You wait an age for an endangered wave in Newcastle and then two come along at once. The Surfrider Foundation has just added South Newcastle to its “endangered” list, joining neighboring Stockton. The Surfrider Foundation, acting on advice from local surfers, believes an $11 million redevelopment including the creation of a new accessible skate bowl, cafe/kiosk and outdoor gym, will not only adversely affect the waves at “South Newy,” but will add to erosion and eventually render it unusable. 

Now none of the local surfers are against the idea of a new skate bowl. There is currently a skate park on the location that is mostly used by local kids. A few clicks south, the redeveloped Empire Park Bowl at Bar Beach has been one of the great community space successes in recent years. 

They say the problem is the location of the bowl at South Newcastle, which in the plans juts out 20 metres further than the existing seawall. The size and scope of the plans means the skate bowl will effectively become a new, and much larger, seawall. 

Close up diagram of the skate park, which is likely to intrude on the break at south Newcastle.

“Last week on a big high tide and small swell the water came within a metre of the seawall,” says local goofyfoot, Freddy Mercury impersonator and famous high kicker Aaron Kelly. “Our concern is that when the bowl is built on any high tide there will be a backwash effect. On a two-to-four foot swell, it could destroy the waves. On the numerous big south swells we get it, the bowl would be absolutely hammered. There’s room down there to make this happen, it just doesn’t need to go so far into the ocean.” 

Now South Newcastle isn’t exactly a world class wave. While Newcastle itself is known for the quality screaming lefthanders that can appear off the pool on a decent northeast swell, the south of the beach offers a mixed bag of fickle beachbreaks. It does however handle a bit of south swell and for the locals is a haven from the crowds that come with being the main city beach. As in the case with many of these coastal developments the surfers believe their deep connection with the beach and their expertise isn’t being listened too. 

“Just last week on a day when the swell was lucky to be knee high, the waves were lapping the sea wall,” wrote Surfrider Foundation. “Newcastle Beach only has around one metre of sand to lose before it becomes bare rock. If the bowl goes ahead, we won’t only be losing the beach under the bowl, but it is very likely that we will also lose the beach surrounding the bowl. Newcastle Beach is a beautiful natural asset, why risk it?” 

Newcastle City Council however believe differently. The say the design takes into account how the skate park would affect sand and wave movement, maximum foreseeable water levels and wave forces on the structure, using 25 years of data on storm surges, tides, wave run-up and predicted sea-level rises. 

Aerial view of Newcastle beach with the south end at the bottom of the frame.

They also point to other beach bowls at Bondi, Alex Beach in Queensland, Venice Beach in Los Angeles and Rockaway Beach in New York. Yet none of these are located in the actual swash zone, and all have had issues with their bowls being filled with sand in storms in the past. I’m no skate expert, but I do know that sand and skating go together like shit and tacos. The council however is determined to push on with a finishing date set for 2021. 

The surfers and the Surfrider Foundation are however rallying to fight what is a great idea, but fundamentally in the wrong location. Local surfer Bernie Wilson cites a 2016 Newcastle Coastal Management Plan where the council had put $2 million aside to relocate Surf Clubs further landward to minimize the impact of coastal hazards on them. “Yet when it comes to a skate bowl the ratepayer will have to foot the bill to build it closer to the ocean. It’s madness.” 

Or as Surfrider puts it, “the idea of building anything ON a beach is not intelligent, the proposal to extend on the current seawall and build a skate park further out from that is absolutely preposterous.”  

You can write to the council and tell them your concerns for South Newcastle beach

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