First Thoughts on Bikini Atoll

by The Deep Water Breaks

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I’ve been researching Bikini Atoll recently for class, and it’s begun to occupy a larger part of my time and energy. It’s the seminal U.S. idea of the middle of nowhere, which is why the Eisenhower administration thought it would be an ideal place to conduct the nuclear tests that helped usher in the Cold War era of Mutually Assured Destruction. And though now we don’t think much about this location (despite it being the site of one of the largest human rights violations in U.S. History), it has left an imprint on U.S. culture. 

Anybody curious enough to ask will learn that the bikini is named after the island (the native word being Pikini, which refers to the outer shell of a coconut). And world-travelers speak amorously of the high-quality diving that is the result of vast armadas sunk into the lagoon by nuclear annihilation. My interest is in the world-class breaks found throughout the Marshall Islands. 

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Kelly Slater has a video of him surfing his secret atoll, which I am pretty certain is in the Marshalls. And Quicksilver Crossing filmed their women’s team surfing Bikini Atoll. As the radiation (already allegedly marginal) depletes, tourists in the global era are starting to re-inhabit the Atolls on vacations, meanwhile the displaced indigenous communities of Bikini Island live on subsistence, deprived of their land and out of touch with their old way of life, and the graves of their ancestors. And it’s for this reason that I find troubling a quote from a certain surf-tourism site: The playground will be ours and ours alone.

While Bikini Atoll hasn’t suffered the same tourism problems as Bali or Sayulitas, what little tourism exists seems to simply be a painful echo of those first naive American Soldiers, just as much a victim of experimentation as the displaced islanders themselves.

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