Surf Town In El Salvador Steers Towards Bitcoin-Based Economy
They're also rich in intangible assets. Photo: Billabong/Duncan McFarlane

Surf Town In El Salvador Steers Towards Bitcoin-Based Economy

Using cryptocurrency to fund the Salvadoran Olympic Surf Team.

Words by Jack Mutschler

A small village in El Salvador, known as El Zonte, has developed a functional economic ecosystem that runs on Bitcoin. With a population of roughly 3,000 people, most residents of El Zonte are unbanked. The local businesses do not meet the regulations needed to accept credit cards, making them dependent on cash.

As a small village with exceptional local waves, the economy has always benefited from visiting surfers. When travel restrictions from COVID-19 arose, El Zonte’s profits from tourism took a severe blow. Luckily, one frequent visitor of the area made an anonymous donation in the form of Bitcoin. The unidentified holder purchased the cryptocurrency years ago for a price of $0.10per coin, stored it on a hard drive, and put it to the side.

At the time of writing this, Bitcoin’s current value is at $49,720.30. The anonymous donor agreed to give the money to the village under the condition that the currency not be cashed out. Through this demand, the Bitcoin Beach initiative took form.

bitcoin beach
Photo by Bitcoin Beach

Since 2019, El Zonte locals have integrated Bitcoin into their daily life, using it for almost all purchases. You can purchase everything from electric bills to coffee in the community with Bitcoin.

While a common issue with bitcoin is the slow processing of networks and substantial fees incurred while moving it around, Strike has simplified the process. The company utilizes Bitcoin’s Lightning Network, making the transfer immediate and as seamless as Venmo or CashApp.

Just how successful has the operation been? The once struggling area is now functioning well enough to host two events for the 2021 ISA Games at La Bocana and El Sunzal. As the last round of Olympic qualifiers, the events will fill the five remaining spots for men and seven for women.

Bitcoin has also helped El Salvador fund their National team and map out a training facility. On March 19, 2021, the Men’s and Women’s Salvadoran surf teams signed their first-ever paid contracts. These contracts, funded by the Bitcoin Beach initiative, make them the only national sports team funded solely by Bitcoin.

The training facility will be in dedication to Kathryn Diaz, the 22-year-old Salvadoran surfer who tragically died after being struck by lightning in March. The Bitcoin Beach initiative is looking to raise 10 Bitcoin ( about $500-600k) to secure the land, build out the facility, and maintain a budget for ongoing maintenance. They will donate any remaining funds to the Katy Diaz ESA Surf Travel & Training Program.

If you pitched a crypto-dependent economy five years ago, you would have been written off as crazy. Today, El Salvador proves that cryptocurrency is an legitimate virtual asset. Once a complete gamble, Bitcoin now funds national sports teams, offers new channels for relief, and integrates its way into daily transactions.

Bitcoin is not the future; it’s the present.


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