"Such a site for play, this edge:" Surfing, Tourism, and Modernist Fantasy in Papua New Guinea

West, Paige

Both sport and tourism are deeply modernist forms that rely on the circulation of people, media, and capital for their endurance. In this article, I analyze both forms through the ethnographic examination of surf-related tourism in Papua New Guinea. For many Papua New Guineans, surf tourism is an avenue for gaining positions in wage labor. For some the development of the industry is an attempt to foster “sustainable” economic development in the country. These forms of participation rely on international tourists who see the sport and the industry in Papua New Guinea as a site for recreation and play. This article deals with these people, surf tourists who visit Papua New Guinea and for whom surfing is a major part of their social identity. Surfing as an embedded, affective practice and a set of deeply socio-ecological propositions about people-in-nature is historically tractable to indigenous Pacific Island societies. It was deterritorialized, or removed from the context of its origin, by Australian and American youth who took up the practice as a sport in the early part of the twentieth century. Today surfing has been reassembled as a form of development in the very places from which it emerged. Through the analysis of the movements of media, people, and capital involved in the surf tourism industry in Papua New Guinea, this article demonstrates the new social assemblages that emerge when labor, development, and play intertwine.

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Also Published In

The Contemporary Pacific

More About This Work

Academic Units
Anthropology (Barnard College)
Published Here
February 2, 2017