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Beyond the waves : economic and cultural effects of the global surf industry in El Tunco, El Salvador


For at least fifty years, surfers have gravitated toward El Salvador's Pacific Coast in search of waves. Once the 1992 Peace Accords were signed, the republic re-emerged as a popular Central American surfing destination. Miles of pristine beaches and near-vacant waves were no longer accessible only to the fearless. By the turn of the century, a beach town dubbed El Tunco, approximately 37 kilometers southwest of San Salvador in the department of La Libertad, became a refuge where waves beckoned the war- weary. El Tunco's evolution into a wavetopia raises several issues that warrant attention. Issues raised in this investigation concern tourism, property rights, searches for investment, the aftermath of neoliberal reforms, (g)localism, opportunities based on gender, and the ambiguous surfing identity at large. This study confronts how pervasive wave-oriented entrepreneurs engage neoliberal reforms, global economic transformations and exploitation. Two central arguments emerge. First, surf tourism serves as a key sector in a depressed Salvadoran economy wherever waves are in demand. The mere act of riding a wave maintains a service sector cemented in a neoliberal ideology. Matters pertaining to land ownership and beach access exacerbate social tensions. Second, the country's social actors engage in a three-tiered process in which many appropriate, reject, and continue to create a surfing identity on their own terms. Published scholarly analyses dissecting the influence of the global surf industry on specific Central American countries are either underdeveloped or nonexistent. The qualitative data presented should fuel discussions among individuals who recognize surfing as a globalized lifestyle, sport and business

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