Guns, Germs, and Surfboards

Stu Nettle

Twenty years ago anthropologist Jared Diamond wrote ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’, a book that explained why cultures advance at different rates. It has nothing to do with superior intelligence, argued Diamond, but with access to resources and environmental opportunities.

Diamond’s book cut across many disciplines and created a new framework for viewing and comparing different cultures. Last week, a small slice of Diamond’s work presented itself in the surfing world.

To wit, on Friday it was revealed that Surfing Western Australia floated the idea of a contest at either Jake’s Point or Gnaraloo. The reaction to said news was mostly negative, and by a fair majority. This included Kalbarri Boardriders whose president stated unequivocally that they don’t want the contest.

“No, the boys don't want it,” said Kit Rayner, “We'll leave it at that.”

Meanwhile, over the weekend the WSL announced QS contests at both Nias and West Sumbawa yet not a word has been said in protest, not on the WSL’s own story - where every comment was favourable - and not when doing the rounds of the hashtag search. Nothing in English, nothing in Indonesian.

From a surfing point of view, each of the three regions are similar: isolated coasts with seasonal waves of especially high quality, yet the difference, and it’s a crucial one, is that Australia and Indonesia have contrasting surf cultures.

Comparing cultures is a fraught business, but that’s what I’ve begun here so allow me to see it through...

Surfing has existed in Oz for over a century, it’s deeply ingrained in our culture, crossing social strata and the generations. Australian surfing has a lot of history, a complexity borne from experience, it’s been through enough iterations that we’re able to look back to project forward. It’s a mature culture, for want of a better word. It’s both cynical and wise.

Indonesian surfing, on the other hand, has existed for less than half that, and most of that time it was driven by foreigners. On Bali, a second generation of surfers are coming through, elsewhere the first generation of surfers are eagerly taking root, grasping at everything new.

Much as Australian surfers once welcomed early contests - 65,000 attended the ‘64 World Championships at Manly - Indonesian surfers appear to be doing so now. There’s much to be gained by a contest in town: notoriety, sponsorship, and of course tourism dollars.

Yet it’s not impossible to imagine a day when a later generation of Indonesian surfers reject the offer from the big top. When the contest baubles lose their shine, weighed up against increasing crowds and lineup restrictions.

You may say that Indonesian corruption will keep local surfers down, and I’d possibly agree, however it doesn’t change the overall debate: surfing cultures, all of them, not just Australia and Indonesia, are advancing at different rates. So what’s accepted in one country, gets rejected in another.

But also, what’s accepted in one country, may, given time, be rejected in the same country. That’s what’s happened here in Australia on a number of coastlines, and it has the potential to happen in other countries as their domestic surf cultures develop.

This process puts the squeeze on Dream Tour potential, and for that matter the Big Wave Tour too. They can cross off Raglan, Lennox, a number of Australian waves that shan't be named, shortly Gnaraloo and Jake’s too, and in time watch the same process repeat itself across South America, the Canary Islands, and a few European strongholds.

Wavepools have never looked so promising.


ryder's picture
ryder's picture
ryder commented Monday, 23 Jul 2018 at 3:15pm

Isn't Kit Rayner an ex pro-surfer of sorts? Didn't mind surfing in contests around Australia at various locations but as soon as it is in his own backyard 'the boys' don't want a bar of it. Kinda get a chuckle out of that

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Monday, 23 Jul 2018 at 3:45pm

I totally understand their point of view. ( kalb locals)
These contests garner lots of exposure. Lets look at "the search" contest in Mexico for example.

Before the contest. Minimal photos in print media . very little exposure. (kept well under the radar).
Contest runs in probably the biggest and most unique angled swell. ( that swell direction happens once every few years once every ten at that size at best.)

Everyone watches contest ...gets the idea that's how it always breaks . Next swell 180 people turn up .......

The dream tour is really problematic, disruptive and damaging in a lot of ways.

Ted from the moon's picture
Ted from the moon's picture
Ted from the moon commented Monday, 23 Jul 2018 at 3:57pm

I agree.

