The Hardest Bargain (Exclusivity and Surf Resorts)
From Stab issue 75: Exclusivity and surf resorts are a match made in capitalist heaven. And we like! Tavarua, take back Cloudbreak! Give the Maldives to the developers! Maybe cut a piece of Bali off and ring it in wire, too! Story by Craig Jarvis It has always been there, the luxurious surf camp open only to people with serious money. Sometimes it gets a little play on websites […]
From Stab issue 75: Exclusivity and surf resorts are a match made in capitalist heaven. And we like! Tavarua, take back Cloudbreak! Give the Maldives to the developers! Maybe cut a piece of Bali off and ring it in wire, too!
Story by Craig Jarvis
It has always been there, the luxurious surf camp open only to people with serious money.
Sometimes it gets a little play on websites and in magazines, but usually it is kept low-key, existing only in photograph albums of happy clients who are going to return again and again and who don’t want to see it get crowded. If the resort has a cap on the numbers, and that cap is always reached, why advertise and why promote?
Yet they exist, and thrive, despite high costs. It is of my opinion that these exclusive and luxurious surf camps have a place in our complicated and vainglorious surfing cosmos. They occupy a niche that is a piece of the puzzle in the rapid evolution of surf culture. Stab’s friend, the legendary Shane Dorian, who worked many seasons at Tavarua, tends to agree.
“There are a limited number of consistent world-class waves on the planet and a large and rapidly growing number of surfers,” says Shane. “These spots are quickly becoming super-crowded and nearly impossible for most surfers to catch waves on good days.”
Slater ain’t any diff.
“It’s fucking crowed everywhere,” he says. “I’m not against ‘private’ breaks if they’re in a faraway land and difficult to access and some guy figured it out and set up a camp or boat, but when the floodgates are opened it’s over. I’m happy to pay extra for empty surf.”
Dirty feet, broken thongs, fungal rashes and cheap, torn surf trunks are all rites of passage that come with backpacking and feral surf travel. It’s something that everyone should do at some stage and to the very best of his or her ability. It’s merely a passing phase, however. The appreciation of quality in surf travel comes with age, with financial security and with less time on the hands.
In surf travel there are ways to secure quality and this is simply by paying a fee. Yet when one has reached a stage where an overwhelming desire to get away from the scrapping and shouting that persists at every decent wave the world over, the price tag becomes irrelevant.
Surfers have been paying for years to flee the trashy, half-caste cesspool of Kuta for Garajagan. In the Maldives, there is Tony Hussein’s serendipitous find of Pasta Point and their exclusive surfer treaty that enables a restricted amount of paying surfers out at any one time. T-Land Resort in Nembrala exists in an exclusive zone in Indonesia and if you want to surf Occy’s Left on Sumba you have to pay the fiddler.
One of the final outlets of unregulated waves in the Maldives has been the conjoined Sultans and Honkies, fun staples in the area. Sultans delivers long, point-like rollers down the island and Honkies throws thick, St Leu-like lefthand barrels on the inside. For many years they’ve been an option to charter boats and popular with the guests at Pastas and other resorts in the area who possibly weren’t that confident on the predominant lefts of the area and wanted to ride a righthander or two.
However, there is movement in the exclusive situation in the Maldives. The government there announced that they’ll be re-examining the current “exclusion zones.”
Which ain’t great timing for Telos Investments and their top-end development on Thanburudhoo Island, around which Sultans and Honkies break. Their aim is to secure exclusive rights to both the two house-reef waves. As the Maldivian government reviews the ownership protocol, hotel construction has begun.
There has been anger and the usual wringing of wrists about yet another development in the area and the boat charter industry are up in arms. There has also been misinformation.
Dr Gunnar Lee-Miller, president of Telos Investments, has been somewhat tainted in the surf media over the negatively viewed ‘exclusivity’ tag that has attached itself onto his project. Gunnar holds a doctorate in philosophy from Harvard University. Lee-Miller isn’t your your regular surf camp developer.
“There is a misrepresentation that a managed approach will destroy surf tourism in the Maldives, while I actually think that overcrowding is quite possibly the biggest detriment to surf tourism,” he says. “The tourism agenda in the Maldives has always been low density and high yield.”
“It’s fucking crowded everywhere. I’m not against ‘private’ breaks if they’re in a faraway land and difficult to access and some guy figured it out and set up a camp or boat, but when the floodgates are opened it’s over. I’m happy to pay extra for empty surf.” – Kelly Slater
Just look at Bali or even Snapper to see where the overcrowding road goes. Bali suffers such overcrowding that most surf spots are totally dysfunctional. To go in the same direction as Bali in the Maldives would simply mean a race to the bottom. However, there is also talk of local surfers being restricted from the waves of Honkies and Sultans.
“This is simply not true,” says Lee-Miller. “We have made it very clear that this won’t be the case and there will be daily access for locals. We will find the balance between the locals who want to surf and the traveling guests who are paying for an uncrowded experience.”
It is an unfortunate side-effect of surf resort development that in some instances progress lays waste to large tracts of sensitive environment.
