Secret Garden: Sustainable surfing in Papua New Guinea
White Horses magazine has staunchly stayed away from the digital space until now, with a clip sketching out PNG's much lauded Surf Management Plan. We caught up with Horsies' editor Gra Murdoch.
Swellnet: How does Papua New Guinea’s Surf Management Plan work?
Gra Murdoch: A few areas of PNG have had the bejesus mined and logged out of ’em. Apart from the obvious damage of those practices, there’s diminishing returns when the resource runs out.
Some smart cookies in PNG recognized the parallels with their resource of adventure tourism – If you let the destination degrade or be over-exploited, it’ll devalue. The reason for visiting vanishes.
So without going into too much detail, PNG’s Surf Management Plan is built on a premise of respect and integrity. Basically, it keeps tally and control of visitor numbers, feeds positive and accountable benefits back into the local areas, and the local communities kinda call the shots. It’s set up in a way that everyone benefits if everyone does the right thing. There’s minimal negative impact on the nature, or the human nature, of the place.
Andrew Mooney – one of the surfers on this trip – was here a decade ago and reckoned the place was exactly the same. No rubbish, the reefs were just as alive and vibrant. That’s a win right there I reckon.
How does it benefit locals?
There’s a well thought out structure where the visitors’ levies go towards community development programs, education, water etc. But in an equally important way the local communities are given their due respect as the custodians of the area. There’s a sense that you’re actually a guest in someone else’s backyard. This goes a long way to preserving the status quo. It can be argued that in some surf zones around the world, local cultures haven’t really done well when exposed to our western sense of entitlement.
Who were the architects of it?
The Surf Management Plan was conceived back in 1989 by Andy Abel. Look up ‘foresight’ in the dictionary and you’ll see a pic of Andy I reckon.
Surfers have been going to PNG for 20+ years, is there evidence of their influence on local customs/culture?
Undoubtedly there is influence and effect. I guess that’s why it’s so important to manage it and make it as positive as possible. That said, PNG has a pretty solid sense of identity.
Are many locals surfing?
Yes. That’s one of the core values of the Surf Management Plan. Surfing is absolutely encouraged. It’s recognized as the healthy, inclusive and positive pastime it is. With the help of guys like Andy Abel supplying boards, and guys like Tom Wegener doing timber boardmaking workshops, there’s a very strong local boardriders scene.
How many different waves did the White Horses crew surf? And which region did you visit?
The crew surfed about nine different breaks, and we cruised up north somewhere!
Tell us about making this clip.
Horsies has been looking to jump into the digital sphere for ages but we’ve not wanted to add to the noise out there just for the sake of it.
Putting something together on PNG’s Surf Management Plan gave us a chance to move our storytelling values and aesthetic off the page and onto the screen. We were motivated by the idea that the rest of the surfing world could learn something pretty important from this small island nation.
We kept an eye on the North Pacific storms and headed to PNG late November last year when the seasons’ first swell showed. My House Pictures DOP Shane Peel, Drone filmer Glen Glaydon, Surfers Flick Palmateer, Andy Mooney and friends jumped on board Andrew “Undies” Rigby’s PNG EXPLORER and – as the boat’s name implies – did some exploring.
We’ve really only sketched out PNG’s Surf Management Plan with this pilot clip. It’s been a bit of a litmus test, to see how we’d go applying our values to the medium of film. We’ve learnt a shitload from doing this clip, and are stinging to crack on to a larger scale film production!
It’s definitely best watched in HD if you’ve got half decent interwebs, and using headphones if you can, as the song (by Rebecca Barnard) is great.
We’ve got another clip coming down the line in a week or so by the way – PNG through the eyes of 12-year-old Jye Parkinson – it’s pretty cool.
All photos by Chris Peel