Out of Office Reply: White Guilt

posted by / Blogs / September 16, 2011

Out of Office Reply is Associate Editor Taylor Paul’s column on big waves, travel, and other manly bits.

 

School started Monday in the town. Thanks to Waves for Water these children will enjoy clean water in their classrooms all year long.

School started Monday in the town. Thanks to Waves for Water these children will enjoy clean water in their classrooms all year long.

It gets pretty windy here in the afternoons (and the mornings and the evenings), but the surf is always fun.

It gets pretty windy here in the afternoons (and the mornings and the evenings), but the surf is always fun.

The kids in the town called Ricky, "Tricky." Here's why. (No but seriously I think they just misheard him during the introduction).

The kids in the town called Ricky "Tricky." Here's why. (No but seriously I think they just misheard him during the introduction).

Jon Rose will be the first to admit that he's more of a humanitarian than a surfer these days, although he still rips. When asked about this air he said, "Well, accidents happen."

Jon Rose will be the first to admit that he's more of a humanitarian than a surfer these days, although he still rips. When asked about this air he said, "Well, accidents happen."

Old men and the sea. While they use these canoes principally for fishing these days, this is how many escaped to safety during Liberia's civil wars.

Old men and the sea. While they use these canoes principally for fishing these days, this is how many escaped to safety during Liberia's civil wars.

Jon at a local well after demonstrating how his water filter system works. One filter lasts five years and can give 100 people water a day.

Jon at a local well after demonstrating how his water filter system works. One filter lasts five years and can give 100 people water a day.

 

Out of Office Reply
We’re in Liberia, not Libya. That seemed to confuse people when we were planning this trip, so I think it’s best to preemptively clarify. Unlike Libya, it’s peaceful here. Has been for eight years. The civil wars that raped this West African country during the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s are fading scars on this green land, and people smile as people do when they’re mending and hopeful. And we’re here, as white people so often are in Africa, exploiting its natural resources.

“We” are me and photographers DJ Struntz and Logan Mock-Bunting. We are also surfers Ricky Whitlock and Jon Rose. Yep — three guys documenting and two surfing. We invited several others, but when we mentioned “Africa” without “South” in front of it people quickly remembered prior commitments. But we came. We’re exploiting.

Not like the fat rednecks on the plane ride over, with their pink faces, Chevron patches on their bags and “My alcohol has too much blood in its system” shirts. And not like British diamond dealers, who pay a pittance to the people who actually find the stones and then turn around to slang ‘em to us so we can stake claim on our women. No, we’ve come to help ourselves to Liberia’s waves. Because like oil, and like diamonds, there’s plenty, but people here lack the means to properly take advantage. So we come. We exploit.

And call it white guilt or call it our duty as privileged humans or maybe just call it a positive spin on an otherwise standard surf trip, but we’re doing some good, too. Jon Rose is guiding us on that front, helping us distribute water filters to the town where we’re surfing, a place that gets its water from dirty creeks and shallow wells. Jon does this around the world through his non-profit Waves for Water. This is his full-time gig because, strange as it may seem to you and me, surfing seems less important when you’re saving lives. And that Jon is a humanitarian leader in the surf world is heartening because he is a leader people will follow. Because in the world’s most selfish sport, where the words “humanitarianism” and “non-profit” are as scary as Target and Nike, Jon’s a f–king rock star. He’s got an apartment in Port au Prince. He dated Pam Anderson. He pals around with Sean Penn. And though he’s really good at life, he isn’t preachy. He doesn’t thrive off your guilt. His formula — surf in the morning, get shit done in the afternoon and relax in the evening with a happy heart and a belly full of whiskey — is perhaps the best I’ve sampled.

So yeah, not a standard surf trip. Sunday we rode in a rusty heap of scrap metal from the surf to Monrovia, today we’re being chauffeured in an air-conditioned SUV. Last week we slept on soggy mattresses in a concrete box, this week we’re in a fancy hotel with Iceland Air flight attendants poolside. On Saturday we set up networks to distribute the water purifiers, yesterday we played blackjack ’til 5 a.m. Friday we interviewed locals who lost their families in the war, tonight we met with a guy from the UN and tomorrow, f–k if I know, I’m so spun out with all this Africa that I’m just hoping I can fall asleep tonight. Probably will. The whiskey helps. —Taylor Paul

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  • Honey Badger

    Mr. Rose is a badass.

  • think

    its the truth. waves are like any other resource. if a person makes money for themselves surfing waves or a company can build an image on finding waves in foreign countries, their OBLIGATION is to pay it forward to the people who live there. plain and simple. there is too much selfishness in the search for waves. almost to the detriment of the surfing ethos. how about you add a rule to your surfing rulebook that says, “if you paddle out at a break you have never been to before or you don’t know anyone, introduce yourself to everyone in the lineup before you get a wave.” that is something humans do inherently. If you take that out of our human nature, everyone is just assholes. Thanks for acknowledging that surfing is the most selfish sport in the world. now do something about it.

  • Black Young

    is this Costa rica ?