Jess Ponting - Sustainable Surf Tourism

Who/what inspired you to research sustainable surf tourism management? 

It wasn't being done and I thought it needed to be. I had been a community development worker in Papua New Guinea right out of college (BSc in resource and environmental management) and seen how tourism could be a sustainable economic driver for remote rural communities. After a year of that, I spent a year in Indonesia traveling overland and on ferries to surf tourism destinations from Bali to Timor and saw many coastal communities being economically supported by surf tourism, but that this was coming at a great socio-cultural and environmental cost. It seemed to me that if surf tourism learned from decades of research into community development processes and the emerging field of sustainable tourism that we might be able to be proud of what surf tourism had brought to less developed surfing destinations rather than embarrassed.


What does sustainable surf tourism entail? 

It involves giving a shit about the places you go to and the people who live there. Take that onboard and act on it and you will be in good shape. Check out for details on what this might look like. If you are a student wanting to learn, check out for amazing educational opportunities involving surf tourism and sustainability.


What do you want to communicate to all of the surfers out there reading this? How can we make a difference?

Involve sustainability in every decision you make about surfing and surf travel. There are excellent options out there, take them. Tell your friends about them. 

 Be part of the solution so we can all surf in healthy ocean wilderness for generations to come. 


What do you like most about your job?

This year I've travelled to Fiji, Hawaii, the UK, and I'm at the airport on my way to Portugal right now all for surf research related reasons. I get to travel to amazing surf destinations multiple times each year and help those places become more sustainable. I get to meet all kinds of surfing legends and hang out with them. This year I've had a long lunch with Ian Cairns, Tom Curren got me a beer at the UK houses of parliament, I hung out with Brad Gerlach and Greg Long, I've had a chat with Shaun Tomson, and Fred Hemmings came to speak at a conference I arranged. For surf history/culture nerd like me this is incredible. I get to inspire young people to find their passion and join the dots together in ways that no one has before to create a dream career. I published a book this year with my good friend Greg Borne from Plymouth University called Sustainable Stoke that had us meeting more than 40 key influencers of surfing culture - again, as a surf nerd, this gets me out of bed in the morning.


Of all the places you have travelled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?

Papua New Guinea. Probably the most incredible country in the world. More than 830 individual languages and cultural groups. The world's most progressive surf tourism management plan, and a whole lot of uncrowded reef breaks. Indonesia is a close second - diversity of waves is breath taking. Fiji also has my heart, and Restaurants might be my favorite wave in the world tied with Macaronis.


What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?

Nothing worth anything comes easily. All the best stuff needs dedication. Dedication requires that you love something. Follow the things you love, even if it’s hard.


What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?

Surfing has given me a focus, an identity, a spiritual connection despite a resolute disbelief in any kind of religion, an appreciation of the natural world, a lifeline from the destructive possibilities gravitationally pulling a wayward teen away from a path of light, a career, a wife, immeasurable happiness, my most cherished adventures, a means to test myself against my fears, an unexplored realm of academic investigation. It is the only form of exercise and physical expression that can get me out of bed pre-dawn on the coldest night of the year with a smile. How hasn't surfing changed my life might be an easier question to answer.


When did you get your first surfboard?

I got a 'foamie' twin fin when I was 10 or so. 6ft Gary Mead single fin when I was 11 (horrible board).


What do you love about surfing? 

Pretty much everything. It keeps me healthy (ish), sane (ish) and inspired. It’s all I think about (aside from my 3 year old daughter - but I'm just thinking about how to get her to start surfing asap, and my wife who is with me because of an informal surf lesson and who may have just discovered a love of stand up paddle).

 It keeps me healthy (ish), sane (ish) and inspired


Where can we find you online?




Posted by: Christina Niemi, on November 24, 2015
Categories: Interviews