You can not really compare apples with oranges as you alert to here Stu. I saw the initial proposals that the WSL sent the 12 locations throughout Indo late last year. My take on the proposal was that it was a rush cut and paste job out of their head office by someone who had never been to Indo and / or had no real idea about how things work over there. The 12 locations ranged from Rote in the east through to Aceh at the other end of islands. You can imagine the locations - Lance's Right, Pacitan, Krui etc. The proposed timings of the events failed to take into account expected local conditions at the locations in my opinion - terrible winds at several of the locations on the dates they proposed. They also did not seem to take much care in the sequencing of the locations either - Lance's then West Sumbawa then back to Nias. How many Indo's are going to be able to afford to do a reasonable amount of the comps to get their points up if this eventuated?

The proposal was asking for USD $75,000 per location to run the event. They promised in return a whole lot of marketing and back of the envelope calculations about how this investment would lead to multiples of economic returns in their local spots. Hard to see when you are showcasing the waves at their less than ideal time of the year.

The big difference between the NW WA and Indo locals is obvious. The majority of the surfing populations in these Indo locations derive their income from surfing and the activities that surround it - mainly as a tourism venture. So they want more people to come as you would expect. In NW WA locals are deriving their income from other activities and do not wish to share their waves. Fair enough.

It was hard to contain the excitement in the local communities - from surf shops, food & beverage providers, shop owners, taxi drivers, photographers, accommodation providers etc. Everyone was spending the money already.

On the whole I thought the whole approach was amateurish at best and not very well thought out. It was full of dreams with little substance in my opinion. Seems a common theme these days.

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Monday, 23 Jul 2018 at 3:48pm

First place -malaria.
Second place -Dengue fever.
Third place -cholera.
Four place -Rossriver.

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Monday, 23 Jul 2018 at 4:12pm

Intersting comparison.

heres another comparison.

In Indonesia most surf charter boats and resorts are majority foreign owned and aimed at foreign guest and most profit goes into foreigners pockets and leaves the country.

Imagine the same scenario happening in Australia.

For instance lets say cashed up #Japanese surfers opened a big resort at the Bluff or Lennox right on the wave and started selling spots to Japanese surfers for $20K a trip, or Japanese surf charter boats operating in some area like North NSW to Noosa or something.

Ha ha imagine how us Aussie surfers would take it.

#Only using Japanese as an example as there economy operates a bit higher than ours, so a better example to use than say Indonesia and Indonesian surfers, who could never afford such a trip..

Please Stunet just give me that ignore button for Crypto (Herc, uplift or whatever other names he has used)

rooftop's picture
rooftop's picture
rooftop commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 1:49am

Yeah, that's a good point. And 400 years ago the boats were parked all over Indo in front of beautiful empty lineups with only one thing on their mind: CONDIMENTS! I bet they would be just as perplexed by us selling waves as we are by them getting all hot under the collar about a cinnamon stick.

Anyway, providing the wealth stays in the region, I think Stu's point is the progression goes:

1. natural resources
2. exploitation of same
3. wealth

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Thursday, 26 Jul 2018 at 9:30am

Don't forget exotic Spices also!

Kellya's picture
Kellya's picture
Kellya commented Monday, 23 Jul 2018 at 4:35pm

I can understand the NW locals getting frustrated. Not sure how much blame should be put on the WSL. The whole region has been increasingly exploited over the past few decades, stopping a surf comp isn't going to fix the bigger issue.

andrew-pitt's picture
andrew-pitt's picture
andrew-pitt commented Monday, 23 Jul 2018 at 7:36pm

Yes. Guns germs steel is a fantastic read. Thought you might quote something from Sapiens. And the self supporting myths we create.
My lasting impression from Uluwatu some 3 years ago was this huge grafitti on the cliff face. "Your rules do not apply"

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Monday, 23 Jul 2018 at 7:42pm

I must have picked up that book 3-4 times and could never finish it.

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Monday, 23 Jul 2018 at 10:29pm


rooftop's picture
rooftop's picture
rooftop commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 1:35am

Yeah, it's a bit of work, but worth it.

If you still have an appetite for big-picture world history but want something snappier, try Sapiens.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Monday, 23 Jul 2018 at 7:50pm

So i wonder what Rye Craike thinks of a contest at ones bagging him out and hes done his best to promote Kalbarri....and himself.


Eugene Green's picture
Eugene Green's picture
Eugene Green commented Monday, 23 Jul 2018 at 8:51pm

A lot of the local boys are very self promotional on instagram.

mikehunt207's picture
mikehunt207's picture
mikehunt207 commented Monday, 23 Jul 2018 at 8:30pm

Rye,s probably hoping he will get a wildcard, might save him from having to get a real job for another year or so. Same goes for all those Kalbarri pros, so much exposure of their coast over the years to line their pockets, coming back to bite them in the arse. Small term gains for a long term loss.

