Puerto Rican Surfers Fight to Save Playuela

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A report by Pablo Zanotti for Surfline.

A couple of weeks ago, the Puerto Rican surfing community erupted on social media in defense of the famed Playuela Valley zone, where plans for the construction of a mega hotel are in the works — presumably to occupy 121 acres of land facing the ocean, in front of popular spots like Wilderness, Pressure Point, El Mix and Wishing Well.

Puerto Rico’s most respected pro surfers — including Brian Toth, Dylan Graves, Alejandro Moreda, Otto Flores and Carlos Cabrero — as well as their extended surfing families across the globe, are protesting this project, and are united in favor of the “Movimiento Playuela” movement, which is working to turn this stretch of coastline into a natural reserve rather than a planned development.

Surfrider is currently researching the issue, but, as CEO Chad Nelson points out, “PR is not known for its transparency on these kind of projects, so it can be difficult to get the information.”

Nelson continues: “That said, it’s an amazing coastline full of waves that should be protected — we’re organizing a campaign strategy to ensure protection of the coast and access to the beach.”

Surfline tracked down local pro Otto Flores, who explained to us exactly what’s going on.

Surfline: What is this project and why are Puerto Rican surfers opposing it?

Otto Flores: Christopher Columbus Landing Resort threatens to build a $39 million project that will occupy 121 acres, with 300 rooms, a 17,000-square-foot casino, 160 condo-type units, 240 apartments over 100 villas. (The original plans called for a breakwater and pier, but we have since learned that nothing will be built on the shoreline.) Wilderness, one of the most famous waves on the northwest coast of the island, is under threat, as well as its neighbors, Pressure Point, El Mix and Wishing Well, which aren’t only famous in Puerto Rico but in the international surfing community, as well. All that without mentioning the environmental impact that a construction of this magnitude will cause — what it will do to the flora and fauna of one of the last virgin zones on the island.

What makes this zone so special?

The surfing community enjoys this piece of land because it has four world-class breaks. Once you get a winter swell with typical E winds, the north coast will look deteriorated and these breaks will be perfect. Other than being an attractive coast to the surfers, in summer this becomes one of the most visited places, because of the watercolor, the light of the Caribbean in bloom. It is a magical place that the community enjoys because of its scenery in and out of the water. 

What actions are you taking to stop this, and what are you suggesting to others?

Right now, we have a resistance camp boarding the place, with the goal of stopping every move that may precede the project. We also have a group of lawyers doing what’s needed. The demand is to have another public audience, so both parties can be listened to: those going for the project, and the community members and environmental organizations opposing it. A protest took place on the property and its surroundings on November 5th, and another on November 19th in front of the mayor’s house in Aguadilla. Together, we are combining our efforts to continue what was done in 1994 against the development of this mega hotel.

There’s probably more than one person saying that this project will bring jobs and provide an economic injection.

In the same fashion that some people predict this will create jobs and help the local economy, studies have been made highlighting the importance of surfing tourism in this zone and the value it has for the economy. The idea behind the study is to prove that keeping the breaks alive is good business and good for the economy. We all know that surfers travel here looking for perfect waves, and other tourists travel here looking for green spaces and conservation. In my opinion, we must pursue that and not the one that implies development and destruction. Jobs shouldn’t be created at the cost of closing the access to our coast and threatening the habitat of our native animals. And we shouldn’t bother something that’s already working.

What are the next steps?

The groups that are working on this will keep doing their studies on the Playuela Valley, gathering information to benefit those opposing this mega project. The surfing community will continue seeking resources and using the media to get our messages out there in hopes of preserving this very special place. In the meantime, we will all be supporting Movimiento Playuela, #movimientoplayuela, and do whatever we can to stop the Christopher Columbus Landing Resort from landing here.

A petition has been started here

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