The Mentawais Just Enacted a ‘Surf Tax’

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“pay to play” situations entail participants shelling out cash monies to partake in an activity. Outside of admission fees to certain national parks, this paid-entry scenario is most often removed from the natural world. That is, until now.

Beginning on August 1, 2016, the Mentawai Government Tourism Department enacted a “surf tax” for all foreign visitors looking to ride the region’s ample supply of high-quality waves. Regional Law No. 08 states that surf tourists must pay 1,000,000 Rupiah (approx. $77 USD) prior to arrival in the Mentawais for a maximum 15-day stay, which is extendable. And just like Coachella, attendees are required to wear a designated wristband upon entrance.

Similar laws requiring visitors to pay to surf have previously been enacted in the Mentawais, although somewhat unsuccessfully. The latest attempt has been in the works for over a year before finally becoming official. And the main reason for implementing the tax is to benefit the local community. “We only get the name, garbage and environmental damage,” Mentawai Islands Deputy Regent Rijel Samaloisa said last year.While some surfers will undoubtedly see the new laws as unfair – Mother Nature is free for everyone, man – the Mentawai surf tourism industry sees it as a positive thing for the local communities. Located in the Mentawais’ surf mecca, the Kandui Resort is onboard with the tariff, so long as it benefits the native Indonesian people.

“We support any effort to help the local communities,” Kandui Resort co-owner Anthony Marcotti told Surfline. “We provide jobs for dozens upon dozens of families directly and indirectly. We are proud of our contributions and the money we are able to spend in our local communities in terms of jobs, supplies, and fuel purchases. We try to utilize Mentawai based support for Kandui as much as possible.”

And Kandui Villas, another purveyor of luxury accommodations for surfers in the Mentawais, also sees the upside of a tax with regards to regulation. A statement from the company reads:

“The new legislation is expected to provide significant benefits toward regulation of the surfing tourism industry, by improving management of carrying capacities of surfers in each region, reducing overcrowding, and improving the overall experience of visiting surfers.”

Besides luxe on-island lodgings, chartered boats are highly popular in the Mentawais, shuttling surfers from spot to spot and then docking for the night. It’s unclear how the tax will relate to the vessels, although early reports stated a charge of $380 USD for 15 days.

But some wonder how effective the execution of a tax will be. Even with the heightened security at music festivals like Coachella, people manage to sneak in with counterfeit or unlawfully-distributed wristbands, let alone finding an unattended fence to hop. So why couldn’t these covert operations seep over into surfing?

“I think it will definitely be difficult to enforce and some operations will be much more scrutinized than others,” Sean Murphy, President of Waterways Surf Adventures, told us. “They will focus on the cash cows, and the smaller budget low occupancy operations will probably slide by. How long will it take for people to counterfeit those wristbands? Will it regulate the number of surfers at any spot at any one time? I am not against the idea in principal, but in practice it is very difficult to coordinate, regulate and enforce.”

As the Disneyland of the surfing world, the Mentawai Islands are flocked to by an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 surfers annually. A lot of the time, the visiting surfers will remain on their chartered boats, binging on Bintang, getting barreled out of their minds, and then leave after a few days – little impact on the local economy left behind. But the new tax hopes to change that.

Dr. Dave Jenkins, cofounder of SurfAid International, has spent many years in the Mentawais surfing and setting up medical clinics for the local communities. He’s been there since 2000 so he, if anyone, has seen the influence surfers have on the native Indonesians and what the effects of a tax may be. Surfline reached Dr. Jenkins for comment:

“It seems fair enough from the government’s point of view in that they don’t get much if any income from the many tourists that come. The big question of course is what impact will it have?  If they are going to limit surfers, they will need a budget to police that so again it seems logical. I don’t know any other details of their plans to use the income so I guess only time will tell.”

In the long run, if you’re traveling to the Ments, you’re probably forking out a small fortune – chartering a boat, or staying at a posh resort, acquiring a suitable quiver, and racking up an ample Bintang bar tab. After all that, $77 is pocket change.

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More stories by Dashel Pierson:

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