Focusing on kooks, mals, soul surfers, tourists or locals only seems to set the scene for further aggression.

Even Joel Parkinson and Kelly Slater have to share waves at Snapper on the Gold Coast. Pic: Swilly

Been thinking about the near scalping of ten-year-old Pascal Dattler and the debate it has triggered on this and other websites. Some good points have been made but clearly there is no easy solution for this complex problem. Ian Cohen suggests helmets but they won’t protect bodies from errant surf craft. George Greenough argues for round nose design, but what about fin chops, and what about mals?

Beginner zones may help but the most dangerous beginners are the ones who don’t realise they are beginners. Focusing on kooks, mals, soul surfers, tourists or locals only seems to set the scene for further aggression. Respect the rules and everyone mellow out you might say, but even Gandhi would feel like stomping some one after a ridiculously busy day at The Pass.

So where does that leave us?

The problem seems to be that when there are more surfboards in the water the chances of an accident increase in kind. You could blame the surf industry or even magazines like Tracks for helping to popularize surfing but that horse has bolted. If you want to be serious about controlling domestic surf crowds there’s one man you should be expressing your concerns to: Kevin Rudd.

Rudd is driving us – pedal to the metal - towards a much more populated Australia. According to recent projections Australia’s population will grow by 65% in the next forty years. That’s about double what the world’s population is expected to grow over the same period. It is an extraordinary projection when you consider Australia’s is the world’s driest inhabited continent and that we are already struggling with major infrastructure, water and clean energy issues.

Recently the 7.30 Report devoted an entire week to the population debate. Perhaps sensing the tone of the debate, Rudd revised his enthusiasm for rapid population growth.  “This is simply the reality we are dealing with,” he told Kerry O’Brien. Incorrect, Mr. Rudd. Australia’s population growth is a reality dictated by government policy. It is our emigration levels and hand outs like the baby bonus that have us zooming for 35 million.

The population debate is a complex one but I don’t buy the argument that we need more people to pay for the baby boomers retirement. Short term that works, but what happens when the current (government assisted) boomer babies reach retirement? Do we keep going for growth indefinitely? It sounds like a pyramid scheme.

Environmentalists argue that we are already living beyond our means in the developed world and are heading for a huge wake up call. Population growth is the great multiplier, Professor Tim Flannery points out. Our current environmental and infrastructure problems will be exacerbated by population growth, as will our prosperity and vitality if we get the balance right.

"What I see is a government-set program for immigration, which really seeks to increase our population very quickly but without any proper analysis of the environmental impacts or indeed the social impacts of that program," he told the ABC. “We need the analysis to understand what we can do in terms of a sustainable population living at this standard of living. It's all very well to wave your hands in the air and say everything's going to be okay, but show me the data, that's what we actually need. At the moment ... all of our population-related policies, such as immigration and rebates for children, all that sort of stuff are just happening in a vacuum and that's not good enough.”

Flannery and the Wentworth group of Concerned Scientists argue that governments and the business community will always advocate for population growth because it means more customers and more tax payers. Their suggestion is that there should be an independent group (like the Reserve Bank) who access what is a sensible rate of growth for Australia.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on any of this but that seems a much more sensible approach than viewing steep population growth as both uncontrolable and inevitable. At the moment Rudd’s rate of population growth is one of the few things the federal opposition doesn’t oppose so unless Australians make it an issue it will be our future.

But back to surfing.  It would be nice to think that when crowds get to a certain level people would go play golf or something but there is plenty of evidence that we don’t. Instead we get cranky - rules crumble, etiquette folds, chaos reigns.

Brad Melekian tackled the American overcrowding experience in the Surfers Journal recently and made a frightening calculation. According to Melekian if all of America’s four million surfers went surfing at the same time at the countries 2000 known surf spots for two hours over a 12 hour day there would be... 333 people at every surf break at any one time.

Our future? Let’s plan it differently.

By Kirk Owers