauma and Emergencies
Other interests: Freediving, yoga.