When Matt Rundle joined a church trip to South East Asia, his heart was broken by what he witnessed. Now he’s on a mission to use his passion for surfing to tackle sex exploitation


The idea for Noa Surf Collective first came to Matt Rundle after a church mission trip to Laos and Thailand in 2012. There, he visited a project that rescued women and children from sexual slavery and witnessed how women were being provided with education and employment opportunities. 

“I met a young lady who was sold into sexual slavery at a young age and contracted HIV as a result. They managed to get her out, and she had become a Christian. You remember people like that; there’s a lot of stories of redemption,” Matt says.

At the same time, acknowledging that 80 per cent of the sex trade in South East Asia is fuelled by Western tourism was “a very humbling experience”. 

“It’s almost like ‘what happens in Thailand stays in Thailand’,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter, because it’s so far away; we can just go crazy, and there are no repercussions.” Except, of course, there are.

When Matt returned home to the Cornish seaside resort of Newquay, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he had to do something. As the father of daughters, what he witnessed impacted him profoundly. “I felt God put sexual slavery on my heart, and I couldn’t rest.”

As a keen surfer, Matt’s vision for Noa Surf was to raise awareness of sexual slavery and exploitation among the surf community, while also raising money to fund projects that were making a difference in the region. The surf culture can seem “quite fun and hedonistic”, says Matt, but they are also a well-travelled, global community, known for their ethical stance on issues such as environmentalism. 

Over the next few years, Matt began to experiment with various products, from manufacturing skateboards in Laos to recycling old surfboards by wrapping them in bamboo. “We tried everything, and it never really got anywhere,” he says. In the middle of a tumultuous few years that culminated in the breakdown of his marriage, the project got put on hold.

It was during a church prayer meeting that everything changed. Matt had a vision: “In the centre of the room, I saw a young female, crying and calling out for help.” In that moment, he was convicted of the need to reprioritise the vision God had given him. “It was like: No, God has asked us to do this, so we can’t not. It put a fire back in me; it broke my heart again.”

If Westerners have helped cause this issue, we have some obligation to help fix it

The year before his vision, Matt had remarried. Helen, a widow with two daughters of her own, could immediately see the passion Matt had for Noa Surf, and the hours he had put into it. After his encounter, they began to dream together.  

Supported by Forge Sphere, a collaboration of churches in the south of England, Noa Surf is now a registered social enterprise, with profit from the sale of all of their products donated to charities that rescue and rehabilitate women and children out of sexual slavery in South East Asia. 

4. HPlane production

Their custom-made handplanes are recycled from the thousands of cheap, polystyrene bodyboards that are bought and then abandoned by holidaymakers up and down the UK coast each year. Covered in vintage fabrics, with a bamboo and epoxy resin coating, they also feature a strap made from recycled wetsuits. 

Used for bodysurfing, which is experiencing something of a resurgence among the surf community, the handplanes are manufactured by a local Newquay company. As well as looking to upscale this production, they also have a clothing range, and are exploring partnerships with big-name surf brands and other gaps in the surf lifestyle market. 

Both Matt and Helen are quick to acknowledge that theirs has not been an easy journey. But the need to tackle this growing worldwide epidemic is what keeps them committed. While the Covid-19 pandemic reduced international travel, slowing the sex tourism trade for a while, the resulting increase in poverty has meant that, once restrictions were lifted, “the problem became ten times worse”. 

There’s a tendency among many to assume that slavery is a thing of the past, but Matt and Helen are keen to point out that there are more people in slavery today than at any point in history. “If Westerners have helped cause this issue, we have some obligation, really, to help fix it. I don’t think I have the solution, but when it’s on your heart, what do you do?

“We often think: Who am I to do that? Who am I to reach the surf culture? But you can do what God has asked you to do. It’s that simple. If God asks you to do it, just be obedient. It’s for him to open the doors.

“We want to engage the surf community, and get them involved with this story of redemption in South East Asia. But ultimately, we want to point to the ultimate story of redemption that we have in Jesus.”