One of the simple joys of surfing is travelling to new destinations, surfing uncrowded waves with no-one else out and discovering our own secret spots. Should we keep these spots secret, or should we share them with the world?

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Tourism gives communities the chance to earn an income through sustainable livelihoods like this hot corn stall in Fiji. Pic: Ana Foix

In Australia, stumbling on a new bank or finding a lesser know wave is great. So many Australians live on the coast and finding some solitude in the ocean is a rare treat. When it comes to travelling to another country though, should we keep these spots to ourselves? I don’t think so.

Many of the destinations we travel to as we surf our way around the globe are in developing countries where access to water, education, medical aid and electricity is often limited. We find waves in tiny villages and bemoan anyone who dares mention their location but what right, if any, do we have to stop these communities from gaining increased access to the things we take for granted?

While tourism can bring new challenges, it also brings opportunities especially if it’s helping the community to develop sustainable livelihoods and therefore, sustainable futures. To say that these communities shouldn’t have benefit from surf tourism implies some misguided ‘noble savage’ mentality where people live happily unfettered by the constraints of modern life. The reality isn’t so great. Across the Pacific Island countries and territories of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, maternal and infant mortality rates remain disturbingly high. In fact, an average 33 women die every hour from preventable pregnancy-related complications. The stats for newborns are even higher. Access to clean water, health services and electricity can, quite literally, be the determining factor between life and death for women and their babies.

Tourism revenue can also lead to increased educational outcomes and provide other benefits for these communities.

Surf tourism isn’t perfect, but it can help provide much needed revenue that increases access to these vital resources. If in doubt, ask the locals.

Next time you’re thinking about how wonderful it is to surf those uncrowded tropical waves and swearing you’ll never tell a soul about their existence, consider whose needs are more important and who it serves in that spot remaining a secret.

Cover image of Noosa National Park thanks to Tracy Naughton/Let Me Sea