Surf “…this is what El Salvador needs to overcome poverty, not only in economic terms but also of the poverty that you can have mentally, because surfing gives you mental health”. Can surfing help a country to position itself globally as a tourist destination, but at the same time leave behind jobs and a culture of positive-minded people for the future? This is what the government of El Salvador hopes, led by President Nayib Bukele, who appointed a surfer, Morena Valdez, as Minister of Tourism. Morena, in addition to surfing, worked all her life on issues of poverty and economic growth with the United Nations, and today she is in charge of leading one of the government’s emblematic programs, called Surf City, which we were very interested in learning about.
We arrived at one of the northernmost beaches in the country, on a rainy day, and right away we found out that the minister could receive us in her office for an interview. But we had to go to San Salvador. Could we come and go during the day? Of course! What a good surprise, El Salvador is a country very rich in culture, volcanoes, waterfalls, towns, waves, but everything is close and well connected, in one day you can explore everything! So, we went to the capital of the country to meet the minister and learn about Surf City.
Morena is a very energetic, hard-working and friendly person. You walk into his office and you breathe surf. It is nice to be with her and share with her work team. We were interested in understanding what Surf City is
“Surf City is not a surf city. It is a land use plan to bring improvements and benefits to the entire coastal strip of El Salvador and thus promote surf tourism”
The coast of El Salvador for many years was left aside in government plans and this program seeks to revitalize it, improve the conditions and infrastructure of the coast to attract tourism, and improve the living conditions of the local population
What are some of the things that will be developed on the coast? Roads/highways, health centers, sewage treatment plants, and more. Fundamental would also be correct waste management, recycling policies, provision of drinking water, and better energy management in order to make this plan bring sustainable development with a positive impact. This was something we discussed with the minister. They hope that, behind the development of this infrastructure, comes private investment for lodging and more. But, with all these efforts to make surfing grow, how are they going to prevent the Salvadoran sea from being over-saturated with surfers? Precisely the idea is to disperse this project throughout the national territory. This is why Surf City is a circuit of beaches and is not concentrated in a single beach.
This project will be done in order. Specific campaigns for a specific target for each beach. Surf City I was the first batch of investments and included beaches in the middle zone of the country such as El Tunco, El Zonte, and Sunzal. Surf City II, which is starting now, will focus on the “Wild East”, on beaches like Las Flores and Punta Mango.
“We are trying to put the house in order first, always with environmental care, we are going to make a law so that this growth of private infrastructure is not disorderly because the worst that can happen to us is that a mega hotel comes along”
This way of promoting the country through sports seemed tremendous and innovative to us. Without a doubt, we will return in a few years to see how the plan continued. But in order to see the change in a few years, we had to see how it was now and talk to local surfers. So, after San Salvador, we went to visit one of the beaches of Surf City I – El Tunco.
There we met Pijuyito or Jorge Alejandro Rivas Alvarado. We met him by pure coincidence. We needed a plug to charge the car and Oliver went out to find who could share us a plug. We did not find a plug, but a GREAT person who turned out to be one of the top 5 surfers in El Salvador! We went on a day surf trip with him and his friends – that’s how people are in El Salvador: open, and friendly – we explored the Tamanique waterfalls and all the while laughing. This is what surfing and any activity in nature is all about. Enjoy, laugh, connect, flow, be happy.
Pijuyito, the son of Pijuyo, is part of a family that has lived in El Tunco forever. We wanted to know how they had experienced Surf City development in the area, the good and the bad. He told us that, While it is true that it has brought improvements in infrastructure, more tourists who provide jobs, to him as a surf teacher or tour guide, to others in their food and lodging businesses, it is also true that prices had increased a lot for locals. And what caught our attention the most was the following: although they have the benefit of world-class competitions taking place on their beaches, there is a lack of support for national surfers like him and his cousin who are in the top 5. They do not have a health system in case of injury, or support from the government to be able to go to regional competitions. In other words, Surf City does bring development and surfers, but not support for local surfers. Of course, Surf City is a tourism project, not a project of the Ministry of Sports. Yes, it inspires more people to surf, but it does not give them the conditions, the tools… it would be interesting to see a stronger alliance between the ministry of tourism and the ministry of sports so that more Salvadorans can take up surfing as a lifestyle. We support Pijuyito, and we hope that things will change!
Similarly, the mentality of Pijuyito and all other national surfers is to continue training, improving, competing, and above all having fun! As he said, “Surfing for me means fun, if you don’t have fun then it’s not your sport…”
With that message and a great friend, we left Tunco to return to San Salvador to charge the cars – there was a charger there – and learn about another interesting electric mobility project. Quantum. A Bolivian micro electric mobility company that is now producing in El Salvador. They heard about us and did not hesitate to call us to meet to exchange and test their vehicles. How important it is to share these projects! The reality is that the cars that we use, the Teslas, are like spaceships from another planet but are far from being accessible and the solution for mobility in cities like Latin America. Instead, the tuc-tuc, motorcycles, and small cars, all-electric, at affordable costs are a great alternative for cities. We had a lot of fun testing these vehicles and learning about this brand.
Finally, in El Salvador we made a little stop near the border, in what will be Surf City II, the “Wild East”, we wanted to see what was there… and well, we are not going to lie to you, for us the most beautiful beaches in El Salvador. You will have to go check them out… we enjoyed two days and then we had to continue to cross our next country border.