Decolonizing Sustainable Surf Tourism
As it’s being practiced today, sustainable surf tourism lets us live the illusion that we’re contributing toward a sustainability we’re comfortable with in our world view and lifestyle practices, while actually deepening oppression and sustaining social injustice on a global scale, preventing truly sustainable futures from happening in the places we love to travel to surf. There’s a difference between romanticizing poverty and embracing cultural diversity in ways of living, being, seeing and doing in the world. If sustainable surf tourism can’t see that and start re-evaluating its approach to sustainability, I fear its relevance and utility is all but dead in the water.
So this is my plea for decolonizing sustainable surf tourism. It starts with engaging ourselves in a process of serious self-reflection, both individually and collectively, around what it means to respect cultural diversity, acknowledging the implications of those realizations for the projects we’re involved in today. How can we shift our approach away from universalizing, one-size-fits-all strategies that sideline local possibilities and ways of living? How can we stop imposing Western modes of seeing, being and doing on communities whose cultures are so beautifully different from our own? How can we stop assuming we know better than?
What if we started asking different questions, like how do different people define a good life in their communities and natural environments? What does sustainability mean to them? What does it look like and feel like? How might existing modes of community interaction support non-capitalist approaches to surf tourism? How might they enrich our cross-cultural experiences as both surf tourists and local residents, while shifting the dynamic away from neoliberal approaches to (un)sustainability? How might we as surf tourists start traveling to surf differently?
Why aren’t we asking these kinds of questions? Why don’t we start?
I believe in our ability to see beyond the social conditions that inform our actions, our mentalities. And when it comes to sustainability, I believe we can do things differently. I believe we can do sustainable surf tourism a whole lot better.
And if we can dance on water every day, I believe that we, as a global surf community, can do anything we set our hearts to.