Small, ocean-side communities around the globe constantly struggle to generate ways to support themselves, and they often must do so at the expense of the surrounding environment. A newly founded nonprofit, the Center for Surf Research, seeks to offer these small villages an alternative by establishing sustainable surf tourism. It determines each community’s potential to house surf tourism, working closely with individual needs and wants to create an environmentally and socially friendly setting.
This was envisioned by the CSR’s founder and director Dr. Jess Ponting. A professor in the school of hospitality and tourism management, Ponting specializes in sustainable tourism. While he originally had the idea for the CSR more than 15 years ago, he has seen an increasing need for it within the last 10. Ponting was inspired while living in Papau New Guinea after finishing his undergraduate studies in Australia. He was living in a small village doing community building, and saw tourism as an environmentally conscious alternative.
“Rather than me saying, ‘Don’t cut down your forest, because it’s really nice,’ I show them how there is a way to bring in money to the community by using the surrounding environment for tourism,” Ponting said.
The CSR’s only intern, Carl Kish, a sustainable recreation, tourism and management senior, has been aware of Ponting’s initiative before the CSR formally began, and is a strong believer in the work it is doing.
“I love surfing, and this is monumental for the surf tourism industry,” Kish said. “For my name to even be a part of it is really an honor.”
One example of what can come from surf tourism is found in Gigante, Nicaragua. The overwhelming majority of youth there would drop out of school after a short time, because the closest high school was 15 miles away and the closest market nearly as far. The only way to get to either location was by walking. After becoming a host for surf tourism, the city has since been able to afford a bus.
However, Ponting said surf tourism does not come without complications. Along with a source of income, tourism can also bring drugs, prostitution and even increased damage to the environment. For this reason, local and federal governments in the areas are highly involved in assessing the maximum tourist population for a given village or city. Some only hold as many as four tourists.
“Tourism can be a very positive thing for these communities, but in some cases, it just wasn’t. We learned to do more research and recognize the needs of the individual areas,” Ponting said.
However, limiting the number of tourists is not negative in the surfing tourism industry. An isolated beach is ideal for surfers, making these small, tucked-away sites very exclusive.
“We’re hoping to offer a life-changing, mind-blowing experience; and if we can promote local livelihood at the same time, then that’s even better,” Ponting said.
Aztecs Abroad is offering a study abroad program for sustainable tourism majors next year, giving students the opportunity to become involved with the kind of work Ponting has pioneered. Students can become a part of the sustainable tourism initiative in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand. For more information, visit aztecsabroad.org.