One of the biggest transformations I've seen over the last several decades is the transformation of surfing in Fiji from a local curiosity to a World Wide phenomenon. Fiji hosts some of the best surfers in the world in regular competition and what's also noteworthy is that nowadays indigenous Fijians are getting their surfing chops down. Fijians are competing with the best.
Surfing is not only a big deal in Fiji. It's become a big business.
No one that I can think of has been more involved with this metamorphosis than Ian (aka Kini) Muller whom I've known for many years. Ian was an advocate for surfing before the Fiji Visitors Bureau thought it was cool, and opened one of the first surf shops on Viti Levu.
We had the opportunity to talk to him at length about the genesis of surfing in Fiji, his own business and the "deregulation of the waves", in which he was instrumental.
This is the third in a three part series of interviews with Ian that I think you'll find engaging and provocative.
At present I think we are just trying to find ourselves as we have just come out of a long struggle of having our waves shut out from us locals and other tourists for a couple of decades and we are trying to get back on the surfboard and feel at home surfing these waves. Foreigners surfed our waves more than the locals which is kind of sad but we have sorted that out and now we can develop the surf culture you talking about. As mentioned earlier, our people were surfing just as early as the Hawaiians therefore in order for us to decide our future we need to know our past.
One of the reasons why we are making our own Fijian Made Surfboards is so we can sponsor talent and kids. This with the combination of our Vodo Ua Boardriders Club we hope we can develop a cool surf culture without all the hype of the current surf culture around the world but keep it Fijian – soulful, humble, traditional, respectful which is what our surfing ancestors would like. I think a lot of the world has lost that and taken on a modern "No Salt" approach to surfing –we want to bring back the true soul of surfing which was born in the Pacific. Show more BULA in the lineup …
How much have things changed since Fiji “deregulated” the waves four years ago? Can you discuss what if anything has changed? Why deregulate the waves in the first place? What was your role in the deregulation?
For starters who has exclusivity in any modern fair economy these days?? Fiji has our own traditional customary laws over fishing rights that were brought in from tribal times. Foreigners were able to manipulate this system for their own benefit – bribery and corruption took place and as a result a special License was issued for close to 20 years with on going renewals. The corrupt License included anything from fishing, surfing, reef, water rights.
This special license because it was successful at Tavarua was being pushed by corrupt politicians and chiefs to be set up throughout Fiji in all the reefs and oceans boundaries – this would of destroyed Tourism and Fiji. Hence the Bainimarama revolution to cut out all this corruption.
Quite abit has happened since our waves were opened in July 2010 through the only surf law in the world - Surf Decree which protected surfers, waves and the environment. Local companies can now prosper with new ones opening up local and foreign. Our business alone has finally been able to grow after 16yrs being in business and now finally able to play on a level equal field. We felt like second class citizens in our own countries where foreigners got ahead and locals were marginalized.
The role to deregulate the industry was mainly for tourism and to give business esp local ones a fair chance to have an equal share of the pie. Now through that more companies have opened up – other resorts are able to take more bookings for surfers and the whole industry can benefit right down to the taxi driver. If the Surf Decree never happened we would never start our Surfboard Factory or Boardriders Club because what would be the point when our best waves are being shut out. You think Hawaii would have a surf industry if Pipeline or the North Shore for that matter was exclusive??
Yes for sure – but it is not as people perceive as being crowded. Still lots of waves to surf and now the waves can be fully maximized not like before when exclusivity was there – the idea of having another cup of coffee and wait for the waves to get better was an option then. Sometimes when the surf is small or windy we can get crowds of 30/40 still nothing like overseas and Cloudbreak is a 400+ meter reef so surfers can spread out over the reef.
The Surf Decree is in force to protect from crazy operators or surfers who don’t respect the area so that will keep the people in check. Once the Marine Reserve takes affect this will block loop holes of the decree and enforce the law even further – if people don’t like the fact they have to conform to rules to protect this area then its best they find another place to surf – there are a lot of people that want to see this happen and will support it in the best interest of the waves, Islands, reef, oceans and Fiji. We must remember we can't resort to short term monetary gain at the expense of our beloved resources and Fiji.
Fiji has over 330 Islands and is the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world behind Australia and Indonesia so there are hundreds of waves out there in Fiji – many still to be discovered. We were fortunate that when we were shut out of our waves around Tavarua /Namotu we were forced to look further into all the islands and opened up a lot as well named many new waves – very exciting Frontier! Therefore our next stage is to work with villages in all the area we discovered to set up village surf home stays – where surfers can go with friends or families to these villages and stay within the village and live the true island lifestyle – giving back directly to the people. Most of the waves are right out in front of the village – a real life changing experience - surfing, diving, fishing, drinking kava, playing touch rugby to learning all the traditional village practices.
We are at the cusp of developing a surfing industry on our own terms – we can take the good of what the world has given to surfing and we can leave the bad – creating our own Fijian Style to keep surfing true to the spirit of our ancestors. The future is bright and exciting for Fijian Surfing – we just need to remember to never loose focus on what we have been gifted and blessed with - first and foremost and don’t loose it for greed and power.
Photos courtesy of Ian Muller