Waves of Empowerment? The Potential for Sustainable Surf Tourism in Ghana

From the beach, meanwhile, might be seen boys swimming into the sea, with light boards under their stomachs. They waited for a surf; and then came rolling in like a cloud on top of it.

The earliest documented incident of Ghanaian surfing dates back to 1835 by James E. Alexander from his voyage with the British East India Company on the flag-ship Thalia. However, Surf tourism in Ghana, West Africa, is a newly growing phenomenon. Local surfers and “tourists” on the search for waves (photo credit - Rebecca Malloy)The way in which this mode of tourism is to expand is yet to be determined. Being a surf tourist myself, I have witnessed both the beneficial and detrimental impacts surf tourism can have in newly developing surf destinations. Should the industry expand within sustainable guidelines (such as those recommended in the Center for Surf Research’s Sustainable Certification Program), surf tourism has the potential to act as an agent to assist Ghana in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Local kids fetching water at well outside my house (photo credit - Elise Dingman)Busua Beach is a captivating community where the charismatic local people will steal your heart and the energy of the community will remain pulsing in your soul long after you leave. There are currently two surf shops located in Busua, Black Star Surf Shop http://www.blackstarsurfshop.com/, and Mr Bright’s Surf School. http://www.mrbrights.com/ Both establishments endeavor to improve the quality of life for the people inhabiting Busua. There is also a surf related non-governmental organization (NGO) located in the community – Black Star Developments. http://www.blackstardevelopment.org/index.html This organization has recently implemented the Surf N’ Shine volunteer program where volunteers can learn to surf while helping the organization with various development projects in the community. http://surfnshine.org/ Peer Leader Program and Volunteers on Busua Beach (photo credit – Elise Dingman)I was fortunate enough to have experienced this program first-hand while interning with Black Star Developments (BSD). Although I did not partake in the surf lesson portion, I did surf with the local surfers every day. I was able to see the positive impact surfing was having on the community, as a leisure activity, but also through creating jobs, and as an agent for implementing community development initiatives in Busua Beach. Jocelyn Blazey and I designed BSD’s Peer Leader after school program through a series of participatory sessions with local community members in 2012. Ebenezer Bentum (The Ghanaian running the NGO), was very concerned with getting all members of the community’s input, including women and the poorest or marginalized members.


Peer Leader Program (photo credit – Tabitha Ballard)

By no means am I suggesting that surf tourism or the surf-related organizations in Busua Beach are perfect. However, I do believe these initiatives ought to be recognized for their efforts and community development initiatives. That being said, with TLA-1817 (A recent Tourism Legislation Act) providing numerous incentives for foreign investment, there is currently no certainty that new foreign-run surf tourism developments will develop in a way that includes or provides benefits for the local populations in Ghana. Surf tourism in Busua Beach has thus far, developed in manner that suggests foreign-run operations can and have been concerned with the well-being and inclusion of local populations. It can act as precedent for surf tourism development in Ghana as well as other newly developing surf destinations.


Typical scene on Busua Beach – fishing boats, kids playing, and surfers on the hunt for waves.

Busua Beach still needs to consider the potential ramifications of unplanned and unmanaged surf tourism. The Ghana Tourism Sector should collaborate with the local community and pre-existing surf establishments, to implement a sustainable surf tourism model that is equitable and continues to benefit the local populations. In addition, this collaboration could ensure marketing strategies are culturally, historically and geographically factual, to aid in mitigating the potential misrepresentation of the community. By examining the way in which other surf destinations have expanded – the lessons learned, and the management models proposed – Ghana can move forward in a direction toward planning and implementing a sustainable surf tourism management plan for communities such as Busua Beach. Newly developing surf tourist destinations could make the certification standard with CSR mandatory for surf tourism operations, potentially even subsidizing the expenses to encourage sustainable development. This certification would ensure that exploitative development is minimized, operations are culturally appropriate, while making certain that social responsibility to the communities is maintained. Surf Tourists and Surf Instructor/Guide Peter Ansah, searching for new surf breaks.Surf tourism has the potential to add considerably to Ghana’s overall tourism strategy providing an area of comparative advantage for the West African nation. In a similar way to the East African case, where wildlife tourism has been augmented by beach tourism, Ghana’s developing tourism industry can be enhanced by taking sensible advantage of its abundant surf breaks and vast coastline. Peter surfing at Black Mamba (photo credit – Rebecca Malloy)A hybrid approach becomes necessary linking Governmental agencies, NGOs, research institutions, local communities, international institutions and surfers through mediums such as the surf resource network http://www.surfresource.org/, to take an interconnected collaborative approach to sustainable surf tourism. These organizations and institutions together can become agents for mobilizing a shift towards sustainable surf tourism development so that Ghana’s waves of potential can be transformed into waves of empowerment.

i. Alexander, James Edward. Narrative of a Voyage of Observation Among the Colonies of Western Africa, in the Flag-ship Thalia, on staff of Commander-in-Chief, 1835. London: Henry Colburn Publishing, 1837. ii. Ponting, Jess. “Consuming Nirvana: An exploration of surf tourist space.” Doctor of Philosophy. Sydney: Graduate School of the University of Technology, January 31, 2008.

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