La Playa

Surf Tourism: Social Spatiality in El Tunco and El Sunzal, El Salvador

When Salvadoran government officials signed the Peace Accords in 1992, the global surf community took note. For twelve years, civil war had ravaged the Central American country, leaving nearly 80,000 civilians dead or missing. Once the republic re-emerged as a popular 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 nicknamed El Tunco became a refuge where waves beckoned the war-weary. Between 1993 and 2009, El Salvador attracted an estimated 12.5 million tourists, many of them in search of surf El Tunco’s evolution into a wavetopia raises several issues that warrant attention. This paper examines how the global surf industry affects EI Tunco’s economic and cultural landscape. Grounds for the study concern tourism, property rights, capital investment, and the aftermath of neoliberal reforms. Ethnographic and field research conducted in August 2010 indicates property values in El Tunco have nearly tripled since 2005. Matters pertaining to land ownership and beach access also have aggravated social tensions. One central argument emerges: Surf tourism serves as a key sector in a depressed Salvadoran economy wherever waves are in demand. Published scholarly analyses dissecting the influence of the global surf industry on specific Central American countries are either undeveloped or nonexistent. The qualitative data presented should fuel discussions and promote more awareness among individuals who recognize surfing as a globalized lifestyle, sport and business.
Keywords: EI Salvador, EI Tunco, El Sunzal, Surf, Tourism, Neoliberalism, Property Rights, Civil War, Travel, Waves, Spatiality
Please see: Surf Tourism – Social Spatiality in El Tunco and El Sunzal, El Salvador.