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Wrist bands are going to be the norm. It's like an all-inclusive, only way more fun. The crowds will be similar.

Wrist bands are going to be the norm. It’s like an all-inclusive, only way more fun. The crowds will be similar. Photo: Jack Dekort


The Inertia

The Mentawai regency and legislative council have announced that they will be introducing a surfing tax in 2016. “We only get the name, garbage, and environmental damage,” said the Metawai Islands Deputy Regent Rijel Samaloisa. “There is no regulation that allows us to collect tax.” The bylaws being drafted also impose a tax on scuba divers, cruise ships, and restaurants and home stays. If passed, these new taxes will help the country construct supporting facilities at a number of surf spots such as jetties, moors, health facilities, roads, transportation, and security. It is hoped that the new taxes will generate over Rp 35 billion [US $2.7 million] annually.

Located in the Indian Ocean just off the western coast of Sumatra in Indonesia, the Mentawai Islands are known for being home to some of the best waves on the planet. In an average year, the region sees over 5,000 foreign surf tourists each year, but last year, according to the Jakarta Post, over that number reached over 7,000. For visitors, the tax is expected to be US $76 for 15-day access. Boat tours will also be charged US $380 for 15-day access. Permission to shoot a documentary or surf film will run filmmakers US $1520.

These additional costs are not expected to impact the number of surfers traveling to the Mentawais. Average surf trips for this region typically cost between $2,500 and $5,000 per person, and those making the trek are already willing to spend a good chunk of change to surf the best waves on the planet. In this regard, the tax is nominal, and should make little impact in the cost of surfing in the Mentawais. However, there is greater concern regarding where this tax revenue will be spent.

A similar tax was imposed on boat charters in 2012. This tax charged boat owners about US $3 per surfer per day. Boat owner Shayne Whitfield charters both the Kaimana and the Kaimana II told Stab Magazine that contrary to popular belief, boat owners had no problem sharing revenues. “We paid it happily,” he said. “We aren’t just here to take, take, take. But the problem was, the money never made its way to the people.” In the case of the 2012 tax, government corruption intervened preventing funds from reaching the local people and infrastructure. In fact, no one really knows where the revenue from the 2012 tax was spent. All that is known is that the Regent and Tourism office heads were imprisoned for corruption, and then the tax was revoked.

Many worry that the new surf tax will follow suit. To begin with, the government will have to allocate an immense amount of resources just to enforce the surf tax. Surfers will be required to wear wristbands for the duration of their trip, and boats will be required to display permits. Additionally, it is feared that the revenue taken in will once again be diverted away from local people into the pockets of the Tourism Ministry. On the bright side, the newest president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, is working hard to try to stamp out corruption–which has long been a problem in the idyllic islands.

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