Over a year ago someone asked me, “What are your plans after graduation?” In a million years, I would have never thought my answer would be interning in Costa Rica for the summer. But here I am, listening to the sound of waves crashing against the shore on the beautiful Marino Ballena National Park in Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica.
Discovering Bodhi Surf School
Last fall, I asked my professor Dr. Svitlana Iarmolenko if there were any research projects I could help her with. Luckily, she knew Dr. Carter Hunt of Penn State — a professor/researcher who is involved with a number of projects, one of which included an academic study on how nature-based activities like surfing contribute to tourists pro-environmental behavior and activism utilizing Bodhi Surf School, located in Costa Rica, as a model. As I have always had a passion for traveling and outdoor recreation, this project stood out to me. After a few weeks, Dr. Hunt mentioned to me that Bodhi offers internships and I immediately jumped at the opportunity. After talking with Travis, I felt that Bodhi would be a great fit for me.
After a month or two of working on the project, there was another opportunity to speak at the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC) North America Conference about Bodhi Surf at the University of South Florida Patel Center for Global Solutions in Tampa, Florida. ESTC is organized by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and holds international conferences every year, but this was the first one held in North America. The conference was focused on promoting ecotourism’s role in sustainable development but also on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the UN’s recent resolution: “Promotion of Ecotourism for Poverty Eradication and Environment Protection.” We all thought this would be a great opportunity, so we applied for the conference and were accepted!
My experience at ESTC
Over 300 professionals worldwide attend ESTC, so as a first time attender I was a bit nervous. During the first day of the conference Dr. David Randle welcomed us and opened with a keynote speech on how sustainable tourism can address the United Nations sustainable development goals. It was a powerful speech, and ultimately set the tone for the rest of the conference. Immediately following the keynote speaker was the most exciting part of the day (and main reason I went to this conference): to speak about Bodhi Surf School!
I was able to present alongside my professor, Dr. Svitlana Iarmolenko on our presentation called Embodying the Challenge of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The Case of Bodhi Surf School in Uvita, Costa Rica. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about how a small-scale tourism project operating in Costa Rica demonstrates how tourism can make meaningful contributions to these SDGs in the communities in which it operates. We also talked about how Bodhi not only provides introductory surf experiences at their local Marino Ballena National Park but also maintains innovative partnerships with local and international NGOs, including organizations that provide service learning travel programs for youth and adults.
In addition, we talked about how this business provides a “best practices” example of how a single nature-based tourism operator’s efforts can serve as a powerful tool for change. Bodhi Surf School not only addresses the challenge of each of United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, but also provides a blueprint for how individual tourism projects can — and are — having a positive impact on local economies, sustainable community development, and stewardship of nature. We were able to hear a lot of positive feedback from our audience on how they were inspired that a small business owned by a group of friends could address all of the SDGs in just a few years.
What makes this conference unique is that everyone has a passion and love for how we can make our world a better place through tourism. As a young professional, it was amazing to meet so many incredible people who have invested and innovated so much in this industry. I was fortunate to meet Dr. Kelly Bricker, a keynote presenter and the Professor and Chair at the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism at the University of Utah. She gave me insights on what to expect throughout the continuation of the conference and was friendly and eager to meet everyone.
By the time we got back to the hotel, that night, I was exhausted, but hearing the many inspiring stories and case studies made it worth it. Unfortunately, my professor and I were unable to stay for the next two days of the conference due to prior engagements. But, I heard how amazing the second day was because attendees got to choose from excursions around the Tampa area such as a tour of the Anna Maria Island Pine Avenue Restoration District, or a visit to the sponge docks of Tarpon Springs, and more. This gave everyone the chance to not only hear how sustainable tourism is making an impact but also see how they are doing it now.
If you’re looking to learn more about sustainable tourism, build worldwide relationships and connections, and make a positive impact in the tourism industry, I would highly recommend this conference!
Life at Bodhi Surf
After working on the project for several months and finally presenting it, it felt like I had already been to Bodhi because I had learned so much about them. But actually being here at Bodhi Surf School has exceeded my expectations. After only a week, I have seen how they impact their community by supporting the local economy and protecting the environment. They do an amazing job of connecting you via surfing and yoga to nature and the environment. They truly embody the meaning of Costa Rica’s Pura Vida which means “pure life”. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next three months, but I will be doing a great deal of blogging so stay tuned for updates!
Written by Elizabeth Belville