Founder & Athlete
Tahina Booth is the founder and driving force behind the Grass Skirt Project. Her mother is a Papua New Guinea (PNG) national (Iokea Village, Gulf Province) who met Tahina’s father when she was a Flight Attendant on Air Niugini in the 1970’s. She lived in PNG until she was 9, when the family relocated to Australia. Tahina maintains the link to her family in PNG with regular visits and has an intrinsic understanding of PNG and the sexual and domestic abuse that is a significant part of the culture there.
Tahina was encouraged into sports by her father as a way to meet friends when she moved to Australia and found not only friends but a lifelong passion for sports including Athletics, Basketball, Tennis, Surf Boat Rowing, and Football (NRL and American Grid Iron). In May 2014 Tahina was introduced to Powerlifting and broke an Australian record for the deadlift in her first competition in July 2014. Tahina attracted interest from the PNG Olympic Committee through her social media posts and was invited to try for a place on the South Pacific Games Team. She broke PNG national records when she competed in Port Moresby in February 2015, however without Dual Citizenship she was unable to compete for PNG internationally.
Spurred on by her success, She was inspired to compete at the Olympics, but as powerlifting is not an Olympic sport, the only option was to move into weightlifting. Tahina currently holds the number two ranking for women’s weightlifting in the 75kg plus weight category class for Australia and is aiming to compete for Australia in the Commonwealth Games in Surfers Paradise in 2018.
Sport is one of the few pathways for young people to change their future in PNG. Sports people are seen as very special in PNG and they are admired and act as role models to the community. Sport clubs often lack the funding to purchase the correct equipment and participants can’t afford the equipment and clothing that is required to compete safely in sport, so Tahina founded the Grass Skirt Project to help fill this gap. Sport gave Tahina a healthy physical and emotional outlet, personal discipline, self-belief and a voice. The Grass Skirt Project aims to do this for others too.
Scientist, Surfer & Development Coordinator
Dr Sofia Bartlett
Sofia is the head of research and development for the Grass Skirt Project and has been on board since its inception. Sofia is an Australian and grew up on Magnetic Island in Far North Queensland. Sporting opportunities weren't plentiful in this small community but Sofia excelled at swimming and first competed for the local swimming club at 8 years old.
While attending high school in Townsville, Sofia competed in swimming, rowing, water polo and netball. And after moving to Sydney in 2011, she joined her local surf lifesaving club and started surf boat rowing. She was instantly hooked and competed at a state and national level for several years. An active, outdoors lifestyle has always been a part of Sofia's life and she believes sport has played a huge role in helping her to build self-confidence, resilience and have a healthy outlet for stress. Sofia also credits the strong friendships she has forged throughout her life to participating in sport, and her close network of friends is a testament to this.
Sofia witnessed domestic violence first hand as a child and seeing her abusive father wreak havoc on their family had a lasting impact on her. Sofia had many friends of Papua New Guinean heritage growing up in Far North Queensland, so also knew how entrenched and prevalent domestic and sexual violence is there too. When Tahina started the Grass Skirt Project, Sofia's love of sport and her childhood experiences inspired her to come on board instantly.
Sofia is passionate about enabling sporting communities in Papua New Guinea so that people there have the same opportunities that she had growing up. She hopes that these opportunities will help empower people in Papua New Guinea and help them to develop the confidence, resilience and strong support network that has helped her become so successful in her chosen field.
Sofia is a scientist and early career researcher at the Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales. When she isn't out surfing or working on the Grass Skirt Project, you will find her crunching numbers or analysing data. You can find out more about Sofia's research here.
Operations, Strategy & Watersports
Al jumped on board with the Grass Skirt Project in late 2016 after seeing a flyer for the surfboard donation drive in a newsletter for North Bondi SLSC. Immediately, he was interested in the work that was going on and wanted to get involved. After meeting Tahina for coffee to find out more, this desire was reinforced and he jumped on board to help out by helping to create a framework and strategy to deliver on the programs the Grass Skirt Project runs.
Al is a huge water sports enthusiast and has competed at an elite level as a long-distance open ocean swimmer, water polo player and surf boat rower. He is also a passionate surfer. Having sport as such an integral part of his life makes it easy for Al to appreciate the huge impact that sport can have on a person's life. It is for this reason that he chose to become involved with the Grass Skirt Project, acknowledging the potential that it has to effect social change.