The Deep Blue Goes Green

A New Wave of Tourism at Panama's Surf Beaches
by: BJ Poss
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“All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.” – Jeff Spicoli, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

No longer the case. The past five years have been a springboard for sustainable surf culture — the “surf bum” stereotype has been replaced by eco-conscious athletes more desperate than ever to protect their Pacific playground.

Industry giants have taken notice, backing the sustainable surf movement by endorsing foundations that help reduce the environmental impact of the sport. Even surfboards themselves have gotten a facelift, with companies experimenting with materials like recycled styrofoam and even mushrooms and algae to make their products. The deep blue is going green.

Given its thriving beach communities and proximity to big breaks, it’s no surprise that Panama has become a hotbed for the sustainable surf movement. “Travelers are more aware about what’s going on globally and the impact we have on the earth,” said Rafi Museri, co-founder of the development group that runs Selina Hostels, a network of eco-friendly hostels in Panama. “Surf beaches in Latin America are good places to execute a sustainable vision because they’re already such green areas — the sun is strong, the rain comes frequently.”

Below, a few of our favorite places dedicated to maintaining Panama’s exquisite surf.

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Selina Hostels, Playa Venao, Bocas Del Toro & Pedasi. Implementing sustainable systems in a country with no formal recycling program is a challenge, but the Selina Hostels network has come up with a whole host of creative solutions. More than a third of their furniture is built from reclaimed wood and other upcycled objects. Each site collects and reuses rainwater. Guests can ride stationary bicycles in their gym that generate electricity for the entire facility. At the Bocas location, designer Gemma Kehoe is turning used plastic bottles into fully-functional kayaks. “Everybody wants to be sustainable; the challenge is making it happen,” said Museri, whose group plans to build dozens of hostels throughout the region. “In Latin America it isn’t always easy, but we’re committed.”

Give & Surf, Bocas Del Toro. Bocas offers some of the best waves in Panama, from the beginner’s reef break at Black Rock to professional grade waves of Silverback. Give & Surf is a nonprofit dedicated to giving back to  Bocas’ local indigenous community through education, community development, and, of course, surf lessons.

Eco Venao, Playa Venao. One of Panama’s pristine surf coves, the remote Venao is lined with just a few hostels, a pizza shop, and swirling flocks of pelicans. Eco Venao, a sustainable hotel and restaurant, has planted over 40,000 trees through their continuous reforestation project. Their open air cabanas are built with organic materials and the staff only uses biodegradable cleaning supplies.

Surfer’s Garden, Playa Reina. Playa Reina supplies an array of surf breaks typically ideal for intermediate to advanced experience. Surfer’s Garden is a sustainable community of surfers staffed by local employees and fueled by locally-sourced produce. The organization has its STOKE Sustainable Certification and engages in ongoing projects with San Diego State University’s Center for Surf Research.

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Credits- photos by Joel