Controversy continues behind the development of the Panaitan Island
Camp, even after the official opening took place on May 3, 2005. The
surf/eco-camp is located off the southern tip of the island of Java on
the Panaitan Island of Indonesia within the Ujung Kulon National Park.
Questions surrounding the manner of development and structure of
management have yet to be answered.
The Panaitan Island Camp touts itself as being located on an island with
access to the legendary surf breaks including One Palm Point, Napalms,
Illusions, Indicators, Apocalypse, Croc & Rolls and Pussy’s. The camp
also advertises the uniqueness of being located within a pristine
National Park that has been given the official status of a World
Heritage Site and is home to the highly endangered Javan Rhinoceros.
Another feature of the camp is a “guarantee” to have uncrowded surf to
all guests as a part of an “Exclusive Surfing Management Plan.”
According to four non-guest surfers who attempted to surf the camp’s
waves, the “management plan” includes your own personal armed park
guards who will threaten to shoot any outsider surfers who try to paddle
out at the local breaks.
Does this sound too good to be true? To some people, specifically the
Friends of Panaitan Island (FOPI), it sounds to good to be legal or
FOPI claims to be “an unofficial group of concerned community members”
that has been formed in response to the development of the Panaitan
Island Camp in an effort to protect Panaitan Island from environmentally
damaging development. Their long-term goal is to work with other groups
to implement sustainable planning practices in the area. The group has a
lengthy list of allegations against the parties involved in the building
of the Panaitan Island Camp outlined in the report, “The Panaitan Island
FOPI’s main accusation against the builders of the camp is in regard to
the silent manner in which the planning and building took place, thereby
calling into question the legality and motives behind the development.
No Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was prepared. No permits were
posted at the time of construction. Planning and monitoring documents
for the development were not made available to FOPI.
Questions asked regarding the camp’s ethical decisions include: “Why
build a surf camp in a World Heritage Site, where the main point is to
reserve the land for nature?” and, “Can they legally restrict non-guests
from surfing in the area?”
The questions and allegations surrounding the camp are easily directed
toward the “Exclusive Marketing Agent” of the Panaitan Island Camp,
G-Spot Surf Camps and owner Matt Rumsley. According to Rumsley, G-Spot
has taken part in the planning, development and management of the
Surf/Eco Camp. Since G-Spot accepted the work, they have been heavily
criticized for the project’s lack of transparency and ethical direction.
Mr. Rumsley has released statements in opposition to the campaign
against the Panaitan Island Camp and his surf travel company.
Answers to Allegations
In defense of the allegations made by FOPI, Rumsley has countered
with his own accounts of the swirling rumors in a widely released press
When the legality of building the camp within a World Heritage Site was
questioned, Rumsley responded by saying, “I am led to believe all
appropriate parties have been contacted and appropriate licenses/permits
have been obtained.” Rumsley clearly points out that legality of the
development was left up to the National Parks, not the marketing and
In response to the ethics surrounding the development of the camp within
a World Heritage site, Rumsley stated, “When we think of World
Heritage listed, does that mean we wrap it in glad-wrap and no one is
permitted to stay and enjoy its beauty?” FOPI has claimed that the
location of the camp is unnecessary as existing developed areas are a
short boat ride away.
Rumsley claims long-time involvement and support for the efforts of the
Indonesian Department of Forestry to build the camp. “We went into depth
with the logistics of the whole operation, and after months of meetings
we agreed to help the National Park create a surf- and eco-friendly home
stay.” However, in response to negative accusations, G-Spot Surf Camps
has been strategically distancing the company from the planning and
construction of the camp. Rumsley said, “It wasn’t G-Spot’s idea from the
start to construct a camp.”
Rumsley has also taken an offensive stance by saying that members
of FOPI have been involved in illegal activities in the past and that
the claims against him and the Panaitan Island Camp are made from
competing businesses in the surfing industry. In a world of increasing
international surf business it is difficult to look past the possibility
of propaganda being distributed where the motive of money is involved.
However, the facts and events that have unfolded during the development
of the camp in Indonesia are hard to ignore.
Dying to Paddle Out
In a statement made by Rumsley, “There was an initial
misunderstanding that we were claiming exclusive rights to the island.
This is not the case, the home stay is open to everybody and our website
is being presently corrected.”
Two days after the official opening day of the Panaitan Island Camp,
four surfers were threatened to be shot by park rangers for attempting
to surf the waves held under what the G-Spot website says is an
“exclusive surf management plan” for the Panaitan Island Camp.
Contradictive claims such as the one described above are what have led
FOPI to formulate a campaign to ask surfers not to travel to the
Panaitan Island Camp.
What Does World Heritage Mean?
Inquiries about the legality of building in a World Heritage Site made
by SurferMag.com to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the head of Ujung Kulon National Park,
Awriya Ibrahim, the Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, and
Matt Rumsley of G-Spot Surf Camps, have not been answered. Without
official responses to our questions, claims and rumors made by FOPI and
G-Spot remain claims and rumors. However, a close look at the meaning
of World Heritage Sites could shed some light on the legality and
environmental ethics of the development.
