Seven questions for Andrew C. Abel, President of the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea


The President and Co-founder of the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea (SAPNG), Andrew C. Abel, is pushing ahead with plans to establish surf tourism in Bougainville, perhaps one of the last frontiers for the sport in the world.

Bougainville: a view from above. Credit: Sebastian Andreas

You’ve been working on a plan to give surfing a foothold in Bougainville, what does the plan entail?

Andrew C. Abel (ACA): The SAPNG surf management plan (devised by Abel in 1989) has been introduced in places around the country and we’re now focusing on Bougainville. It involves working with local resource custodians (the landowners). Most of PNG’s land ownership is in the hands of customary clans and the custodial rights extend to fringing reefs. So, it is important to have access permission from the landowners who are, in effect, the gatekeepers, and to give them due respect. The plan limits the number of surfers at any one time (guaranteeing uncrowded waves) and also delivers income to the local people.

How is the income derived?

ACA: It comes in the form of fees and levies paid by surfers and the tour operators who take them there. The locals also participate in supplying accommodation, fish, vegetables and other food, as well as boat transport and tours to take surfers bird watching, diving and fishing. The income reticulates directly into the local economies.

How else do local people benefit?

ACA: On the surfing side, the benefits are that the kids are introduced to a healthy sport. One of the SAPNG’s policies is ‘No School, No Surf’, so we also actively promote education. We say to the kids they can’t access SAPNG surfboards unless they are going to school.

‘We’ve identified 10 reef breaks at Pokpok Island. They’re all in the 10-kilometres radius. There will be a limit of between 10 and 20 international surfers there at any one time.’

The program is supported by Buk Bilong Pikinini with books donated to SAPNG for the resource centres it is setting up in surfing communities as part of its social obligations. Local people are also exposed to SAPNG’s ‘Pink Nose Revolution’ policy on addressing the empowerment of women and gender-based violence.

 What is the level of involvement from local people?

SAPNG’s Andrew C Abel. Credit: ACA/LinkedIn

ACA: The involvement of the locals extends from the negotiations, planning, implementation and management of the plan to the selling of the vegetables. It means that PNG is unlike other surf areas in the Pacific where the custodians are the beggars and bystanders on their own land. The whole point of the surf management plan is the distribution of wealth and economic activity all around.

Story continues after advertisment...

When will it be up and running in Bougainville?

ACA: It will all get going during the 2019/2020 surf season (November–April).

Where is the surf in Bougainville and what’s it like?

ACA: We’ve identified 10 reef breaks at Pokpok Island. They’re all in a 10-kilometre radius. There will be a limit of between 10 and 20 international surfers there at any one time. PNG’s not cut out for mass tourism, we don’t have the infrastructure.

Where can surfers stay?

ACA: The Uruna Bay Retreat can take 12 people and there are a few other bungalows on isolated islands that can take any overflow. There are proper beds, proper toilets and showers.

Robert Upe is the editor of Paradise, the in-flight magazine of Air Niugini

This is an edited version of the story ‘Paradise Q & A: Andrew C. Abel,’ which was first published in the September–October edition of Paradise.

Leave a Reply