There are few who travel the world in search of exotic coastal environments, whilst experiencing local life in rural communities as much as surfers.
The beauty of natural areas is regularly enjoyed by them and it wouldn't be a great exaggeration to state that the appreciation of pristine coastlines is a sentiment that is almost universally shared by all surfers.
The will to protect marine life from human pollution and over-exploitation can easily arise in surfers in one of two ways. Either she or he grows up surfing naturally pristine surf breaks and then travels to other states or countries with different environmental regulations to find heavily polluted waters, or she or he grows up being accustomed to polluted waters either unknowing of what lies beyond their borders or, if financially able, travels to other states and countries in search of beautifully protected natural environments.
What's all too obvious when traveling is that without stringent environment laws and public will or even awareness, many natural environments have drastically deteriorated to a point of being barely able, or even unable to sustain life (and the human community which may depend on it). It is possible to successfully protect and repair ecosystems from human harm and pollution with the right laws and social attitudes, however local and tourist will, resources and information are needed to get there.
In many places, surfers are the primary form of tourism in which rural and coastal communities around the world benefit from. The exposure to the different socio-economical characteristics which a rural community may be governed by may also provide the travelling surfer with a desire to help and bring about positive change in any way they can.
However, as with all demographics, one ought to not fall into the trap of generalising and placing the whole group into a single category. There are many in the traveling surfing community who travel with a stag party mentality, without consciousness of their effect on the environment or the communities in which they visit. Anybody who has experienced the modern Balinese surfing culture would be able to testify with examples of recklessness ranging from nightlife hungry groups, who can exploit locals and the environment, to the surfers who (by choice, comfort or both) invest primarily in foreign businesses, that often bring no manner of support to the communities in which they operate. This can have the effect of furthering the divide not only between the surf culture and the local communities, but also between any given outsider or tourist and the local community. The result is often a distrust of foreigners and at times it's no wonder why foreign environmental advice or a willingness to help can often fall on deaf ears.
One could reason that surfers who travel alone usually act in better representation of the surfing community as they're more likely to engage with and respect the local communities in the places that they visit. When relationships start to blossom between the visitors and the locals due to healthy engagement between them, everybody benefits and quite often local ecosystems do as well. It's so important to remember that, as a visitor, you can create change just by sparking a conversation with a local or by investing your money thoughtfully and choosing to abide by local laws while treating the local people and their environment as you would your own backyard.
Because surfing has enormous potential to help or hinder local progress in conserving or enhancing the health of marine ecosystems, it is a primary focus in the work that we are undertaking in coastal communities. Informed locals and informed tourists are key to driving positive change for marine life and that's why our Global Programs at PCFML are aimed at shifting not only local practices, but the hearts and minds of foreign tourists as well.
We believe that surfers have a responsibility to protect the ocean that they connect to and rely on for pleasure and we are excited to be able to incorporate surfing and surf culture into the work that we do. To support our Global Programs, please follow this link and stay tuned for Part Two of our Surf Culture special!