West Papua’s Unbroken Waves and Untested Waters

By John Seaton Callahan, ASC Microplastics Adventurer

Papua Province on the island of New Guinea is a wild and remote area. Poor infrastructure and the simmering conflict between native Papuan and the Indonesian government have restricted development.

While exploring the coastline, our surfEXPLORE team met a cross-section of local residents, including tribal people with little involvement with or concern for 21st-century tech or culture, betel-nut-chewing indigenous Papuan people who have lived in this area continuously for roughly 30,000 years, and quite a few transmigrasi—ethnic Malay Asian Indonesians who’ve received government assistance to leave crowded areas like Java and Bali and resettle in Papua.

What we did not see was a single Caucasian foreigner (other than ourselves) in three weeks on the coast.

SurfEXPLORE is a multi-national group who travel to some of the world’s more remote and exotic locations seeking undiscovered surfing waves, and teaming up with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) to contribute to environmental research along the way. Our core team is French surfer Erwan Simon, British longboard champion Sam Bleakley, Italian surfer Emiliano Cataldi, and me, American photographer John Seaton Callahan. This was our fifth project in Pacific Indonesia, and it remains one of our favorite places to travel, explore, and surf.

When we contacted the Tourism Official in Sarmi, a large town on the coast known as “Kota Ombak,” or “City of Waves” in Bahasa, the woman there said they recorded 24 foreign visitors in all of 2014.

We had researched the coastline for several months prior, and we found that some of our marked areas did have good waves, some did not, and we found several waves in unexpected places!

And as we have at each stop on our journeys, we made scientific use out of our presence here, collecting water samples for the team at ASC Microplastics to analyze and add to their database of microplastic content throughout the world’s waters.

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