This post is garbage.
But let’s talk about how we, as surfers, allow ourselves to slide into the role of colonizers, and how the stereotype of the ignorant, waterlogged bro allows us to keep getting away with it.
In my mind, one of colonization’s hallmarks is the transformation of a local economy’s resources into a form of wealth which is subsequently transferred into an second economy and community that is only marginally related to the first. Top of mind places where I’ve come across this phenomenon: in Malcolm X’s critique of Harlem’s inhabitants patronizing businesses not owned by members of the community. Domino Sugar’s domination of the sugar plantations in Puerto Rico, creating wealth for their mainland American owners. The United States government’s occupation of Iraq, where contractors are happy to import labor from home while Iraqis remain jobless.
We are this kind of free floating community whose gravity is centered upon a sport which is spiritually, emotionally and physically rewarding, generally a far cry from the repercussions of enterprise and entrepreneurship - but as the claws of the WSL dig into the mainstream, we have to acknowledge that our impact is widening, and with that does our responsibility.
I was surfing in Virginia Beach when the ESA had a tournament, threatening surfers who crossed over into the contest area when I had this thought. The ESA can push surfers out of an area of the ocean (how? I don’t even know. I was pretty sure that anything up to the high tide mark is public property) for the sake of their organization, same as the World Surf League. The local government should be representing the local interest, but for a sport just coming into the margins, there are little odds they are tuned to the interests of the locals. The surfing organizations build empires with what guarantees to the local economy, I know not. The WSL is based in California, with tournaments all over the world. From an outsider’s perspective, it appears the steady work remains in the confines of the United States, and any local benefit is seasonal at best (that is, if the WSL decides to run contests at all that year).
While Tavarua can be seen as a model for surf resorts, sharing 5% of its gross profits (emphasis on gross, before fixed costs and such), the histories of such privatization of foreign lands by Americans are tricky at best. If Tavarua was run by natives, would the area’s economics be further emboldened, and by how much? As a corollary, imagine if Domino Sugar was owned by Puerto Ricans when it took over the island’s sugar economy. would the rate of reinvestment in the society, culture, and economics have been enough to fortify them better against storms such as Maria, and as such, how quickly would they have been able to rebound from the storm, given the assumption that they would be far less dependent upon the mainland to provide support?
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more politically and socially aware, so now a trip to a second world country brings much more than dreams of largely uncrowded waves. It brings questions of who is benefitting, and how the spoils of the enterprise are being distributed. These are worthy things for mature adults with the capital for international travel to bear in mind. We make choices about how we are compromised in this life, and there are always thoughts that we gleefully ignore in order to get ours. At this juncture, I don’t think, collectively, it’s fair to slough them off any longer. Our surf bro stereotypes have allowed us to operate under the cover of a supposed ignorance, a surfy zenness that people who don’t surf are happy to ascribe to our community. If we are idiots, we are willful ones. It works for counterculture, but mainstreaming necessitates accountability.
The United States took Hawai’i from its people, and by doing so took the spoils of the local economy and shuttled it back to the mainland - there are clear parallels the United States occupation of Puerto Rico. In the moves of the WSL, I see a shift further and further away from the respect we pay to the homeland of our sport, the least a white interloper could do for the nasty side effects our forebears brought upon the island. The wrestling over the Pipeline permits further shows the bad faith our ruling body shows to the people of the islands. We’re still pilfering like we have no sense of history, but you can’t live that in the Twitter age. It’s all there for us to consume.