JosephStalin's picture
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JosephStalin commented Monday, 23 Jul 2018 at 9:10pm

Stuff kit rainer this isn't a democracy

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 6:49am

Ok , so in order to simplify things let’s list the stakeholders involved in this bid to hold a commercial entertainment event at WA’s northern reefs -

Dirk Ziff : BILLIONAIRE who couldn’t place Gnaraloo on a map. Never surfed , never will, with zero care for the interests of Australian surfers.
Motivation - Money . More money.
Personal stake - Basically zero. Australian taxpayers will be footing the bill for his ventures into the desert.

Surfing WA : Non elected bureaucratic body that represents the 0.0001 percent of Western Australian surfers that choose to compete.
Motivation - To enlarge and fund their bureaucracy and secure their jobs.
Personal Stake - Zero stake . Spending taxpayers money , they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

TourismWA : Another non elected bureaucracy. Another “spend Big to maintain the budget “ government department.
Motivation- Develop tourism in regions and therefore secure their jobs.
Personal stake - Zero. Again the recipients of taxpayer funds. Tourism WA has no interest in the dysfunction which is the result of over crowding of global surf zones, in fact they welcome it.

Local businesses: A handful of non surfing shop owners / contractors that will benefit from the increased business and the massive increase in crowds that the WCT propaganda will entice.
Motivation- A few bits of silver in the pocket.
Personal stake - Zero. The degradation of local surf culture will have no impact on their lives.

Pro Surfers / Tour moths : Gabe Medina would paddle over your grandmothers back in order to snake you for the next wave at your local. His sponsors and entourage admire this behaviour. He deserves to surf and profit from these waves and locations like Africa needs another viral epidemic.
Motivation- Gabby ! Gabby ! Gabby !
Personal Stake - Gabby and his ilk give zero fucks about Western Australia and its surfers. He doesn’t even give a fuck about those footing the bill , those organising the event or his audience as evidenced by his cry baby refusal to surf Margarets.

WSL viewers : Dozens of surf fans globally that have a few days spare between Football/ cricket / soccer seasons .
Motivation- Distract from a few moments of boredom in their lives.
Personal Stake - Zero. Already catered for with a global surf tour staged at previously ruined surf breaks.

Surfers of WA , Travelling surfers , anyone that’s ever dreamed of surfing in a remote place that still demands and fosters a notion of respect for the location and the fellow surfers that choose to visit.
Motivation- The preservation of a beautiful place and a spirit of surfing that they can enjoy for their surfing lives and a hope that maybe their children and their children’s children would have an opportunity to do the same.
Personal Stake - Everything that makes surfing the holistic experience it was previously and is now lost at overcrowded, disrespectful. Entitled line ups around the world.

You’d have to assume that most on here would fall into the last category which is why I struggle to fathom the vitriol towards those that wish the WSL to take their private circus elsewhere. Even if you’ve never surfed the area or have surfed it and not really felt the vibe or even if you believe it’s compromised already , why would you wish it’s complete ruination merely to provide a couple of hours of entertainment ?

And it will fuck it , make no bones about that. Of that the verdict was returned years ago. Dirk and Kelly - get back to your little private wave pool if you want to make MORE money . Get the fuck away from a coastline that you have no attachment to. Worse than Gina fucking Rhinehart the pair of you.

PS Cheers to Stu and Swellnet for providing a bit of balance rather than jumping blindly on the WSL cheer leading squad as did virtually every other part of the surf media . May you get a few sets at these spots one day yourselves...

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 9:06am

I reckon a lot of WA surfers have made a lot of money working for Gina fucking Reinhardt

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 2:27pm

Only cause she failed in her bid to bring over an entire workforce from Indo . Like Dirk Ziff she wants government handouts to subsidise her activities , conveniently forgetting that the government is the representative body of the very Aussie workers she berates for demanding more than $3/day.

