”The two economic poles of globalization, the ones that seem to live in different centuries, not countries, were suddenly put in direct conflict over the same piece of coastline, one demanding the right to work, the other demanding the right to play. Backed up by the guns of local police and private security, it was militarized gentrification, class warfare on the beach (Klein, p. 508).”
While doing research for the previous post, strange imperialism and neoconservative ethos in the Surf Industrial Complex, I discovered a disconcerting pattern of opportunism. This pattern is enacted through the hollow governing bodies* of the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) and the International Surfing Association (ISA) in areas that are seeking to build tourism.
Two locations previously mentioned, China’s Hainan Island and Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka, both broke ground last year with ASP events and in China this year, with an additional ISA event. The unique challenges of the ASP China event have been covered extensively, but the Sri Lanka event and the circumstances surrounding Arugam Bay and the Sri Lanka government’s gross mismanagement of the 2004 tsunami relief funds has not.
A document called the “Arugam Bay Resource Development Plan” outlines the SL government’s plans to transform the area into a model for thirty new “tourism zones” that would be high-end boutique shopping seaside resort destinations for luxury travelers willing to spend $300 a night eco-tourism chalets.†
“It was the weeping faces of these fishing families and others like them in Thailand and Indonesia that had triggered the historic outpouring of international generosity after the tsunami — it had been their relatives piled up in mosques, their wailing mothers trying to identify a drowned baby, their children swept to sea. Yet for communities like Arugam Bay, the ‘reconstruction’ meant nothing less than the deliberate destruction of their culture and way of life and the theft of their land. As Kumari [the interpreter] said, the entire reconstruction process would result in ‘victimizing the victims, exploiting the exploited (Klein, p.492).’”
Surrounding these events is an ongoing, violent civil war and a government with a distaste for free speech and a tendency to violate the basic human rights of its own people. You can read more about these issues at the website for Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice and at Kurungabaa.net.
As mentioned previously, the ASP event last year seemed to inspire a deluge of destruction, when only two months after the event, Arugam Bay was bulldozed, ostensibly to push future tourists (a large number of whom are surf tourists) to the area’s more expensive hotels (the first, but not the last time this happened).
If this is the blueprint for other coastline tourism zones in Sri Lanka with an explicit emphasis on surf tourism for Arugam Bay, and the ASP was the first professional grade event staged here, this begs the question: Is taking advantage of being a “boost” to the eco-tourism of Sri Lanka morally and ethically sound? Especially given that the event, rather than help those most in need, engenders actions that are repressive and violent.
The tsunami of 2004 tore through the Pacific, decimating miles of coastline. I watched hours of footage and was awestruck at the power and destructive force of an ocean I thought I knew. That the ocean could rise up and cast itself so deep into the entrails of the land, wrenching and uprooting everything in its path, was more than an eye-opener: it was a fundamental shift in my relationship with it. When the tsunami in Japan hit, I remained awake throughout the night bearing witness again to this monster.
In India, when the tsunami of 2004 struck the southern state of Kerala, more than 170 people died, 2,450 were injured, 240,000 coastal residents were displaced to temporary relief camps and some 13,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. The largest losses, just as in Sri Lanka, were suffered by the fishing communities, only in this case, India’s largest fishing fleet (made up of small craft like the one pictured above) was destroyed.
Like Sri Lanka, tsunami relief funds came flooding in from around the globe, all intended to help rebuild and reconstruct the people’s lives and areas most affected. In a strange twist, about $15.5 million of the total $264 million Tsunami Relief fund, was allocated by India’s Central Government to Kerala’s Tourism Department for “cosmetic tourist projects”.
“Fishermen, families and fish vendors need help,” said Trade Union Leader of the Fisherwomen’s Collective, Magline Peter.
“Instead they spend the money in tourist areas. You think Kerala is good, living condition is good, health is good, education is good, but at grass roots life is very bad – most with tribals and fisherpeople.”
In an attempt to pacify protestors, Kerala Tourism has since relabeled and relaunched the schemes in question as ‘coastal protection’ projects.
