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Surfing is Supposed to be Paradise

Every time a new ‘untouched paradise’; is discovered, the first thing everyone wants to do is visit it. By their united enthusiasm to find these ‘sanctuaries’; people bring the cage of society with them. Very quickly it becomes necessary to erect bars to keep people out. William Tucker ‘Is Nature Too Good For Us? ‘; William Tucker’s essay ‘Is Nature Too Good For Us’; discusses the complications with the environmental movement to set aside pieces of land as wilderness.

One of the main points of Tucker’s argument brings up the problem with preserving natural land as wilderness is that these wild paradises often conflict with people’s desire to visit these paradises and experience them. Tucker uses the example of Kauai as a paradise that has been ruined by the overuse and overpopulation. Tucker describes how in 1964 the Sierra Club put out an article on the relatively unknown island and by 1979 Time magazine ran an article in which some of the local people expressed their desire to keep outsiders out.

The issue of protecting paradise is a hotly debated topic that is currently being fought over by surfers. To a surfer nothing is more rewarding than the search and discovery of perfect uncrowded waves. This notion of the search for uncrowded surf was brought to the attention of the general public with the 1963 release of Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer. The film documented two surfers traveling around the world to exotic locales previously left unexplored by the surfers of Western civilization.

The images that Brown brought back to mainstream movie screens forever changed the lives of surfers. This film changed how surfers viewed the world. No longer were surfers confined to their local coastlines, they were inoculated with desire to seek out their own paradise. Over the years many surfers have found their little piece of paradise and never left. Instead these surfers have opted to spend the rest of their lives surfing the waves they initially had intended to just visit and experience.

They never left these beaches because the waves were uncrowded and the beaches were breathtakingly beautiful. Compare this to the modern industrial places in the U. S such as Los Angeles or San Francisco and you can see why surfers are constantly searching for paradise. Surfers get tired of surfing in crowded, polluted, and poor wave producing areas, so they travel. The problem is that thousands and thousands of surfers feel the same about searching for paradises.

Every time groups of surfers go searching for perfect waves many opt to not return. These surfers that remain start up families and then start up businesses to support their families. Since these surfers live in areas that only traveling surfers are interested in (because the waves are perfect and uncrowded) the transplanted surfers aim their businesses towards catering to the needs of surfers. As more and more surfers frequent an area more and more surfers find these paradises equally appealing.

Since the sixties these once uninhabited beaches are growing and becoming as crowded and as ugly as the places the surfers originally escaped from. In the nineties surf tourism has ruined many majestic stretches of sand. One place in the world currently feeling the effects of traveling surfers and their needs are the Mentawai Islands, an island chain ninety miles west of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. This area in the past five years has received a rash of media exposure which has abruptly rendered the islands as the latest ‘must-surf’; zone for the international surf junky.

This area has been tremendously exploited by the surf companies as well. Quicksilver, the number one surfwear company, has centered their entire advertising campaign around images extracted from local Mentawaian surf spots. The waves these island bear are still perfect yet, they are rapidly becoming more and more crowded, but they still are a lot less crowded than other places. To surfers living in highly populated and industrial countries the Mentawais still offer the chance to experience how it ‘used to be’;.

Surfers willing to pay a lot of money to surf these uncrowded waves in hopes that they might be able to experience what those two surfers in the Endless Summer might have felt. Due to the high demands of the wealthy surfers all over the world to visit this hotspot, shrewd businessmen have taken up the idea of capitalizing on the surfing community’s needs. This has caused an abundance of surf charter operations in the area. With an abundance of surf charters in the area the Mentawais have become overcrowded with polluting boats and way more surfers than the two hundred miles of coastline should have to handle.

Surfers that come to this destination bring the preconceived notion of a surfing heaven that the surf media has implanted into their brains come to find that the waves are not completely uncrowded and that there are people from different boats surfing the same waves. Sometimes the waves become just as crowded as the places they have attempted to escape from. The over population of the Mentawais has led to surf charter companies fighting over who has the right to surf these islands.

One man, Rick Cameron, has gone so far as to sway Western Sumatran officials into granting his company exclusive right to surf spots on these islands. These same officials that gave Cameron a monopoly over the surf breaks also allowed him to lease land on one of the surf laden islands so he can build a hotel with a paved road running around the entire island so that guests will be able to drive around the island and choose which spot they want to surf. Since Cameron has been granted an exclusive right to the surf breaks he has taken it upon himself to charge other boat operators to use his breaks.

This has lead to severe hostilities in the area between the other companies trying to run charters in the area. As of the last charter season, the dispute has gone unresolved. Tucker’s commentary on the ‘Impossible Paradises’; fits what is going on in the Mentawais. It is impossible for a paradise to go uninhabited because people want to live or at least visit these places. A majority of people in the world live in urban industrial zones that seem to have no resemblance to the paradises that they read and hear about.

It is human nature to explore places we have never been but we must consider too that these places survived just fine without us. Surfers do not consider the ramifications that our search for perfect uncrowded waves brings onto us. We also forget consider the nonsurfers of the world. Surfers are all wrapped up in our hedonistic desires. Surfers are going to keep searching as long as we know that there are waves out there that are perfect and uncrowded. The stoke that a surfer receives from a good ride is what keeps us surfing. As a surfer I honestly know that I am hooked on riding waves.

I would like to think the ocean is something that should be shared by everyone but I honestly disagree with that statement. It makes me sad to see surf spots get ruined because of crowds. If I were to find a surfing paradise I would keep it a secret. As the world grows and the number of perfect uncrowded waves will obviously diminish. The surfing world is going to have to learn how to share the ocean. Until that day comes I and about a couple million or so will keep being greedy and dedicated to the search for perfect uncrowded waves.

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