Should We Travel? | Why Going on Holiday Makes You a Horrible Person
Travel - especially surf travel - is destroying the planet, writes a well-travelled surfer
Photo: Tomo Nogi
Surfers like me are, of course, way ahead of the rest of you. Streets, light years, etc. So much so, in fact, that any comparisons between us and the ‘legions of the unjazzed’ - as one of our foremost prophets, Phil Edwards, labelled you in the mid 60s - seem unfair.
But for the sake of a good old-fashioned argument, let us indulge in a few comparisons.
There are very many reasons for our intrinsic sense of superiority, but being first to the cool shit seems a common thread. You see, our narcissism, navel-gazing, quasi-spiritual utterings came way before influencers started quoting Nietzsche/Mandela/Gandhi on Instagram. We were doing sanctimony and virtue-signalling way before you humble-bragged giving a homeless person a tenner on Twitter.
"Our narcissism came way before influencers started quoting Nietzsche/Mandela/Gandhi on Instagram"
We were all over macrobiotics, fasting, yoga, wheatgrass - decades before you jumped on that. We were on the ‘nose-bag by night, tofu scramble by breakfast’ tip from way back, at a time when you were probably still all about Greggs Steak Bakes and non-craft beers.
Aside from being more original, and better-looking, we’re also just generally more interesting, because we’re so inherently conflicted. Like any brooding anti-hero, introverted TV detective, or charismatic baddie, we’re nuanced.
And that’s because our entire existence is essentially a massive paradox. We love/cherish/worship nature (more, before, and better than you, might I add) and yet we receive our communion clad in petrochemical suits on petrochemical-derived boards, doing our bit to make the problem worse.
And so it makes perfect sense - because everything makes perfect sense with us - that we also are the most outwardly self-assured in our do-goodery.
Imagine, then, the shiver that went down my spine when, earlier this year, the surf magazine I was editor of did an interview with world renowned environmental journalist George Monbiot.
Placed alongside "10 Must-Surf Waves in Indonesia," "How To Beat the Airlines’ Excess Baggage Fees" and "5 Boards To Take To Tahiti" on the website, George’s top line implored surfers to “avoid travelling (e.g. to Indonesia) on planes, for which a single return flight would equal half the average global citizen’s carbon footprint for an entire year.’’
If surfers really cared about the environment as much as they claim, they’d stay at home.
Not content to merely deny us our right to travel, Monbiot added further outrage to heresy by suggesting we “explore the coast of Wales by kayak, instead.”
Wales. By. Fucking. Kayak.
Okay, I’m not actually being antagonistic towards George Monbiot - like Poseidon, I’m sure he could summon up the waves and wash me away for doing so. Plus, it would be churlish to say that he doesn’t have a point.
The core of all of this is that surf travel, like all other forms of essentially self-indulgent air travel, must surely now be regarded at an outdated, ruinously damaging way of life. By all means have an intercontinental bucket list, or seek out far-flung experiences, but don’t feign ignorance to the unignorable: it comes at a cost.
My own culpability runs perhaps even deeper than yours, hence my newfound evangelism. Everyone goes on holidays, of course, but the surf media and the pros we idolise; well, we chase swells. It wouldn’t be uncommon to have the swell forecast maps open for coasts on 3 different continents at a time, waiting until the last minute to decide where to book flights to.
I once went to Australia for 36 hours. I’ve been to Tahiti, Bali, Micronesia, Fiji - each for under a week - several times. Our Photo Editor flew Paris to Brisbane to Auckland to Fiji to Tahiti, and back, for an afternoon’s surfing from which we published a single photo.
A new morality is surely in order: one that does away with the idea of being ‘well-travelled’ as a signifier of wisdom, or education, or worldliness. As Monbiot himself wrote, back in his 2006 book, Heat, “It means the end of shopping trips to New York, parties in Ibiza, second homes in Tuscany... unless you believe that these activities are worth the sacrifice of the biosphere, and the lives of the poor.”
Assuming all commercial aircraft aren’t instantly grounded the moment this article is published (come, friendly drones), perhaps we can start by fostering some solidarity. Establishing what takes priority could be a starting point.
An essential work trip, or a visit a loved one on their deathbed would surely come above the "just fancy it" sojourn. Or perhaps worse still, a trip to curate square photos in a phone app, the new hunting trophy room of the entitled. (I mean, who does that?)
“It means the end of shopping trips to New York, parties in Ibiza, second homes in Tuscany... unless you believe that these activities are worth the sacrifice of the biosphere, and the lives of the poor”
With my newly-sanctimonious sensitivities in place, when Tristan Kennedy, editor of this very site, briefed me that Amuse is for the kind of folk who might "fly business class to go backpacking", I did a little cat sick in my mouth.
Of course, being a pro - and never one to turn down a commission - I immediately cleansed my palate (with a dash of mindful kombucha, naturally) and started typing. You may or may not be with me on this. But the main thing is to remember the bigger picture here: I cat sicked first.
Paul Evans is a surfer and writer based in Southwest France. Like everyone else, you can follow his curated collection of square photos on Instagram.