A Helping Hand For Neighbours Finding Their Feet

Stu Nettle

For an economically poor country Papua New Guinea has a relatively wave rich coastline. From the outlying Manus Island to the New Hanover region and back down to the north facing mainland there are an abundance of waves to be found. Indeed, Papua New Guinea has become somewhat of a surf travel frontier.

In recent years surf camps have sprung up at some of the more popular spots around Kavieng and on the mainland. Although the waves can be inconsistent the Papuan locals are beginning to recognise that they are a resource every bit as tangible (and profitable) as the minerals dug from the mines in the Papuan highlands.

In response to the growing number of surf camps the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea has created a Surf Management Plan, the role of which is to oversee equitable distribution of money to the locals. Although there has been some resistance, and not all camps adhere to it, the plan has been a success.

Despite the work of the Surf Association surf travel in the country is still in a fragile state; as a surf destination it doesn't register on many surfers' radars and events such as the recent rape of an Australian aid worker serve to deter potential tourists. Ben Overgaauw is a Tasmanian surfer who recently visited Papua New Guinea. Ben will be returning to Papua New Guinea. Here's why...

Early in November, my best mate Col from Torquay, and myself, now a Tassie resident, set out on a surf trip to Papua New Guinea.

For the last two years I'd been to Bali and Lombok and felt it was getting really crowded again, post the Bali bombing fallout. I'd tried to talk Col into another Indo trip but instead he talked me into going to the Tupira Surf Club in the Madang province of PNG.

What impressed me about PNG was the Surf Management Plan founded by a PNG local, Andy Abel. The surf camps set up in PNG require all surfers to pay an initial $50 levy and an additional $10 per day for their time there. This money gets fed back into to the local villages. The surf camps also provide employment for the locals.

Another aspect of the PNG Surf Management Plan is the restriction on the number of surfers allowed at the camps. Where we stayed at Tupira, only ten surfers were allowed at a time, while other camps further up the coast (not affiliated with the management plan) would allow up to twenty at a time.

There were about eight good quality breaks in the Tupira area and we were there with only two other surfers, Chris and Lindon from New South Wales. That sure beats surfing with the crowds I'd experienced in Indo. Also, it was clean which contrasted to all the rubbish I saw on the roadsides in Bali and Lombok.

We booked through World Surfaris, who were great and organised everything. It was too easy for a couple of geriatrics 50-year olds like Col and I. We were picked up from Madang airport by three locals with big smiles that revealed orange-stained teeth. The result of chewing betel nut, which we tried but didn't like much.

Once the van was loaded up, we drove two hours up the coast road arriving at Tupira Surf Club just after dark. We were warmly welcomed by Jamo the manager, an Aussie the locals say is a 'black man with white skin', holding him in very high regard. His language skills, energy levels and the way he interacted with the locals blew me away. After a quick tour of the surf club, and a rundown on anything we needed to know, we sat down to a simple traditional meal of chicken, sweet potatoes and vegies.

Accommodation was basic but comfortable, with everything kept very clean. The locals were great. Those who worked there, from the barman, surfguide, cooks and cleaners all loved their jobs and kept thanking us for being there and helping them earn an income. We were continually welcomed and thanked by all sorts of people, from the villagers, to business people, even a judge!

Now I'd like to say that it pumped for the week we were there but it didn't. However, looking through the comments in the visitors book, many crew raved about the great waves they'd had during their stay. We got two days of surfable waves and the rest of the time was limited to watching some of the future PNG surfstars - the local groms ripping it up on waves too small for us to surf.

Despite the initial disappointment of the lack of swell, Col and I both agreed that we'd had an awesome time, mainly due to our interaction with the local people. They let us into their villages and sung for us which was amazing. We also spent some time with a local named Isadore at his home, with many of his friends and extended family. They were beautiful people and our time with them was the highlight of our trip. I don't know when but I'm definitely going back again.

The reason I penned this article is because of the horrific event that happened in Madang province where three Aussie men and one of their girlfriends were car-jacked, robbed, and the men were tied to trees and the girl raped.

We left Tupira Surf Club on 13th of November, the very same day the four Aussies were driving toward Tupira Surf Club. I left with such a positive and enriching experience of the Papuan people only to return home and hear of the ordeal. What happened to these four young people was absolutely horrible and my heart goes out to them, especially the girl.

The local people I met would have been appalled at what had happened to these young Aussies. I think that they would also be concerned as to how this crime may affect their relatively new surf tourism industry. That, in turn, would also affect their potential to earn income and improve the standards of living within their communities.

The people we met were so friendly and so stoked that we were there. I suppose I just want to say to anyone considering a trip to these surf camps in PNG not to be turned off by what has happened. Of course be careful and always have a guide with you if you venture away from the camps and into the villages.

Check it out, it's well worth the effort.

Ben Overgaauw

Website for the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea


scottishsponger's picture
scottishsponger's picture
scottishsponger commented Thursday, 8 Nov 2018 at 8:59am

Thanks for this article Ben / Stu. Has anyone else been to Tupira? I'm thinking of booking a 1-2 week stay there in December / January but there's little info out there about the wave quality and consistency. Also, is there much to do other than surf? Wondering if I'll get bored if I go for 2 weeks. Any first hand info would be appreciated.