Many of us decide our foreign surfing destinations based on their remoteness and the satisfaction of the effort it takes to reach uttermost perfection in the most bizarre locations. A few folks are lucky enough to get stoked in their homeland year round; my Victorian pals that barrel down The Great Ocean Road in search of summer lumps are usually not so lucky. At least the weather is nice.
Some are flung into isolated locations based on their working schedules or simply by living a nomadic and sporadic existence. Very often, these remote locations will have their roots grounded in traditional settings, but they are also more than likely to be a part of the so-called “developing-world.” Countries that shimmer from brief financial enlightenment through decisions made in Washington and The Hague, but underneath all of the financial dependency lies something more significant.
This significance is searched for by most, diminished by a few, and celebrated by those who aren’t looking for joy but are happy just to hold the company of foreigners. Surfing while integrated into the developing world can be a life-changing experience, but it can also highlight the trials and tribulations of locations that suffer from geographical, cultural and environmental catastrophes.
The Pacific Islands are one such location where two of those elements are causing significant issues. Geographical remoteness puts many Pacific Islands in desperate economic circumstances, where the export of goods is limited to fish–with a bit of tourism, if they’re lucky–and the level of imports continue to rise as globalization flexes itswesternized muscle.
Needs of the local population begin to morph into a purchasing environment that Joseph Stiglitz would be proud of. Canned beef and soft drinks begin to dominate cultural settings. Soon, the containers also begin to wash up on the once pristine beaches of these tiny nations. Aid dependency increases as does the need for fuel subsidies fulfilled by international donors. As new roads are built, the number of cars grows without any way to relocate them once they’re deemed unusable.
The surf, however, remains the same. Different passes and reefs are still pounded by swells coming from every direction possible. Those who have traveled great distances are usually rewarded, and most visitors are in tune and respectful. Having witnessed forms of this tourism in remote locales, there are some who don’t wish to open their salt-encrusted eyes to what may be occurring onshore. This is somewhat understandable, as perhaps during their regular lives the mind is full.
Is it our responsibility to permit those waiting in the sandy wings to have a crack at what our passion has allowed us to feel?
As I witness this, observing another king tide wash upon the fragile shores of South Tarawa, you can see the local kids frolicking in the surf with little more than a sheet of styrofoam. Their style is free and without worry. There’s no pressure from those floating amongst them, but competitiveness is still here. When they are finished with the activity–their own version of stoke– they retire back to their corrugated iron shacks, riddled with holes and lashed together with coconut string.
As the sun sets and the trade winds take hold again, those pieces of styrofoam wash gently down the reef. They continue their journey to a place far, far away. I can’t help feeling as though that’s the same journey many of kindred spirits take, visiting shore upon shore, polluting the land.