On July 1, 2010, the Fijian Cabinet approved the Regulations of Surfing Areas Decree 2010, an unanticipated motion filed by Fiji’s Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. The decree aims “to liberalize access to any surfing area in Fiji and thereby enhance Fiji’s image as a premier surf travel destination.” Although the document explicitly states that the Decree will commence at a date to be determined by the Minister for Tourism, Fiji’s Director of Information, Setaita Natai, asserts that the Decree has already taken effect.
The new legislation will allow public admission to a range of world-class waves that were previously only accessible through the patronage of private resorts like Tavarua. Prior to the Decree, Tavarua Resort, which was established in the early ’80s, enjoyed exclusive usage rights to the lineups at Cloudbreak, Restaraunts, and Tavarua Rights based on longstanding Fijian policy, and its dominion over such premier surf destinations justified the $3,995/week price tag. Such was the allure of the getaway.
According to Natai, the decision was part of several revisions to the Land Reform policy currently underway in Fiji, and “provides for the absolute vesting of all interest in any surfing area in Fiji in the Director of Lands, for and on behalf of the State.”
Furthermore, the Decree states that it will cancel “any existing instrument of title, including any lease or license, without payment of any compensation.”
When contacted about the recent development, representatives from Tavarua Resort declined to comment, claiming they were waiting to hear more information before speaking on the matter. They did, however, release the following statement on their web site:
“The Fiji Government has always supported our surfing resort and model and conversely we’ve always supported the Government and People of Fiji. If and when the details are released and the decree goes into effect, we will know at that time if it has any impact on our operation.”
The surf community has responded with mixed emotions.
“I certainly hope that the surf spots there don’t become open to the public,” said one surfer who has been visiting the resort for two decades and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I think it will just turn into Macaronis or Huntington Beach, and I think it’s a shame that the surf spots will be run over with crowds. I would like to see Tavarua retain control over those breaks.”
“Speaking environmentally, it’s going to be detrimental to the surrounding area,” said 28-year-old San Clemente surfer Mitch Sandifer. “You’re going to have more pollutants in the water from all the boats coming in, and the extra people are just going to contaminate everything. I’d rather have it stay pristine and secluded rather than be opened up, even if it costs money.”
Another segment of the surf community feels differently.
“Surfing imperialism, and all of the nonsense (like, justifying why exclusive places like Tavarua should be private) that goes with it, should pass,” wrote user STU BEEF on Transworld.com. “Native land and reef rights should be held and enforced by indigenous owners only, and not by non local, foreign businessmen/surfers.”
While those directly involved in the operations of Tavarua Resort anxiously await the Decree’s impact, the global surf community looks on with equal concern, wrestling weighty topics like surf tourism’s obligation to native lands, proprietary ownership of the ocean, and perhaps most pressingly: where to plan the next surf trip.