How long can a wave like this stay secret? Photo: Callahan/SurfExplore

How long can a wave like this stay secret? Photo: Callahan/SurfExplore


The Inertia

It is an eternal subject of debate: Should we keep surf spots secret or not? We all know a handful of hidden waves, where one parks in the bushes and walks the pathway like a fugitive, always looking behind to make sure nobody noticed the surfboard under your arm. This is a Secret Garden, the kind of place where you never take anybody else with you. Or maybe a few selected friends sworn to silence and perhaps blindfolded for security.

We all know good waves that were unknown before and are now getting overcrowded every day. I am sure every surfer has his or her own opinion about that. On one side, you have the surfers who want to stay quietly alone at their secret spots; some of them can become really hardcore and even use violence to protect these waves. On the other side, you have surfers who lose friends because they had a great surf on a new wave – and they cannot keep their mouth shut. They have to share it to all the surfers around and on Facebook and Twitter. This is always subject to controversy in the surfing community. But do we know what the future is made of? The world is changing. Will the secret spots of today still be secrets tomorrow?

In the short history of surfing, secret spots started to get known by word of mouth. Then the surfing community got bigger and wider, the media appeared with magazines and surf films, and they started to build up the reputation of the main surf spots around the world like Malibu, Rincon, Pipeline, Hossegor and Honolua Bay. The addiction to surf magazines was strong; no other media other than occasional films existed at the time. Photographers and editors were aware of the community turmoil following publication about a new wave, a place that often turned out to be someone’s secret spot. They also knew stories about travel to unknown areas were hugely popular with their readers and made for best-selling issues. Crowds of surfers invaded new stretches of coast in Mexico, Australia and Indonesia, some people started to sell property, create surf camps and to organise boat charter trips. Some places turned from lost, wild and unsurfed to new destinations for mass surf tourism, like Costa Rica, Morocco and Nicaragua.

Surfer Magazine began to publish “The Surf Report”, an effort to help surfers to organize their surftrips, and the Stormrider Guides (Low Pressure Editions) got the idea to produce guidebooks for surf travelers with most of the information about the main destinations around the world. Of course this development made many surfers unhappy and some started to radicalize themselves to protect their waves from the expected crowds and from more unwanted media attention, the “Black Shorts” in Hawaii or the “White Shorts” in Mauritius by example. At the most extreme magazine editors, photographers and surfers have received death threats over “secret spots”.

We have now entered the 21st century, and many things have changed. More than one third of the planet is now using the Internet. We have entered the Web 2.0 era. Information circulates very quickly all over the planet. People can easily interact, exchange information and give their opinion. What used to take months to become common knowledge in the surfing community now takes minutes.

There are more than 1 billion human beings using social networks. Anybody can share photos and videos from almost anywhere with a smartphone, a connection and an account with Instagram or similar service. There is a vast quantity of digitized information circulating every minute, and at any given time more than 500,000 people are aloft in airplanes, flying to and from almost every country or region on earth. Today I can see my own car parked in front my homebreak on Google Earth, I can check the forecast before booking a flight and I can access info in several languages about the spots on wannasurf.com  or download the Stormrider Guides to my destination onto my smartphone. Most surfers are now fed by an avalanche of daily photos, videos and reports from pretty much everywhere. There are so many possibilities now that many surfers don’t know where to go during their next surfing holiday.

Information was crucial before, it is still important today, but physical access is another matter. The construction of a new airport or a new road can open an isolated region to travelers, particularly for surfers, climbers, divers and other spear-point travelers. That points out a growing impact on surfing: the planet and the oceans are threatened by rapid development around the world, especially in emerging countries where surfing culture and ocean awareness is minimal.

How many world class waves have been destroyed by development already, like La Barre in France, Jardim do Mar in Madeira, or Petacalco in Mexico? New ports, harbors, marinas, jetties, hydro-power dams, tetrapods, urbanization, artificial coastal developments, water pollution, sand dredging, mining, etc. Surf spots around the world are endangered by all these developments. Save the Waves is one of several organizations created to protect endangered surf spots. Like surfer’s jewels, these waves are more and more in competition with other industries like mass tourism, military and merchant ports, fishing, electricity production, mining and other extractive activities, etc. Surfers managed to establish World Surfing Reserves in California, Australia and in Europe where surf culture is well-established and strong, which is a positive development for surfing worldwide. These programs and awareness need to be spread to emerging countries where surf culture is new and not part of the mainstream.

The value of a wave and all its associated economic impact are the new factors to protect surfspots against development threats. But what about secret spots ? How many unknown waves disappear every day under the excavators or new tetrapod barriers without anyone being aware? A quality surfing wave is nothing compared to a big coastal property development or a jetty to protect fishing boats providing millions in export product. Photographer John Seaton Callahan and the surfEXPLORE team are scouting the remote places of this beautiful planet in search of new waves in a different cultural context and they often encounter that exact problem in developing nations.

For example, the proposed project of a jetty in the Western Sahara, a huge iron ore export port project in Western Africa, cyanide and dynamite fishing in the coral reefs of southeast Asia, all are going on right now with little awareness and no momentum to stop these developments and destructive practices. Unknown waves are destroyed because they have no value and are not regarded as a possible source of income. A virgin wave is potentially an endangered wave. While documenting unsurfed places and highlighting forgotten surf spots, the SurfEXPLORE team expects to give them an economic value for the future, to avoid the fate of Petacalco, La Barre or Jardim do Mar.

For the traditionalists, there will still be secret spots. A sandbar can move in just a few days to create a perfect new wave, or the combination of rare conditions can light up an average spot with classic conditions as happened with Santa Clara rivermouth in California during the El Nino of the winter of 1983, waves not seen before or since. If you find an empty line up anywhere around the world on your travels, thank the Gods of Surf and get wet immediately! But don’t forget to take a few photos and share them with your friends, the world is changing quickly and you don’t know what plans there may be for the future of this new spot. A wave-destroying development could already be in the planning stages.

View photos of 10 Endangered Secret Spots by the SurfExplore crew.

Follow SurfEXPLORE on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Weibo.

View John Callahan’s 20 Best Surfing Islands and more from SurfExplore on The Inertia.


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=799396091 Matt Haisch Peregrine

    I was once a prolific contributor to wannasurf. It has always been my opinion that secrets are for the greedy

    • Kooks McGee

      secrets are no fun if you don’t figure them out yourself.

  • Kooks McGee

    Some spots will always stay “secret” due to isolation, but if you put any foreground in the photo, even background I can usually figure it out what country it is.