Warning: The US State Department wants you to be afraid…very afraid. A quick scan of their website shows that most of the world has been declared America-unfriendly due to 9/11 and the subsequent Iraq invasion. Last July, the State Department issued a blanket “worldwide caution” that warns US citizens overseas to keep a vigilant eye out for potential terrorist threats from hijackings, bombings, kidnappings, and suicide operations. “These may,” the advisory continues, “include clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, hotels…and beaches.” Remember, this includes the entire world, even France. Statistically speaking, you’re in the biggest danger of taking yourself out while traveling. Driving drunk, having unprotected sex, sailing aboard dodgy charter boats, riding mopeds, drug dealing and flying on rickety third-world charter planes all increase your chances of an early demise. And some surf locales are inherently more dangerous than others. Should you avoid them? Probably not. To quote a Hindu wise man: “Why do we tiptoe so carefully through life just to arrive safely at death’s door?” As a traveling surfer, your chances of dying in a terrorist attack are about the same or less than a shark attack. The following, however, are a few locales that might have empty surf for a reason. Proceed auspiciously.
Indonesia Indonesia is made up of 13,000 islands, 240 million people, 365 ethnic groups, 583 dialects, five major religions and a fragile patchwork democracy. Bureaucracy is rampant, corruption is endemic and most generalizations are futile. The country is 87 percent Muslim but that says little about how westerners are perceived and treated. Depending on the part of the 1700-mile-long archipelago you visit you could encounter friendly “hello meesters” or terrorist bombings, jungle rebels, religious violence or even pirates. Or all of the above. Cells of Jama’a Islamiya, the terrorist group accused of carrying out the Bali bombings and others, lurks in the shadow world of Indonesia under the very noses of unsuspecting tourists. More likely, however, the adventuring surfer runs a greater risk from unsafe traffic, leaky inter-island ferries and a full menu of diseases ranging from Dengue fever to TB. Medical treatment, if available at all, is generally substandard. That being said, the chance of scoring epic surf is generally worth the risk.
Mainland Mexico Mexico has long been the storied “south of the border” where a fleeing felon could conveniently disappear and shady pasts can be easily erased with a decent mordita paid to the right official. Of more concern to the travelling surfer, however, is the banditry and hijacking that is rife along certain sections of the mainland Mexican coast. In the past, traveling surfers have been robbed, beaten, raped and killed. The police are notoriously corrupt. At party towns like Mazatlan or Cabo San Lucas, drunken young foreign revelers are easy targets for pickpockets or underpaid police officers. Mexico City is especially life threatening with over 15,000 murders a year. There are “fast-food” kidnapping gangs who prey on tourists for their ATM and pin number. In the Chiapas Mountains the Zapatistas, heavily armed guerrillas, occasionally hit a tourist in the crossfire between themselves and the Mexican military. Advice: Learn some Spanish and keep a low profile.