Tough Justice, Mexican Style
Assuming moral superiority over people from poorer countries is one of the luxuries of living in the first world. Corrupt, feckless and lazy are some of the handy Third World stereotypes we can call upon when discussing the cause of economic disparity. It's quite simple really, this business of global economics.
But being unorganised, unethical and selfish aren't charges that I'm ready to throw their way. Not following the news that a small community in Mexico – surfers, no less – have negotiated an arrangement that no group of surfers in the developed world have yet managed to do, despite many wishing they could.
Last week an email was sent around the US surf media stating that no foreign photographers are allowed to shoot anywhere in the Salina Cruz region of Mexico for the next two years. Salina Cruz is home to Barra de la Cruz – where Rip Curl held the 2006 Search - and many other quality righthand pointbreaks.
According to Kimball Taylor, interviewed on Down The Line Radio in California, the photographic embargo is in place following a "blowout article" in a recent issue of Surfing Magazine. The article, according to Taylor, "named names" and "gave everything but directions to the spots" in the Salina Cruz region.
In short, it was another case of magazine exposure – the final in a series of indiscretions - and the Salina Cruz locals responded by formulating a plan to save their spots from further plunder. They acted collectively and they acted decisively, and even the people who had the most to gain from hosting foreign photographers - surf camp owners and tourist operators – were united in solidarity.
The email stated that any foreign photographer seen working in the region, irrespective of his or her company or publication, would be reported to immigration. Taking photographs for money is considered work and requires an appropriate visa, one that surf photographers rarely bother with due to hassle and cost.
Now, don't tell me that there aren't some folk around Australia that wouldn't do exactly the same thing and banish all visiting photographers if they could. Of course, the Eyre Peninsula comes immediately to mind. It's a place that has openly embraced its reputation as a hostile destination yet resistance, when it arrives, is usually in the form of a limp carpark threat, an anonymous windscreen waxing, or a random flying fist.
Yet isolated acts of violence and harassment won't change the status quo - in fact they only make for exciting magazine copy. No, for that you need unity and fraternity. You need an organised response such as the one occurring in Mexico.
So what would it take for the locals of the Eyre Peninsula – or any sensitive region around Australia – to gather together and put a halt to outsiders exposing and profiting from their spots? So often we hear about surfers abusing the places they visit, so how should civilised, intelligent people of the Western world respond to repeated indiscretions? With violence or with strategic resistance?
Economically, I can't say whether the Mexican photo embargo is a good thing – how will it affect tourism, for instance? But on principle alone it is a supreme act, and I, from my distant and privileged position in the Developed World, raise a clenched fist for each and every one of the hombres in Salina Cruz.