Stab Magazine | New surfer tax for Mentawais
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New surfer tax for Mentawais

Words by Lucas Townsend This is your last season to surf the Mentawais without being taxed! Bylaws have been passed to tap the surf tourism income stream. It’s the first time the Mentawai Islands regency administration will slice off their own direct chunk of surf revenue. Expected to be implemented in 2016, surfers will pay […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Words by Lucas Townsend

This is your last season to surf the Mentawais without being taxed! Bylaws have been passed to tap the surf tourism income stream. It’s the first time the Mentawai Islands regency administration will slice off their own direct chunk of surf revenue.

Expected to be implemented in 2016, surfers will pay a US$76 fee for a 15-day Ments stint. Each boat touring the island chain will pay US$380 for the same duration, and if you’re shooting a documentary film (that means surf videos) it’ll cost you US$1520. By no means is this a big amount, but that’s not the issue: More on that below.

According to the deputy speaker, Kortanius Sabeleake, these bylaws will generate Rp 1 billion to the region’s income. Rp 2 billion the following year, Rp 5 billion the third year, and gradually up to Rp 10 billion, annually (quoted in the Jakarta Post)… slightly confusing forecasts, tbh.

The average Mentawai trip costs between $2.5k and $5k (not including a new knife collection). But according to Perfect Wave CEO Jamie Gray, the extra cash won’t cut surfer numbers: “They’re still the best waves in the world.”

Yon Mardjono, director of Macaronis Resort (land camp near the famed left), houses 250 to 300 surfers per year and says the fee price isn’t too expensive: “There’s been no legal certainty over the matter. We’ve been waiting for these bylaws.” But he added that the collection and the fund’s use need to be closely supervised.

And herein lies the risk. This is a tax we’re talking about, a reallocation of big money from one sector to a poorer one. And how exactly it’ll be administered is the most contentious issue.

Ozzie Wright, and the exact thing you'll be picturing while handing over US$76 at the airport. Macaronis. Photo: John Respondek

Ozzie Wright, and the exact thing you’ll be picturing while handing over US$76. Macaronis. Photo: John Respondek

“To enforce 70 spots, with the amount of boats, camps and resorts out there would be a huge allocation of resource,” Jamie says. “If the locals were to benefit from the tax, then it may be possible, but I doubt they will see any benefit.”

Shayne Whitfield charters Kaimana and Kaimana II and says there’s a misconception boat operators are profiting substantially from their businesses.

“Everybody thinks us charter boats are making millions, which is very much not the case,” Shayne says. “Anyone working out here runs these businesses purely for the love of surfing, because the running costs are too high to be walking away a millionaire. I know guys who’ve spent $70k just to get their boats ready for this season… plus, as Westerners operating charters, everything is skin taxed already.”

Travelling surfers will be happy to pay a tax – if – it’s being redistributed to the local people. But the gents writing the rule book have a shady history of tax revenue missing targets i.e. the local people and their infrastructure:

West Sumatra Cruise Ship and Surfing Association head, Aim Zen, told the Jakarta Post that similar bylaws were drafted in 2012 but they allowed homestay-owners to monopolise the surfing spots near them. He added that the organisation had once paid Rp 800 million in tax: “However, the use of the money that we paid remains unclear. The Regent and Tourism office head were then imprisoned for corruption. The central government then revoked the ordinances.”

Shayne recalls the 2012 Mentawai tax cost boat owners roughly US$3 per surfer, per day: “We paid it happily, we aren’t just here to take, take, take. But the problem was, the money never made its way to the people.”

“I feel like it’s going to be the same scenario, I can’t see it being any different. This new President (Joko Widodo) is trying to stamp out corruption, and that’s awesome. But it runs so deep that it’s become a way of life for people over here.”

Payment aside, the most inconvenient (but still not that awful in the grand scheme) thing about these bylaws is the plastic wrist band you’ll be wearing for the entirety of your stay. The regency administration, with the support of the tourism board, public order police and health officers, will enforce the tax at ports and jetties in the Mentawais and Padang. Having checked-in itself and its passengers (via the internets up to a year in advance), each boat will need to display a permit.

None of this will happen before a decree (an official order) is issued, likely two months from now. And you’ll still need to pay the US$35 visa to get through arrivals at Minangkabau International Airport.

While the credit card damage will be mildly deeper next year, it still doesn’t solve the biggest problems in the Mentawais for visiting surfers: Exclusivity and crowds. Kelly Slater told Stab earlier this year: “The last couple of years coming to the Gold Coast and to the Mentawais has really messed up my brain.”

“I surfed a spot in the Mentawais with 16 other boards one day fairly recently… I think there is going to be warfare in the surf some day. In the snow, if you can’t ski a double diamond slope maybe you shouldn’t be there.”

But that’s a conversation for another day.

Craig Anderson, single fin at Greenbush, Mentawais. Photo: Tom Carey

Craig Anderson, single fin at Greenbush, Mentawais. Photo: Tom Carey

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