Tourism on Their Own Terms

Posted by Monique Dubos on July 14th 2009 in Uncategorized Edit

Eco-Surf Volunteers. Photo Courtesy ESV

Sam Bailey was surfing his way up the western coast of Peru last year, taking advantage of the warm waters and hospitality. Crossing into Ecuador, he traveled through beach towns in various stages of development, and arrived in the small town of Canoa on the north coast.

Bailey noticed that in many of the villages, big companies had set up hotels and restaurants without concern for the natural environment or local customs. The fishing village of Canoa, which also catered to surfers, was fairly undeveloped, with most roads still unpaved and electricity that goes out every once in a while. It was obvious to Bailey that tourism was coming to Canoa, but he hoped he could help the villagers build their industry on their own terms.

His idea was to start a camp where college-aged students could learn to surf and take on environmental projects. “Surfing is a solitary sport. Surfers don’t see beyond themselves when they return to the beach,” Bailey says. To change that dynamic, he approached Daniel Velasco, a town leader and fellow surfer who runs a “posada,” or “small hotel,” in Canoa. According to Bailey, Velasco initially feared this was just another way to exploit the village. But Bailey convinced Velasco of his sincerity and assured him the groups would patronize locally-owned hotels and restaurants, spending money in the local economy. Also, each group member would donate money to the local grade school. Velasco agreed to introduce Bailey to the community and helped facilitate what became Eco-Surf Volunteers.

Eco-Surf Volunteers with local children. Photo Courtesy ESV

The local grade school, La Escuela los Algarrobos (named after a kind of native tree), includes English as a Second Language and environmental education in its curriculum. Eco-Surf Volunteer participants facilitate arts and crafts sessions to give the students a chance to practice their English. Moya Foley, the school administrative and financial director, a Canadian who has lived in Ecuador for 30 years, says that the financial donation helped complete some construction on two new classrooms, and the volunteers “worked their butts off moving dirt, sanding, painting and generally doing whatever we needed done.” The volunteers’ hard work — about four hours a day — is rewarded with daily surf lessons given by local.

In addition to helping out at the school, the volunteers lead the village children on beach clean-ups. “I think the most important thing the volunteers take back to their countries as an experience, is the cultural immersion they have and the contact with the community,” says Velasco. He was particularly satisfied with the impression the volunteers made on the children. “They are used to seeing tourists partying or laying on the beach reading,” but through Eco-Surf Volunteers, they “see the volunteers working on the school activities, [doing] beach cleanups and collecting garbage on the street.”

The programs have been a big hit with the children, involving both students from La Escuela los Algarrobos and others from Canoa. “The first day we had about 20 kids and on the last day we had 90!” says Foley. They are “looking forward to the volunteer’s return. They stop me on the street, the older ones, and ask me when they are coming back.”

Bailey is planning several more camps through 2010, but envisions the people of Canoa eventually taking over operation of the camps themselves: “The town is still discovering what is needed. They want progress, but want to do it in a careful way. The biggest concern is developing the tourist industry while maintaining cultural identity.”

Eco-Surf Volunteers


  1. Wow Sam! I had no idea what an impact you make on peoples lives! It's so wonderful what you're doing. I'm very proud of you.

    Love, Sho

  2. awesome work my friend. keep it up. can't wait to hear what you got working for 2010.

    Matt McPherson - www.trunq.com

  3. This is wonderful Sam! Congrats. Gabriella

  4. This is a great article, hope it gets a lot of exposure!


  5. Way to be, Sam!

    Keep up the good work; would love to visit the program in Canoa some time.

    For a similar program in Peru check out:


    Maybe WAVES and ESV could develop some kind of 'best practices' manual together?