Chris Dixon: Will, how did you get involved in saving Jardim do Mar? It’s not a wave that everyone’s familiar with.
Will Henry: I’ve been going there for years. I Went two years after Surfer did it’s first piece and the place just looked unbelievable. I did my homework figured out where it was. There were only two surfers there and I actually wrote about that trip for Surfer’s Path magazine. I’ve been going every year since. I think that’s eight times. Every winter I go back and stay with some good friends there. It’s kind of become a part of my life.
CD: Has it become a popular surf destination?
WH: It’s definitely more popular. There are a lot of Europeans. I think most Americans don’t know it’s there, though a fair few East Coasters visit. There are very few from Australia or Brazil, but there are a lot who come from Britain and mainland Portugal.
CD: Jardim do Mar is on the Portuguese island of Madeira, but where is Madeira?
WH: It’s about an hour and a half flight southwest of Lisbon. So it’s actually closer in Latitude to Morocco — 400 miles off the coast of Morocco. It’s way out in the ocean, and it picks up all that north Atlantic energy in a generally much more organized way than the rest of Europe.
CD: Who governs Madeira?
WH: It’s under the authority of the Madeiran government and Madeira has a sort of interesting position in European politics. They’re considered to be an autonomous region of Portugal. Madeira has it’s own government but it’s supposed to abide by the Portuguese constitution.
CD: Give us some background on this road project. What’s the basis or reason it even came about?
WH: There has been a ton of construction going on in Madeira over the last five years. Most of it has been funded by the European Union, which has put forth a lot of development money for the so-called “underdeveloped” parts of Europe. So Portugal got a huge cash injection, and Ireland got a huge cash injection. That’s exactly why Ireland’s having to fight to save a lot of their surf spots too.
CD: Where does this money go?
WH: A lot of this money goes to infrastructure. The first thing that happened in Madeira was highways. They were horrible. The topography of the island makes it almost impossible to build good roads. So they’ve built a lot of tunnels. It’s just unbelievable the money they’ve spent and poured into their highway system. But it’s a good thing. Where once it took three hours to get from one end of the island to the other, it now takes one. So the highway projects were sort of figured out. And there was a real impetus for the Madeiran government to do these things.
Now there’s a lot of opportunity for developing marinas and tourist destinations. The first thing we got involved with on the island was really the reason Save the Waves even came to be — they tried to build a marina at another surf spot called Lugar de Baixo (pronounced: bai-joo). That was a place the visiting crew from Surfer called Sammieland. We got involved in that and fought hard against it and they decided to move the marina to another location, which was a big victory for everyone. But it didn’t really stop any of the projects from happening, and it didn’t really make the local population any more aware that surfing is a resource that they should preserve. Now the background on the Jardim do Mar project is that this is something that some of the villagers have wanted for a long time.
WH: Well, the village has one road that goes into town, and it has a center circle and is really pretty far away from some people’s homes and property. So if you come in with a big load of groceries, you have to walk it all. They wanted a road that goes closer to their homes, and they actually rallied for a road that would be in another part of the village, close to the cliffs, but several homeowners shot it down. But — not only do people want to get to their houses. But there are some big land owners there who are hoping to build hotels. Road access is crucial to these hotels, so there’s a lot of money tied up behind the scenes in this. Certain people are going to get more wealthy with this road giving more access to their property. And of course, the construction contracts are huge. When you think of the millions of dollars being spent on this project, the 300 people in the village and the average annual income of those people, it’s so out of scale it’s mind-boggling.
CD: If this is so massively out of the scale of this small town, how did it get through?
WH: With this seawall project — emotions are pretty high in the village. Even though many of the people in the village argued against it, it still went through .The government said ‘this is what’s going to happen’ and they apparently got the money for it. They posted a plan for the project on the wall of the church in the town. People in the know realized what this was, but it was written as technical architect’s plans, so the townspeople didn’t really get a clue on how big it was. It took awhile for the word to get out that the initial proposal was going to put 120 feet of riprap into the ocean! That’s what all the commotion was about and that’s why we did a protest there last year.