Intelligent Energy

Next infrastructure boom? Follow the surfers

Posting in Energy

From Liberia to Sri Lanka, these dudes lead the wave of economic development. Watch 'em ride in West Africa.

Tranquility today, hotels tomorrow? Scene from a Liberian beach.

Here's something on the lighter side for the SmartPlanet energy blog as we head into a summer weekend. Nevertheless, thought provoking.

You have to love the hubris and the pinch of truth in this statement from American surf dude Daniel Hopkins, who is setting up a surf resort on the golden sands of Liberia (see thrilling videos below), the western African country that until recently was racked by civil war.

Surfers are kind of the pioneers of new locales," he says in a recent BBC Radio 4 program on Liberian entrepreneurs, which you can listen to for as long as the BBC posts it. "They go to these far, hard to reach destinations where there’s no infrastructure or building infrastructure and they're really the people that go out and they reach that."

Heading into the barrel at Mamba Point, Liberia.

Well, it's not just the surfers that can blaze these trails, of course. Foreign interest in Africa's minerals - which has historically not worked out well for most Africans - could also help establish infrastructure like roads, electricity and clean water, if done right. Liberia has a wealth of iron ore. Steel giant ArcelorMittal is mining it.

But it is indeed true that surfers will go anywhere for the ultimate wave. Here's what TIME Magazine had to say on the subject a few years ago:

"Remember the surfing scene from Apocalypse Now? Robert Duvall storming a heavily fortified beach while blasting "Ride of the Valkyries" so his men could catch a wave? Francis Ford Coppola was arguing that war is crazy. The given was that surfing is crazy. And Coppola was right. Surfers will go anywhere for a decent wave.

Sri Lanka's civil war (not to mention the 2004 tsunami) has never stopped surfers from making the pilgrimage to its southern and eastern beaches. The great whites that cruise the waters off Cape Town don't discourage boardriders from attempting the Dungeons — home to some of the world's biggest ridable waves. In season, Hawaii attracts hurricane heads. But you'd think even the wildest wave rider might pause at the prospect of surfing Liberia.

The Liberian flag. Liberia was founded by freed American slaves in 1822. The capital, Monrovia (the original name of the country), is named after U.S. President James Monroe.

Quite the opposite, in fact. For most people, Liberia is best known for its two civil wars between 1989 and 2003. But among surfers, the country is celebrated for its faultless point breaks and, when the winds pick up, some world-class tubes.

No argument from Hopkins. As he looks out over Fisherman's Point, where he is setting up his Kwephuna Restort, he tells the BBC:

“It’s actually a world class wave. When the waves are bigger, on its day, it’s definitely one of the best in the world."

Hopkins isn't the only American surfer setting up shop in Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves and whose capital, Monrovia, is named after American President James Monroe. Texas dentist Keith Chapman has set up Surf Liberia in the Liberian town of Robertsport, where he promotes surfing and fosters community and humanitarian services including dental care.

So far, there doesn't seem to have been a rush.  "There's no surfers," Hopkins tells the BBC. He means that as a good thing - surfers love the solitude away from the crowds. It doesn't quite square with his point about surfers paving infrastructure. But this is a surfer talking. Cut him some slack, dude. And bring on the highways, bridges, clean water and the renewable energy. Just do it right.

Next week I'll be back on the thorium trail and I hope to bring you more details from the U.S. Department of Energy's collaboration with China on molten salt reactors, a story I broke earlier this week. Watch for some more insights too on how a country like the U.S. can kill two birds with one stone - energy security and rare earth dependence on China. Meanwhile have a good weekend. Surf's up.

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Watch Liberian war dissolve into surfing on the back of some pesky crabs and accompanied by funky African horns and rhythm in this 2009 YouTube video, "Sliding Liberia," by Stanford film students Britton Caillouette and Nicholai Lidow:

Big waves, golden sands, remarkable rides, the kids love it in this YouTube video, "Liberia Surf" by "drkeithinafrica" (dentist Keith Chapman, one presumes):

Photos: Boat on beach from Robertsport Community Works. Surfer from Surf Liberia website. Liberian flag from CIA World Factbook via Wikimedia.

More leading surf waves on SmartPlanet:

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure