Trent Gordon, San Francisco; USA Executive director for Project Wave of Optimism (WOO) | Photo by Mitch Tobias
"Surfers, being explorers by nature, search for uncrowded waves—the whole Endless Summer mystique. They find beautiful places and tell their friends, who then start visiting. Soon a restaurant or hotel pops up, then backpackers arrive, and 10 or 20 years later you have a place like Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, or Tamarindo, Costa Rica.
"As with any travelers, surfers have a responsibility to leave the place we visit in as good or better condition than when we found it. If we go on a trip and have an incredible experience and get something out of it, I think we should do something in return.
"Project WOO started in the tiny fishing village of Gigante, Nicaragua, about seven years ago. We knew Gigante was going to become incredibly popular and decided to mobilize the community to start tackling challenges they wanted addressed before or while they grew.
"When we first started in Gigante, there was no way for kids to get to the high school, which was about 10 miles away. An idea for [buying] a bus came from the residents, and we purchased it by raising funds from the surrounding community—primarily foreign 'gringo' homeowners and business owners—and also from our base of supporters in the United States. Now, the bus takes 30 to 40 kids to high school every day, and since it's started running, there's been an 81 percent increase in active secondary school students.
"Another example is trash. One whole section of the community was throwing their garbage in the estuary because there was no trash collection. Working side by side with local leaders, we held numerous community meetings to discuss the problem. We lobbied the municipal government and Guacalito de la Isla, a nearby resort, to help provide a waste management system.
"I see our project in Gigante as a pilot project. Once we've refined our model, I think we can be in many locations around the world that are facing similar problems."
—interview by Elizabeth Limbach
Between 2008 and 2011, travel-related jobs increased by more than 400 percent in Gigante, with tourism surpassing fishing as the core industry.
ON THE WEB Learn more at projectwoo.org