I’m the biggest travel fiend going and I’ve managed to make travel a big part of my life. I love every single part of it; spending hours in the internet looking at the waves I’m going to surf, looking through skyscanner for the flight that works out best, buying travel stuff like tropical wax, waiting around at the airport all restless and excited and then there’s being away. I always manage to feel at home away from home, even in the most far-flung places. But it does always lead me on to think, this trip has given me a little slice of paradise and apart from a patronising tip to the locals, what can I give in return?
Us surfers seem to be drawn to the countries with environmental, social and political problems and as surfing becomes more popular and flights become more accessible and cost effective, we are inadvertently having an increasing destructive impact on the places we visit.
So I always try to learn about the local culture (although I probably should have learnt a bit more about offerings to Buddha when I picked up an orange thinking it was a complimentary appetiser) and dress accordingly. That doesn’t mean full robes but just maybe not strutting through Taghazout topless in short shorts. I also try to learn a few words of the local language, even if it is just “Uno mas por favour” but most importantly I try to support the local economy where possible.
For a lot of the surfing holidays I run we will hire surfboards from the local surf shops instead of bringing our own, we’ll never eat at a chain food outlet and always eat local or buy food from a local market. Stuff like this I think really does make a difference, but the main thing I do is to not travel with rose tinted glasses, but open my eyes and encourage guests on a trip with me to do the same.
Sri Lanka for example, it’s a beautiful place home to great waves and it is so cheap it can be exploited very easily. But if you are traveling here be mindful about the fact that the country has literally just pulled through one of the bloodiest civil wars in history that has directly affected every single Sri Lankan, oh and not to mention the Tsunami. So be kind and respect local cultures. There may be a few mangey looking feral dogs kicking around and the locals do eat with their hands, but it’s all part of the experience. Show the dogs some love, they’ve been through a lot too and ask the locals how to eat local style, they will be honoured to show you. And please don’t barter for pennies.
Maybe you’re in the Maldives supping beers after 9 hours of surf time, it seems like actual paradise but just remember that the country has been repeatedly called out Amnesty International for extreme human rights violations.
And not to mention the execution of the alleged drug traffickers in Bali…
With open eyes, you can see that Paradise isn’t perfect but you can see how to make a difference and how to spend your money effectively. There are loads of organisations out there who are using surfing as a tool for environmental and social change in these hostile environments, so do your bit if you can and support them.
On that note I’m doing a crazy cycle from Newquay, Cornwall, to Santander, Spain for the awesome charity Waves For Change; a small charity that works with vulnerable young people in some of South Africa’s most unstable and violent communities, helping them develop basic coping skills and emotional stability through surfing. I’ve never ridden a road bike before and it’s about 1,000 miles so please support us.