When travelling to far flung locations do you ever stop to think what impact your visit, and that of all your fellow surf travelers is having on your destination of choice and the people who live there?
Your immediate reaction is probably that you bring cash in, which can only be a positive thing for the local community. Indeed, new research from the university of Sydney greatly supports what we all intuitively believed already; that the discovery of new high-quality surf breaks aids economic growth in the surrounding area.
The brutal reality is that surfers… have degraded the island of Bali beyond recognition
The researchers used satellite images of night time lights as a ‘proxy’ determiner of economic growth and studied more than 5000 surf breaks, across 146 countries, using data that spans data between 1992 and 2013.
The results showed that the discovery of a high-quality break can raise growth by up to 2.2 percentage points a year.
“We conducted four sets of experiments, and they all confirm that good waves significantly increase growth, particularly after recent discoveries and during El Niño years,” said Dr Sam Wills, of the University of Sydney’s School of Economics, in an interview with Phys.org
Further to their broad analysis, the researchers specifically investigated two places where surf breaks were removed, or their quality significantly decreased, to find out what impact this would have on the local economy. The two breaks in question were Jardim do Mar in Madeira, which was impacted negatively by the construction of a coastal road and the world famous point break in Mundaka, Spain, which too suffered a dramatic loss of quality after the river was dredged. The researchers discovered that the nearby economies shrunk in these occurrences.
Every swell sees hundreds of spectators flock to the clifftop to enjoy the spectacle
The paper suggested that policymakers can use the discovery of high-quality surf breaks as a means of creating jobs for local people and reducing poverty, especially in developing countries. One particularly exemplary example of this sort of thinking can be found in Portugal.
In 2011 the local council in Nazaré funded a project called ‘Zon North Canyon’, where they invited Garrett Mcnamara over to surf and publicise the waves at Praia Do Norte, kicking off the chain of events that has helped it to become one of the most prominent big waves in the world. The beach now hosts its own WSL BWT event and every swell sees hundreds of spectators flock to the clifftop to enjoy the spectacle, bringing a huge boost to the local economy with them.
Surf tourism can of course also have a detrimental impact on the local community, with an increase in visitors threatening local cultures, which can subsequently lead to conflict. The development of surf camps and holiday apartments can also send costs of houses soaring, which in some instances drives out local people altogether. Rapid development can also put pressure on existing infrastructure if not managed well and cause damage to the environment and ecosystems.
In a recent article on the Guardian Jock Serong muses that ‘the brutal reality is that surfers… have degraded the island of Bali beyond recognition’ adding that the surf driven developments in Torquay, Australia have ‘choked the freeways and concretes the verdant hills that once surrounded Bells’.
Kelly Slater agrees, Bali is in serious trouble, tweeting a few years ago that if it ‘doesn’t #Dosomething serious about this pollution it’ll be impossible to surf [there] in a few years.’ concluding that it was the worst he’d ever seen it. Whilst surfers are clearly not solely to blame, the massive influx of visitors (more than 500 a day on average flock to Ulus) has obviously put pressure on the nation’s insufficient waste management systems.
Conversely, Jack also argues in the piece that surfers all over the world have spearheaded campaigns to turn coastal regions into national parks, and pushed for the construction of sea defences, such as the protection and management of sand dunes.
Similarly, in areas where large surfing communities become established there tends to be a greater care and understanding for the marine environment, including the local wildlife, which often results in increased lobbying on governments to protect and preserve such areas. Organisations such as Surfrider Foundation, Save the Waves Coalition and Surfers Agains Sewage were founded by surfers and have made a real difference in preserving beaches, reefs and areas of ocean, that there may not have been nearly as much support for, were they not favoured by surfers.
What do you think? Are there places where surfers net contribution to the local environment and community has been wholly positive? Equally are there places where you feel an influx of surf tourism has been disastrous? Let us know in the comments.