Locations designated as World Heritage Sites are places with
extraordinary natural and cultural significance. To qualify for the
designation, the location has to fulfill a high standard of established
Listing an area as a World Heritage Site is an extremely important
accomplishment for many developing countries. The local economy,
through tourism, is given a large boost and an area with natural and
cultural treasures is given a high level of protection. Funding and
technical assistance to help fulfill these accomplishments is given from
international sources as these sites are seen as belonging to the world.
Countries attempting to obtain a WHS listing for an area have to jump
through many hoops and fulfill lengthy criteria. Included in the
criteria is participation of research, education and monitoring of the
site to help ensure the preservation of the WHS’s integrity.
With the listing of a World Heritage Site at the Ujung Kulon National
Park, it appears that it would be very difficult to build the Panaitan
Island Camp without the proper permits and reports prepared for a
complete analysis of how a project would affect such a highly sensitive
area. How could FOPI claims of no permits and planning documents be
In an article released by the Australian publication The Age, UNESCO”S
Jakarta-based environmental specialist Han Qun Li said an Environmental
Impact Statement (EIS) would have to be prepared before construction
began. In this report, Awriya Ibrahim said no EIS was needed because,
“We are in charge of the activities in Panaitan Island. We already have
a management plan, so we don’t need an EIS.” The confusion surrounding
the project increases.
Exploiting the “Eco” Label
G-Spot Surf Camps has made it very clear that the Panaitan Island Camp
is a Surf and Eco Camp. Their website explains in detail the surf spots,
the bar, transportation to and from the numerous breaks, the big screen
television with surf flicks, four generators supplying 220 volts of
electricity 24 hours a day, guaranteed uncrowded surf under the new
“exclusive surfing management plan,” and that somehow the camp is
The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) states that, “Those who
implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the
*Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect,
*Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts,
*Provide direct financial benefits for conservation,
*Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people,
*Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and
*Support international human rights and labor agreements.”
SurferMag.com asked Rumsley to explain what makes the Panaitan
Island Camp “Eco,” and Rumsley responded by saying “Why don’t you guys come on a trip to the island, then you can have all your questions answered first hand.” No other explanations of the camp’s environmentally friendly practices were given.
Discuss this story and the accompanying story from “The Age”, an Australian news source.
As it turns out, a large international problem in ecotourism lies in the
fact that many companies use the “Eco” label loosely to attract tourists
sincerely looking to have their money spent on travel to improve the
world at the same time. Without any firm explanation from Rumsley, G-Spot appears to have included itself in this group of loosely named “Eco” destinations.
With a basic analysis of the development, the following things are
considered to be environmentally damaging: the destruction of coral
reef, destruction of native habitat that is home to one of the most
endangered Rhinoceros in the world, noise and pollution from generators
and boat engines, septic tanks near the ocean and a river, effects of
visitors roaming around the jungle and reefs, trash disposal, and
probable fishing and collection of marine and terrestrial artifacts.
Combined, these activities have substantial negative effects on a local
environment that has been bestowed the highest natural recognition.
In response to the analysis of environmental harm done by the camp, Rumsley responded by questioning whether that means that no one can enjoy the beauty of the area.
A noted positive for the Panaitan Surf Camp is that it will provide for
more park ranger facilities and some jobs to locals. However, it is
argued that new facilities could be accommodated for in a less damaging,
yet still effective, location and that the jobs do not benefit the
locals in the long-term as it is still a camp managed by a western
The Right to Surf
In one of the more confusing and disturbing issues surrounding of the
Panaitan Island Camp is the issue of the “Exclusive Surfing Management
Plan” created by the Ujung Kulon National Park. Rumsley had
originally advertised that guests will be the only people permitted to
surf on the island. Later, Rumsley retracted that feature of the camp, but prior to opening the camp, the plan was reinstated.
After inquiries to the National Park and to G-Spot, the contents and
details of the surf plan were not revealed to SurferMag.com. Stories of
surfers being threatened by park rangers are the only evidence of the
“ownership” of the waves by the camp and the managing company, G-Spot
Ethical debates over exclusive rights to a surfing spot can be endlessly
argued depending on each individual’s point of view and outlook on the
culture and spirit of surfing. In the case of the Panaitan Island Camp’s
wave ownership, G-Spot Surf Camps have the support of the National Park
behind them. The legality of wave ownership in Indonesia and in a
National Park has yet to be challenged, but as FOPI continues to
investigate the actual construction of the camp, the issue of wave
exclusivity will likely be addressed.
The Panaitan Island Surf Camp, although owned by the Ujung Kulon
National Park, is currently being advertised as a G-Spot Surf Camp where
you can enjoy the benefits of the natural wonders provided by a World
Heritage Site while surfing epic waves “owned” by the camp. Scathing
claims and allegations made by FOPI are making their way around the
world in the group’s attempt to persuade people from staying at the
island. The legal aspects and ethical questions of the development need to be addressed, explained and clarified. It would seem a wise marketing move. Until then, the Panaitan Island Camp will be labeled–and perhaps unfairly– as a camp that is destructive to the environment and damaging to the spirit of surfing.
The “guns is your face” approach doesn’t help either.