A formal statement of opposition to a WCT event in Australia’s North West.
When the WSL recently expressed an interest in hosting a WCT event in North West Australia, surfers from Kalbarri to Exmouth, 800km north, were quick to voice their opposition. Jakes Point at Kalbarri has been widely discussed as the preferred location for the WSL (who are working in conjunction with the state government and Surfing WA), however there is much evidence to suggest that Gnaraloo is also in their sights. With a Championship Tour that is arguably centred around right handers, the WSL have made rumblings about their desire to host another event in a world class left.
This week the North West Surfers Alliance (NWSA) was officially reformed. The NWSA gives a collective voice to surfers from Kalbarri to Exmouth and was initially created back in 2007 to block the hosting of a Rip Curl Search event at Gnaraloo.
Former pro surfer and president of the Kalbarri boardriders, Kit Rayner, has been appointed as president of the NWSA. Speaking to Tracks about the stance of surfers from the north west, Kit stated, “It’s the social and environmental impacts that are the main concern. There are too many unknowns with it. They (the WSL) can promise the world … They just can’t promise what it’s going to be like after they leave. And they can’t promise how long the comp’s going to be there for.”
Kit indicated that, aside from a single, loosely formatted annual memorial event, the Kalbarri Boardriders club does not host regular local contests, because they are at odds with the ethos of the local surfing community.
“Many of us have surfed professionally,” commented Rayner. “We know that there can potentially be the trials for the grommets or whoever gets to win gets to surf against John John or Medina. It’s an amazing opportunity but we’ve all just been brought up a different way in a country town like Kalbarri. The same goes for the people in Gnaraloo.”
Many are seeing this as a watershed issue, which will shine a light on the core values of the WSL. The surfers from the NWSA are universally aligned in their opposition to a contest being held on their coastline. Does the WSL have an ethical obligation to withdraw its intention to host a contest once it’s aware that that the relevant, local surfing community is strongly opposed to an event?
At present The NWSA also have the full support of the Nanda people, the traditional owners of the land in the region.
The involvement of various big players and organisations also adds to the complexity of this issue. Kalbarri has official National Surfing Reserve (NSR) status. The leverage of the NSR classification is set to be fully tested for the first time. Will the WSL and the West Australian government give credence to the NSR or brazenly dismiss it as a title with no clout? This makes things awfully complicated for Kelly Slater who has obvious links to the WSL while also being an official Ambassador for the National Surfing Reserves ( As are Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning). In 2006 Kelly joined NSR founder Brad Farmer to launch the World Surfing Reserves at Bondi. Back then Kelly told Coastal Watch, “It’s a pretty exciting thing for me to be a part of and support. WSR makes a lot of sense to bring all NSR together as WSR.” “It’s almost mind numbing that it hasn’t happened yet, especially in Hawaii the birthplace of surfing.”
Not surprisingly many are waiting anxiously to see which side of the fence Kelly Slater comes down on in WA.
In a further twist, the West Australian government recently appointed former WSL CEO, Brodie Carr, as Tourism WA’s managing director. Many have speculated that Carr’s appointment had much to do with the drama unfolding in the north west around the proposed WCT contest. Some suggest Carr may have been drafted to try and win support from local WA surfers and the competitors on the WCT. It’s going to be intriguing to watch how Kelly and Brodie play their respective hands.
When asked for a formal statement the WSL offered no comment. Below are the official statements of the North West Surfers Alliance and The National Surfing Reserve.
PUBLIC MEDIA STATEMENT
Kalbarri and the North-West WA Surfing Community Demand Protection and Respect from unwelcomed Commercialisation of Natural Coastal Resources
AUSTRALIA 14 September 2018 The position and future of world surfing’s cultural integrity lies in the balance on the wave-lashed shores of Western Australia this year.
The Kalbarri Boardriders (KBR) and the collaborative alliance of the original North West Surfing Alliance (NWSA) are opposing any World Surf League (WSL) competitions being held at Jakes Point in Kalbarri, Gnaraloo or at Red Bluff now and, into the future.
