swine flu? Not here in Puerto! photo-www.rpmsurfer.com
Around the world, tourism is fueled by the existence of local areas of interest. Generally, tourists are lured by specific establishments or attractions when it comes to deciding on a location: restaurants, historical monuments, museums, natural wonders, etc, For traveling surfers, the attraction is simple, and that is the existence of accessible, quality waves.
From Bali to Costa Rica, entire communities have popped up seemingly overnight, thriving economies that owe most of their success to the reefs and river mouths that sculpt the waves that break on their shores. If the waves are good out front, surfers are going to want to do their business (eating, sleeping, resting, bathing, shopping, playing, and so on) as close to that break as possible. No matter how backward or third world the culture, local residents will eventually catch on to their good fortune, and create the necessary means to cash in on their local treasure. Its just like that old cheesy Kevin Costner movie, “If you build it they will come…”
Come they do, and in droves. Surfing has grown into an international sport practiced just about anywhere waves break. From the Amazon River to the Gaza Strip, people are going to the ends of the Earth to find uncrowded surf. Local economies reliant on surf tourism are growing rapidly, bringing much needed economic stimulation to regions that need it bad. Sometimes, however, events unfold that can lead these surfers to stay at home instead. In October 2002, the surf rich island of Bali was the victim of gruesome terrorist attacks on two of their most popular night clubs.
The bombs, which ripped through downtown Kuta Beach, killed 182 and injured hundreds. Among the local Indonesian deaths, scores of Australian surfers on holiday were killed in the atrocious acts of hate. Adding to the already tense, post 9-11 atmosphere of travel trepidation, this unthinkable tragedy nearly crippled the islands economy. From taxi drivers to hotel owners, everyone felt the sting, and it took a couple years for surfers to come back in significant numbers and the local economy to recover.
Before I left on my month long excursion to Puerto Escondido, in Oaxaca, Mexico, I was warned repeatedly not to go. Who was it that was so concerned with my safety? Why it was Fox News, Hillary Clinton, and even the pharmacist at Costco, who wished me luck with the “drug cartels and murderers”. Well isn’t that just pleasant.
With the deadly Swine Flu still at large, Hillary and the FDC didn’t think I should go at all, but the caring folks at Fox conveniently had 10 tips that I could use to protect myself, like, for example, “avoiding rubbing or touching your eyes and nose”. Right, I thought to myself. I wonder if they think I should surf wearing a blue surgical mask(or yellow kitchen glove a la Chris Ward) while I surf?
Despite heartfelt advice from the media, the government, and a complete stranger, I decided to go ahead with my trip. In reality, the odds of one being affected by any of the multitude of travel dangers out there are pretty slim. For the amount of people who travel to a to surf destination like, say El Salvador for instance, how many people actually die at the hands of murderous El Salvadorian Death Squads? What’s the chance of drowning during a Tsunami during a boat trip to islands of Northern Sumatra? Slim to none, yet the risk is always out there.
Savannah Shaughnessy, is a 20 year old surfer from Scotts Valley who‘s been coming down to Puerto for the last four years. She a skilled big wave surfer who comes down for months at a time to get a piece of the juicy, top to bottom waves that explode over Puerto‘s shallow sandbars like clockwork. I asked Savannah if the threat of Swine Flu or Drug Cartels influenced her choice to make the trek south this year “It didn't affect my decision too much, because I love coming here and I knew that it would be pretty safe once I got here. But it made my parents really worried! They almost didn't let me come!”
Like Savannah, there are many among the surf community who will travel just about anywhere, no matter what dangers are, just to get that opportunity to score some epic surf. While the locals business owners may have lost some profits throughout the past few months, the loyal will always return, and less people means less crowds, something any surfer knows is worth a little risk.