Senior Editor

The Inertia

Papua New Guinea is still relatively new on surf tourism’s radar. That’s not for lack of waves, though–all year around, PNG has the potential for a vast variety of setups. From June through to October, south swells pump over a barrier reef that wraps around the entire southern seaboard. From November through May, the northern side, full of world class waves, turns on for months on end. There’s a huge number of different waves, ranging from thumping beach breaks and long, running points, to barreling, shallow reef breaks.

For hundreds of years before surfing became what it is today, villagers in Papua New Guinea rode waves on planks of wood called palangs (or splinters). In many places in the world, overcrowding is evident almost everywhere you look. It’s hard to find a wave to yourself these days, and even the most far flung destinations aren’t immune. But Papua New Guinea has a surf management plan that might be worth looking into, especially for places where overcrowding is becoming a real issue.

Since a large portion of PNG’s land is owned by traditional clans, the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea came up with a way to keep everyone happy when the inevitable influx of surfers made their way there. Local coastal communities own the land and the reefs, and with that ownership comes the responsibility to care for them. PNG’s Surf Management Plans “enlist sustainable quota limits in exchange for fees and levies.” In short, you pay for your session, which sounds bad. But hold on a second.

Back in the late ’80s, a man named Andy Abel recognized that surf tourism held both positive and negative impacts on small communities.  Of course, the influx of tourist dollars can be a benefit, but when foreign investors buy their way in and line their pockets with money off the backs of the locals, the only one that benefits is the fat cat with the deep pockets–and in many cases the sanctity of the places they’re making money off of is less important than the money itself.  Here’s where Abel sought to build a fork in the road. He created surf clubs for each community with a surf spot nearby. The club is a representative of the community, who in turn are custodians of the surf spot and the land around it. Each club manages surf tourism depending on the issues in each community. Limits are places on the number of surfers, and surfers visiting the area are charged a fee of about $12 a day. At the end of the season, the surf club and the community find projects that will improve the village, like water sanitation or schools, and use the money how the village sees fit. “This has a twofold effect of supporting the development of surf clubs and the sport itself,” says “It also generates a passive income stream for the reef custodians/communities.”

Of course, a plan like this leaves a lot of room for corruption, and of course, it also brings into question if anyone should have to pay to surf waves. But in many places, there is clearly a problem stemming, in large part, from visiting surfers–take Bali, for instance. Overcrowding is rampant, and massive piles of trash literally litter the Indonesian island.

Clearly, there is room for improvement, and Papua New Guinea’s surf management plan might be the answer.

The video above was made by White Horses Magazine


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