Fight, fly or let the good times roll?

The plight of the trav­el­ling surfer in a post-dis­as­ter zone.

Tracks - - Curious Species - Emily Brug­man

The past few months in In­done­sia have of­fered up beauty and ter­ror in equal mea­sure. From the erup­tion of Mount Agung in June, fol­lowed by the mag­nif­i­cent swells of July, to the Lom­bok earth­quakes – it has been a sea­son of highs and lows. At the time of writ­ing, the 6.9 mag­ni­tude earth­quake has left 350 000 peo­ple dis­placed on Lom­bok, and over 430 dead. The ma­jor­ity of the dam­age oc­curred in the ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to the north, clos­est to the epi­cen­tre of the quake, but the dam­age has been felt across the tourist is­land. Many surfers were wor­ried for their safety dur­ing the quake it­self, and later, as tsunami warn­ings sounded. Most at Desert Point jumped on mo­tor­bikes and made their way to higher ground, spend­ing the night in a state of hy­per-vig­i­lance, watch­ing and lis­ten­ing for Mother Na­ture’s warn­ing signs. The role of the tourist in a post-dis­as­ter area is a para­dox­i­cal one. Dis­as­ter can make peo­ple of dif­fer­ent back­grounds, cul­tures and classes band to­gether. It can also high­light their dif­fer­ences. This might be the case for many trav­el­ing surfers, who find them­selves in the dis­as­ter zone for a pur­pose com­pletely he­do­nis­tic by na­ture. That’s when the mixed feel­ings of use­less­ness and guilt take hold. Not only can you of­fer lit­tle as­sis­tance, of­ten lack­ing a pro­fi­cient un­der­stand­ing of the lo­cal lan­guage, but you are in fact a hin­drance – an ex­tra body to feed and wa­ter. Once ac­cess to an air­port be­comes avail­able, you can also opt out, leav­ing the dev­as­ta­tion be­hind. Surf pho­tog­ra­pher Fran Miller, who was in north­ern Bali at the time of the earth­quake, says surfers have re­acted in two ways – “there are those that are now liv­ing for the mo­ment, plan­ning trips across ev­ery square inch of Indo as a re­sult of feel­ing their own mor­tal­ity, then there are those who took the first flight home.” Here in Aus­tralia we em­bark on an over­seas trip with the se­cu­rity of first-world money and the as­sured aid of a first-world Gov­ern­ment be­hind us. It could be ar­gued that, even in the dis­as­ter zone, cap­i­tal­ism reigns supreme – and those with the funds are likely to find a place on the res­cue boat first. After the 2015 earth­quake that dev­as­tated Nepal, some com­men­ta­tors wrote about a two-class res­cue, which pri­ori­tised climbers and sher­pas in the Mt Ever­est re­gion. At the time Prof. Su­sanne Becken (The Con­ver­sa­tion) wrote “a de­bate is nec­es­sary over whether it is in the in­ter­ests of the coun­try to save for­eign tourists – for the sole rea­son that tourism is the back­bone of the econ­omy and per­cep­tions of safety are crit­i­cal to fu­ture tourist ar­rivals – or whether a life is a life.” This com­ment goes straight to the heart of the para­dox – that tourism fu­els many de­vel­op­ing economies and their pop­u­la­tions rely on the in­dus­try for their liveli­hoods. On this, Prof. Ye­ganeh Mo­rak­a­bati (The Con­ver­sa­tion) writes, “The con­cept of leisure tourism might be seen as frac­tious when many peo­ple are suf­fer­ing due to the nat­u­ral dis­as­ters… but stay­ing away and watch­ing the scene on TV will not help… to re­build lives in af­fected ar­eas. The tourist econ­omy, how­ever, might.” Cer­tainly, this is true for Lom­bok. Fran Miller also ac­knowl­edges the value of hol­i­day­mak­ing in suf­fer­ing re­gions. “It’s peak travel sea­son and peo­ple have de­serted Lom­bok en masse,” she says, “go­ing to the is­land and putting tourism dol­lars into the econ­omy will help Lom­bok lo­cals sup­port them­selves… Of course, the area worst hit by the quake was not a tourist hotspot.” The poorly built in­fras­truc­ture that crushed and killed peo­ple in these ar­eas was a prod­uct of poor eco­nomic and so­cial fac­tors, Fran tells me. The is­sue then, be­comes more com­plex. In the act of re­build­ing the poor­est part of Lom­bok, we might sim­ply be re­con­struct­ing the sys­tems that have al­lowed this poverty to ex­ist. “Many of the places surfers en­joy vis­it­ing ex­ist in a state of poverty,” says Fran, “and a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter only brings this plight to our at­ten­tion. The greater ques­tion is how surfers can be part of bring­ing higher stan­dards of liv­ing to the world’s poor who live in the wave rich ar­eas that we fre­quent.” But what of those of us watch­ing the dev­as­ta­tion from afar? Is it right to sug­gest that any­one who has ever taken plea­sure from their trav­els through Indo, any­one who has bliss­fully threaded a bar­rel at Deserts, owes the peo­ple of Lom­bok at least a small mon­e­tary dona­tion? As they say, what goes around comes around. We surfers so of­ten find our­selves ya­hoo­ing as a di­rect re­ac­tion of an­other com­mu­nity’s mis­ery (like when Cy­clone Win­ston hit Fiji and the east coast lit up), and there­fore shouldn’t we all aim to pass the ba­ton of benef­i­cence along wher­ever pos­si­ble?

The town near this en­tic­ing wave on Lom­bok was torn apart in the re­cent earth­quake.

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