It’s a long , long queue ahead of you if you’re looking for an opportunity to sink your foot into Gina’s copious arse in WA that’s for sure.

brainiac's picture
brainiac's picture
brainiac commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 11:11pm

Top words Blowin.
remember a long time ago, Bali was once considered a remote amazing location with amazing waves. Now look at the place.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 6:31am

that pretty much sums it up.


honest john's picture
honest john's picture
honest john commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 6:45am

3rd world Indonesia on a coast line of minority surfers vs 1st world Australia.. prob not the best book comparison. Fair point the irony of local pros self promoting themselves to sustain a livelihood and ego but blind eyeing the exposure to the area at the same time. Im sure the salty locals would hate that considering their 5 minutes in the sun has faded. Can totally agree though, just cos you can doesn't mean you should. Especially if you have no ties to the area. A bit like swellnet propping up a lennox point cam out of the blue selling coles commercials for financial gane


alexhoch1's picture
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alexhoch1 commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 8:37am

I've got no problem telling with telling the WSL to go away although it would be fun to watch gabby get chased out of the water by a 20 foot tiger shark. I do have a problem with a few locals being overprotective of something that should be shared with the odd Surf tourist. It's a massive mission for most people to get there in the hope they get one decent wave on a decent swell.


Mango Carafino's picture
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Mango Carafino commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 10:00am

Finally an article written with more substance than the usual Kelly Slater Firewire bullshit of late.

Each country provides something unique to the world. Some put rockets into space, some make fine time pieces that we wear around our wrists, some advance medical science, while others, like Indonesia, offer a minority of water sport athletes the finest shark free, warm water, perfect waves in the world.

The ASP/WSL is on life support, no more Eddie Aikau contests, Sunset Beach Contest, Haleiwa Hawaiian triple crown, et cetera, et cetera. It is a tuff business running around asking for millions in sponsorship money and the promise to sponsors of a return greater than their investment. The money is not there anymore. Quiksilver and Billabong merging corporations is a great example.

The writing is on the wall for the WSL, that is to say, Indonesia appears to be the place the WSL "can buy" what they think is going to work for their end game, without locals and Govt telling them NO. However, the Corona Pro at Keramas was in onshore winds, while the rest of the the Island of Bali was reeling in big surf and offshore winds. The Ulu's contest did not see classic Uluwatu waves to finalize the Margaret River Pro that was canceled due to sharks. So it appears that the WSL still requires a bit of luck.

radiationrules's picture
radiationrules's picture
radiationrules commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 10:27am

They say very day has new opportunities and today's "first" for me is its the day I totally agree with Blowin'.

For context, ideal companion piece to Guns, Germs and Steel is counterpoint book:
"A Brief History Of Vice - How Bad Behaviour Built Civilisation" - highly recommended reading. As much as I loved G, G & S - this is laugh out loud, compelling, evidence based book about greed and debauchery. And lets face it after a few world class waves in the desert who doesn't feel like a few bush-chooks around the campfire?

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 10:37am

W S L promoting footage of Double island Point.
These people think they own surfing........go home.....

Jared Wisey's picture
Jared Wisey's picture
Jared Wisey commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 2:18pm

Just change the Margs comp so it doesn't run during the Salmon run and whale migration. Job done


Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 10:12pm

Just ask God to change the seasons, so the best swell comes in Summer, when the sharks are even more active.

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 10:06pm

Do guys the title is a total ripoff off a discreted historian view on how a society crumbled?

Ok, it was in the intro, just checkin.

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 10:16pm

Not matter what, Fuck that sounds like a book title, or at least a surf video!

I have got my finger in everything at the moment, I would be glad to be obliged.

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018 at 10:20pm

You better copyrwritght this.

Ensea's picture
Ensea's picture
Ensea commented Wednesday, 25 Jul 2018 at 12:09am

Let em surf tombstones but don’t announce dates. Make em camp in tents, bring their own bbq & don’t let anyone release footage for 6months. Get Rabs back to direct it.

eastcoastbuoy's picture
eastcoastbuoy's picture
eastcoastbuoy commented Thursday, 26 Jul 2018 at 9:15am

Flew from Sydney (via NZ) to Perth.
Jumped in car and drove 12hrs or so to Gnarloo towing a tinny.
Camped in snake infested scrub for 2 weeks.
Desert meets the sea.
Sights and experiences in and out of the water forever imprinted.
Blowin - spot on!


SurfinDan's picture
SurfinDan's picture
SurfinDan commented Friday, 12 Oct 2018 at 9:01pm

So the idea that WSL is somehow a sell out evil demon but the local Boardriders clubs (who are basically training camps for future and wanna be pro surfers ) are somehow pure and good is ludicrous.
The only reason the surfers in that area did not want a contest is because they don’t want to share the waves .
Greed ,plain and simple.

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