Who knew a little pier could lead to all of this?
Just short of a Bloodfeud is something I like to call a Turf War.
What it lacks in blatant ferocity, the Turf War makes up for with its politics and tactical maneuvering. This is not an ear-biting, crotch-kicking, eye-gouging brawl but rather a display of will and aptitude. If a Bloodfeud is won with an iron fist, a Turf War is won with shrewdness of mind.
And right now, right in the this very instant, we are in the midst of an epic Turf War between Red Frog Bungalows and a pair of Argentine investors. The two sides are in a fight for control over a popular surf break in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Let’s look at the details:
Four days ago, we posted about a pier being built at Playa Paunch. I came to learn about it by way of Kelly Slater, a regular BDS visitor, who reposted one of Red Frog Bungalows’ (the main (only?) surf camp in the archipelago) Instagram pleas. It reads:
Happy World Ocean Day! Unfortunately this is how the residents of Bocas Del Toro spent their day! Protecting one of the best surf spots in the Caribbean. They started to illegally build a 40 meter pier over the reef. The community knows exactly who is up to the stunt and it is a shame that these people think their big money can destroy something that is for all of the world to enjoy. The surfing community in Bocas Del Toro showed up in force to stop this illegal activity. This I s horrible for our coastline, horrible for tourism and extremey dangerous when the waves are on! This benefits one or a few people and not the country of Panama.
Jake Tellkamp, a past BeachGrit contributor who wasn’t killed by police fire, jumped on the news for Stab Magazine. His initial story was about Kelly’s take on the situation, but the real meat came in part two, when Jake broke the news that it was Ernesto Gutierrez, a former leader of the Surfrider Foundation’s Argentinian branch, and his nephew Juan Medo, who had tried to illegally build the pier.
I spoke with a local friend, who conveniently has PhD in Surf/Eco Tourism and teaches college classes half a mile from Paunch, about the Argentinian pier venture. He said:
For the Argentines (it’s the same people building the big hotel and restaurants behind the wave), I think the pier is for boats to pull up so people can go on land without swimming to it, can theoretically walk out to the surf without urchin dancing, also can have boats there to transfer guests around. I don’t think they wanna kill the break but I think their plan is shit and people underestimate all the factors that make waves great.
Now, back to the Stab piece. Jake went on to speak with Red Frog owner, Scott Balogh, who had this to say:
Surfing is the number one draw to Bocas del Toro, and its waves are of tremendous economic value bringing in tens of millions of dollars every year. This development would benefit very few, and none of those being locals.
A seemingly altruistic statement, but what ulterior motives could lurk beneath Scott’s impassioned plea?
Below the post was an interesting comment (originally posted in Español but Google Translated to English for the sake of our audience), highlighting some of Gutierrez’s finer moments before tossing a jab at Scott from Red Frog:
Dear Stab Magazine:
We know the trajectory of Ernesto Gutierrez, pioneer of Argentine surfing, former President of Surfrider Argentina, of his love and respect for the coastal environment, who made many efforts and campaigns, which were reflected in the preservation of La Paloma, one of the scenarios Emblematic of the surf in our country, avoiding the construction of two stones of 90 meters that were going to destroy two pocket beaches associated with the cliffs and the world class waves that break in that location. The same at the mouth of the Arroyo Las Brusquias of the site of the final disposal site of the Municipality of Gral. Pueyrredón and the construction of a breakwater in T both in Mar Chiquita and SunRider Beach in Mar del Plata
Also his commitment and achievements in the Rise Above Plastic Campaign where we obtained ordinances in localities of our country for the prohibition of the plastic bags of a single use.
We think that it is difficult to take action against the environment in the place where you live in Bocas del Toro Panama and if we think that there are interests on the part of Mr. Scott Balogh to promote his business venture at the expense of the good name of our former President.
Executive Director Surfrider Argentina
And do you see what is happening here? Red Frog has held a monopoly over the surf scene in Bocas for quite some time, and they have no interest in new competition. By discovering a weak point in the competition’s scheme (an illegal pier), they were able to kindle the flame of environmental responsibility and local economic strife to start a social media shitstorm. It’s bloody brilliant!
As we know, the pier has since been put on hold by local authorities. My local contact explains:
[The Argentines] claimed to have paperwork approving their pier and lied to everyone about the size and scale of it. The protestors blocked construction and the correador (the local gov office that handles property titles and building permits from the municipality) came and reviewed the permits and said they did not have proper concession to build over the reef. They are going to keep pushing for it though. It ain’t over…
And what a wonderful time to be alive. Scott from Red Frog has played his hand beautifully, but I wait with great anticipation for Gutierrez from Surfrider’s next move.
Before I go, just a couple questions for the audience:
- If the allegations are true, would you be surprised that an ex-Surfrdier executive would pull such a move at a known surf break?
- Whose side are you on? My heart says Red Frog is in the right, but those motherfuckers charge like $250 a night. Maybe a little competition will do the region some good…