A Surf Tourism System That Doesn’t Cheat, Rape, Pillage Or Plunder Local Communities
Meet the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea.
Years ago, allegedly, some charter crews in the Mentawais wouldn’t allow their customers to leave boards with locals.
Either they hated crowds or loved those overcooked portraits of dark-skinned children wearing loin cloths and brilliant smiles while riding chunks of wood. Hard to say. For now, let’s assume the former.
Surf tourism-based development has an undeniable impact on the areas where it sprouts. Some of it is positive. Some of it is negative. Some of it is too confusing to tell. But in a lot of cases, responsibility came way below the bottom line. Heard of Bali?
The early days of development were uncharted waters — sometimes literally — so we can’t judge ‘em too critically. But by now, we should know better than buying some property, dancing around local legislations, hiring four locals, paying them slightly higher than a typical wage and calling yourself a fucking philanthropist.
Cue Andy Abel and his Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea, which has been kicking since 1988.
The organisation is built around the idea is that waves are a resource. A resource, by definition, is a natural source of wealth or revenue. Even though waves don't power engines or get moulded into jewellery, people still pay for them — so the people who inhabit wave-rich regions should be the first to benefit.
The SAPNG employs what Abel calls a reverse spiral method to ensure that surf tourism bears fruit for both investors and locals. Here’s how their system works.
A prospective developer pitches their plan to the SAPNG. The Association first meets with the local clan leaders in the proposed location. If that goes well, they host open meetings with the whole village for some Q and A followed by a vote. If a community agrees to move forward with the development, they immediately establish a surf club there — so the locals fully understand surfing long before anything is built. Then, they put a quota on how many surfers can visit per day (usually around 20) to ensure that over-crowding never becomes a factor.
“Host communities participate in all facets of the planning, negotiations, implementation and management of the resource,” Andy says. “It is the duty of the resource custodians working in partnership with the resort operators to not only meet and greet and welcome the surfing tourists with a smile but more importantly ensure there is no destruction of the reefs, no outflow of raw sewage and proper disposal of rubbish.”
When you, the traveller, stay at an SAPNG-approved business, you’re hit with two charges. A one-time $50 AUD fee that goes to the SAPNG and $10 AUD a day that goes straight to the local community. By the way, there’s only one small camp in the whole nation that isn’t part of this program.
The results have been amazing — PNG and its 600 islands are home to a number of camps that keep locals, visitors, investors and the environment happy. Consequently, Andy has been contacted from people in developing surf regions all over the world to learn his system. And why not? You’re even allowed to leave boards with the locals.