“Yes, but not in the Maldives,” says Miller. ”It’s simply too well regulated. The Maldives has a reputation as a pristine land environment and much of this comes from the high environmental standards demanded by the government.”
At Tavarua, Jon Roseman explains a similar scenario. “Part and parcel of an exclusive surf camp is the upkeep and maintenance of the environment and natural resources,” he says. “As well as looking after local employment and education.”
So how did this pan out at Tavarua?
“The resort was first established over 30 years ago with the mandate that we would have a reciprocal relationship with the neighbouring villages and populations,” says Roseman. ”Back then in those pioneering days, people had no idea what surfing even was and thought it crazy that anyone would want to be out in the surrounding waves. In terms of our early model, our success would also be their success and a portion of all of our profits would go directly back into their housing, education, health and general well-being so that we could assist in raising their standard of living and collectively we could grow together.”
Back in The Maldives, there are pressing questions about employment prospects for the locals.
“All resorts must maintain at least 50 percent Maldivian employees,” says Lee-Miller. ”Due to the sheer number of jobs offered at a resort, the number of Maldivians employed at one resort is far higher than, say, 15 surf charter boats. It’s a mathematical fact.”
What about the theory that no man or government can own the waves and that waves are free to the surfers of the world? “Yes and that countries that control access of the indigenous resources are behaving immorally because they don’t allow unfettered access,” says Lee-Miller, the philosopher. “The thing is, a sovereign nation has every right to manage every aspect of its natural resources as it sees fit. This includes fishing resources, water resources, vegetation resources and surfing resources.”
Ok, but what about the war cry of freedom? It’s very emotional.
“Well, at some point in time the international surf community will have to find a more coherent response to over-crowded surf breaks than simple war cries,” says Miller. “Surfing is a leisure time pursuit. It needs to be fun and to make you happy.“
when Tavaura became open to the public, the good work didn’t stop.
“Tavarua Island Resort’s commitment to our staff, their families and villages is ongoing regardless of the recent changes,” says Roseman. “We have several non-profit medical foundations and continue to assist where we can.”
So the question begs itself, if people work hard, earn money and want to go to an exclusive resort, is there anything fundamentally flawed with this?
Shane Dorian doesn’t think so. “It’s easy to argue either side but it’s not exclusive if its open to anyone wanting to stay at the resort with rights to the wave. Cloudbreak was open to anyone staying on Tavarua and when you sacked your money and went there, you were guaranteed your chance to catch an epic wave on a good day. Now it’s super-crowded on most days and etiquette is nearly non-existent. Is that better than ‘exclusivity?’”
Rob Machado at the wave called Claudes in Sumba. Pay the $500 tab to stay at Nihiwatu and it’s all yours. Tight? Poor as fuck? Beat it kook. Photo: D Hump/A-Frame
The current situation in the Maldives has led to some confusion as well with some parties saying that it is a free-for-all like Tavarua while others say that there is no change in the status quo.
According to Lee-Miller, “the Ministry of Tourism put out a short notification in the national gazette that certain activities like dive sites, surf sites and reef areas for swimming will be under review and that the Ministry of Tourism will regulate the specialised zones,” says Miller. “However, the very end of the gazette article states that until specific regulations are given by the Ministry, the old regulations remain in effect.”
The 11-times world champion and frequent surf-camp visitor, Kelly Slater, agrees with Miller on the fun factor. “The ocean is everyone’s place ultimately,” says Slater, “but it is very nice to think nobody’s going to be showing up when you get somewhere to surf.”
Would Shane Dorian face a moral quandary if he were given the chance to drop some serious coin for exclusivity at an excellent new wave discovery? “No chance,” says Shane. “I just did it recently, but I’m not saying where because I am going to do it again.”
Crowds are getting worse. Surf schools pump out kooks by the thousands. Boards have never been easier to ride; waves easier to find. “The last couple of years coming to the Gold Coast and to the Mentawais has really messed up my brain,” says Slater. “I surfed a spot in the Mentawais with 16 boats one day fairly recently! That’s a huge difference from being lucky enough to go there 20 years ago when hardly any boats were around. 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.”
So the question of competency rears its head. Dr Phillip Chapman from The Surfing Doctors (surfingdoctors.com) has worked in exclusive resorts around the world, and has witnessed the carnage when incompetent surfers have access to real waves.
“One of the most frustrating things is watching perfect waves go unridden because fat businessmen cannot take-off or even paddle for the waves,” says Dr Chapman. “Exclusivity is great in theory, but very had to execute effectively in reality. There should definitely be a minimum skill requirement and at places in Indo there are no controls and it’s a free for all. This often leads to serious accidents and injuries when people out of their depth float out into six-foot reef barrels and get smashed.”
Shane differs in opinion here. When asked if resorts would do good to have some sort of ‘competency measure’ for entrance, so that incompetent people don’t drift out into the line-up at Speedies for example, Shane didn’t think it would work.
