I was stumbling my way across the sand to my table in front of a dimly lit beachfront Nicaraguan bar, two cold Toñas in either hand, when I heard my wife ‘s raised voiced laying into some kid we’d met earlier that day.
He was your typical surf tourist. The same kid I was at his age. Skinny, blonde, tanned to a crisp. Drunkenly regaling my wife with tales of rude locals, explaining the “lack of respect” he faced on a daily basis. He’d been in the country for months, had “earned” his way into the lineup. Bitching and moaning about being burned, about being left out, about feeling like an invader in a place he’d come to feel he belonged.
It was stupid and naive and not the sort of thing you say to my very vocal spouse. Especially when she’s spent the day pounding beers in the equatorial sun, moved onto the odd shot once the sun set, and is feeling a drunken urge to bully a young adult who hasn’t learned the value of stoicism.
I patted her on the shoulder, tried to calm her down. He got up to leave and shot me a look that said, “Your wife is a bitch.” All I could do was shrug. Despite residing with a person who lives and dies by the ocean, she’s never been much exposed to surf culture. She’s not interested. I don’t blame her. Spouses don’t need to share every interest. Probably shouldn’t. Even with him gone, she kept building steam. “How dare he? He’s a visitor. He’s just gonna work in a surf camp for a few fucking months then run back home to mommy and daddy! He’s not even helping the local economy. He’s broke as fuck.”
“Yep. That’s surfing.”
Surf travel carries with it a toxic culture. A me-first mentality wrapped in pseudo-enlightenment. Surfers have helped reduce tropical paradises to slums ever since the first sojourner with capitalist leanings struck upon the idea of selling pre-packaged stoke. Set up shop, attempt to use a local resource to line your pockets. Shed false tears when it all goes tits up. Degradation stalks our every step outside the bounds of our local lineups. Woe be to any community that sees dollar signs in inviting us in.
Hardly news. Not even an open secret. The cost of promoting any location as a surf travel destination is high. The price is usually paid by the poor souls who were there first. Occasionally by the true adventurers who know how to read a map, find a spot, then keep their mouths shut.
They are few and far between. A single post on social media is enough to permanently destroy that status.
With this in mind, it’s difficult to grasp the reaction to The Inertia’s purported outing of The Search’s newest reveal. This is how things work. Other people find it, they promote it. The magic dies. The same argument’s been raging since the Forgotten Island of Santosha.
The Search is not about discovery, it’s about exploitation. Remember, this is the same company that ran an ASP event at La Barra in 2006 and low-balled the local community rather than build the promised medical center. The same company caught using literal slaves to manufacture their goods. To be fair, they’re hardly alone. Surfing is a solitary activity. It’s the act of riding a wave. Everything else is not only superfluous, it’s inherently exploitative. The industry, the media, are here to feed your addiction, not provide a better world. Some may pretend otherwise. Watch out for them, especially.
Is outing a secret spot a dick move? Sure. Is providing information about a wave that’s recently been used to heavily promote a brand the same thing? Hardly.
I could pretend it doesn’t matter. That the point is moot. The wave is too remote, the trip too arduous. It’s a high-speed, thumping beach break barrel, beyond the reach of your average stink bug hip wiggler. No one will go there. It’s just too damn difficult.
But that’d be a lie. Pandora’s box is wide open. As I type this people are already planning their trips. Some are researching land prices and local infrastructure and racking their brains over funding.
Skeleton Bay was supposedly nearly inaccessible, now it’s mobbed.
The online hue and cry means nothing. Media outlets pointing fingers is laughable. No one is innocent. Everyone is to blame. And that will never change. As long as surfers want to see new waves, as long as corporations can profit by finding them, as long as an embedded link can earn a million pairs of eyes, this is how things will be.
The surf media, the surf industry, are nothing but pimps. Surfing is our whore.
But don’t start feeling too high and mighty. Y’all are our johns. We wouldn’t exist without you.