One of the pet “coastal protection” projects of Kerala Tourism is an artificial, multi-purpose surfing reef designed and built by ASR LTD in Kovalam. The $777,000 reef, constructed in February 2010, is supposed to mitigate coastal erosion from monsoon waves, provide a habitat for marine species, and be a great surf spot. This has stoked the likes of Yvon Choiunard, founder of Patagonia Inc. and Sean Collins, founder of Surfline.com. Sean Collins even went so far as to predict that it “could even possibly host an ASP World Tour event.”
The problem with all this hype is that ASR LTD doesn’t have a great track record with its reefs doing what they say they will. A $5 million reef built by ASR LTD in Britain, off of Bournemouth beach in Dorset in 2009, was shut down last year after being plagued by controversy and safety issues. While the reef in Kovalam does seem to provide better waves than that of its Bournemouth cousin, this may say more about the location than the reef itself. What is not known is if the reef of sandbags will withstand a monsoon. In fact, it was specifically the movement problems of the reef’s submerged sandbags that ultimately compelled the shut-down of the reef in Bournemouth.
Kabani, a Keralan-based charity supported by the UK Charity Tourism Concern (an independent campaigning organization that targets exploitation in tourism), stated that this project, a part of a plan to market Kovalam as “an international, year round surfing destination”, the first specialist surfing and wave sport destination in India, was devised before the tsunami hit but not enacted because of a lack of funds.
“How can such activities protect coastal population and environment from disaster like tsunami?” asks Ajay of Janamunnettam, a network of civil society organizations.
“Kerala Tourism is insulting and fooling the affected communities while claiming these activities as coastal protection.”
Back to the ISA
What does India and a contentious artificial reef have to do with professional surfing (other than the fact that a surf forecaster — may Huey rest his soul — predicted it could possibly host an ASP World Tour event)?
In a development last year, Fernando Aguerre announced that the ISA had added India as one of its newest member nations (Ghana, Hungary, and Kiribati were the other additions).
Along with China, India has one of the world’s largest populations with growing luxury and middle classes that have expendable incomes that would benefit members of SIMA, the other half of Aguerre’s two faces. True to form, Fernando Aguerre emphasizes that:
“The most important part is not the size of the country, it’s to bring the spirit of surfing around the world.”
Will the artificial reef at Kovalam, paid for by misappropriated Tsunami Relief Funds at the expense of local fisherpeople, be the location of the first ISA or ASP event in India?
No one should be surprised if it is. And if this turns out to be the case, is this a conscionable action? Will the surf fans and athletes alike, so forewarned and informed, allow this progression? Only time will tell.
*The ASP and the ISA are “hollow” in the sense that these bodies are not actually enforcing or governing bodies. For example, it took the death of 3x world champion Andy Irons to finally force the hand of SIMA to “encourage” the ASP to implement systemic, random drug testing of its pro athletes, something that had been “in discussion” for some 30 years. Although there are those touting the drug testing as a sign that the “sport of surfing is maturing,” in reality it seems more like Big Surfing finally decided the issue was serious enough to get behind.
As Doug Palladini, President of Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) and Vans VP of Marketing, explained to Surfline.com in November of last year,
“We felt it was not acceptable to remain silent on the drug testing issue, and so we offered to partner with the ASP to bring drug testing to the World Tour. In addition to recommending their enforcement via testing, we offered our support in creating educational and safety net programs to round out the most impactful package possible in support of our top competing athletes.”
SIMA drafted a letter to the ASP and the ASP responded shortly thereafter, affirming the implementation of the policy for 2012. “It looks like it worked!” Palladini jubilantly told Surfline.com. One wonders if the fates of some of pro surfing’s lost souls might have been positively altered had this letter been delivered years earlier.
† National Physical Planning Department, Arugam Bay Resource Development Plan: Reconstruction Towards Prosperity, Final Report, pages 4, 5, 7, 18, 33, April 25, 2005; Lancaster, “After Tsunami, Sri Lankans Fear Paving of Paradise;” footnote, Klein, 2007, p. 653.
Klein, Naomi, The Shock Doctrine, 2007.
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