“It sounds good on paper but in real life it wouldn’t work. Besides, at Speeds all you have to do is get to your feet and go straight.”
“There are a limited number of world-class waves on the planet and a large and rapidly growing number of surfers. These spots are quickly becoming super-crowded and nearly impossible for most surfers to catch waves on good days.” – Shane Dorian
And maybe smash into other people.
During the Quiksilver Pro, Hawaiian professional surfer Fred Patacchia was run over by an out-of-control beginner and the result was picked up by Kelly.
“Freddy P recently said something on Instagram along the lines of creating space at Snapper during the event and got raked across the coals for it,” says Slater. “I think a lot of people are probably having the conversation in different ways for their own reasons. We are all to blame but the numbers have exponentially increased in recent years. I’m super flustered with it.”
Some people are prepared to buy their safety and to pay for their peace of mind, and for the happiness of their family. The resorts in the Maldives often offer a joint package where the non-surfing wife and kids pay as per normal guests and enjoy all the activities and relaxation that the resorts offer while the surfing husband or boyfriend pays a premium on his package, allowing him access to the house reef waves on top of the resort package.
It’s a situation that works and while it might be an alien concept to many, and something that many simply cannot accept, it is the way of the future and something that we are all going to have to accept at some stage. Many people totally get it. Pay the premium to surf excellent and uncrowded waves, drink fine whisky and log onto the uncapped WiFi that floats around the entire resort. A good experience.
Otherwise we can rage against it, fight the system and gnash and wail from behind our laptops at every new and exclusive resort that opens up in foreign climes and dreamy destinations and shake our heads and ponder what we once-grubby and free-wheeling surf nomads have become.
Or do we just become smarter travellers? Slater thinks that you can still do it, that you can outsmart the regulars.
”You’ve just got to be more on it than the next guy with regards the tides, the swell and the winds,” he says “The sites give us all the info we need and the matrix is alive and well with technology. We just need to use it.”
With the Maldives under review and with Cloudbreak now open to the world, who knows how much time we have left to be snobs? Best to make the most of a good thing while we can. Shane experienced some great things when he worked at Tavarua. “I reckon the best thing about the job was seeing people get the best wave of their life time and time again,” says Shane. “Helping people conquer his or her fears and have a go and see their mind get blown.”
What other options do we have to deal with the madding crowd? Well, maybe it’ll take an ex-world champ and one of the best drop-in artists in the world to show us the way to a happy future among the bleakness of overcrowding.
“We’re all going to have to spread to where it’s colder and more full of great whites soon to alleviate our stress,” says Slater. “Or practice transcendental meditation and be happy for the person lucky enough to get a wave in the crowds. Or just start sharing like Tom Carroll does! That’ll half the crowd instantly if we all start riding doubles and be cool with it. I actually think there’s a good chance of that being an option.”
Sharing. Now there’s a thought.
An Ode To Aussie Chick Pros From The Nineties
A celebration of stoicism, resilience, grit, core lordship, and unconditional love.
Update: John John Flushes Everyone Down The Haleiwa Toilet Bowl
And the CT qualifications for 2023 are set.
Riaru Ito Is Cooler Than His Cucumber Garden
Meet our passion pick for the Vans Pipe Masters.
Unlocked: Kael Walsh, Rolo Montes, And Al Cleland Jr In ‘Saturn’
Quik’s new 20-minute surf film is so good you’ll want to burn a DVD of…
How Surfers Get Paid, Episode 4
The energy drinks are here. They’ve got millions of dollars, and they want your head.
‘Saturn’ Orbits Into Southern California
Quiksilver's newest film made landfall in Encinitas, and we were there to document the occasion.
The Vans Triple Crown Of Surfing Returns In 2023
Can anyone beat John Florence and Carissa Moore in a three-week window?
What Will Airs Look Like In 10 Years?
The final installment of our editorial exploration into the nuances of airborne surfing.
Can A South African Cavern Queen With No Pipeline Experience Do Well At The Vans Pipe Masters?
Sophie Bell will have a steep learning curve in Hawaii.
After Years Of Tragic Shark Attacks, Surf Competition Returns To Reunion Island — And A CT Event Could Follow
"We compete at J-Bay and Margarets where there's the same problem." -Johanne Defay
Sharing Tubes And Hummus In The Middle East’s Surfing Jewel: Israel
No Contest does Tel Aviv!
Joao Chianca Wants A Pipeline Rematch With JJF
And ain't afraid to ride more foam to do it in the Vans Pipe Masters.
An Unorthodox Marriage Of Science And Surf
Cliff Kapono and The Mega Lab are changing stereotypes on all fronts.
Harry Bryant Dumps Crutches, Visualizes Pipeline Pits After Snapping Leg
“For once in my life, I’m taking something a bit more serious."
What If You Bought This Sumatran Surf Camp For $690k?
Making a blue print out of surfing's most recurring day dream.
Sierra Kerr On Greasing Full Rotes, Making Dad Cry & Her Concussion @ VSHPBME
'I haven’t got my license yet, but I'm thinking of buying a little truck.'