By way of background, the KBR were contacted by Surfing WA in early August 2018 and were informed that they were exploring all options to pick a site - and ‘sacred’ Jakes Point (a National Surfing Reserve) was considered option #1 for a global WSL event; so KBR held an immediate meeting where a unanimous decision was made not to support any WSL competition being held at Jakes Point as per our club Constitution.
The Surfing WA (SWA) representatives met with the CEO and President of the local Shire of Northampton (NS) the next day and KBR were asked to attend this meeting. It was agreed at this meeting that all future dealings would be “open and transparent”.
However, this was not to be the case as, of most recent and subsequent meetings, KBR/NWSA were excluded from meetings held with the Northampton Shire, the regional local government body.
On 24 August 2018, the CEO of the Northampton Shire informed a representative advocate on our behalf, by telephone, that the meeting between the Shire and SWA (Surfing Western Australia), the WSL or Tourism WA was (verbatim quote) “private”. As a result, the NSWA is intending to lodge (as of 17 September 2018) a formal WA Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries FOI (Freedom of Information) request seeking that the Shire of Northampton deliver within 45 days, the true and accurate record of discussions between these inter-related state and local government funded entities, which are claimed by (NS) to
be unavailable and undisclosable to the general public or the surfing community, locally or nationally.
Information from any (secret) meeting between a government-funded body (SWA) and any senior local government officers (Shire of Northampton) under legislative provisions of the Western Australian Local Government Act should be made available to the public.
We feel this is a violation of the trust that was given in our initial dealings with SWA and now, as major stakeholders of our home surfing break, we feel like we have been excluded from all discussions.
This behaviour is not democratic, improper and in our view, entirely ‘un-Australian’.
On the 21st March 2010 a National Surfing Reserve was enshrined in Kalbarri with the imprimatur of the then WA state government with Speaker of the House, the Hon. Grant Woodhams MLA and Mr Brad Farmer, founder and chairman of National Surfing Reserves unveiled the official Declaration plaque at the Reserve. Its zone comprising the beaches from Jakes point to the Murchison river mouth with the full, ‘signed-off’ community involvement and support.
The States and Commonwealth backed Surfing Reserves program exists to recognise iconic sites of intrinsic social, historic, environmental and cultural importance to Australian surfing. All 23 prestigious Surfing Reserves in Australia have had the backing of Governors, Ministers of State, Mayors and Prime Ministers. In fact, the current Australia Prime Minister, Scott Morrison MP is the Patron of the Cronulla National Surfing Reserve.
This particular reserve at Kalbarri was endorsed by the state government, the Northampton Shire, our community and significantly the local Aboriginal Nunda elders.
The Kalbarri Board Riders have a long history (read attached booklet) and we are now second and third generation surfers, who, like our forefathers, on this limited capacity break (~8) are carrying on family traditions. We spread the ashes of our departed family and loved ones at Jakes Point, for that reason and many intrinsic others, we and National Surfing Reserves consider this iconic spot ‘sacred’.
We have protected and revegetated the area over many years. We have always volunteered our services at all the beaches and across our tight-knit town for various projects that require members of the community to help out and pitch in.
The accusation that we, the surfing community, do not want tourism is false. We are in favour of ecologically and socially sustainable tourism. We do not wish to hurt the
tourism reputation of Kalbarri as most of us make a living from it in some form or another.
The surfers from Kalbarri are active members of the local community and are made up of local business owners, tourism operators, emergency volunteers, nurses, fisherman, holiday accommodation owners, builders, farmers - just to name a few.
If you take a moment and think about why members of the community have found themselves in Kalbarri it’s for two main reasons; the excellent remote surf experience; or lure of work from the cray fishing industry.
Now that the cray fishing industry has gone from 20 boats down to just five, people have had to find other ways to earn a living but have stayed put, because of the surfing lifestyle that we all have grown to love.
There has never been a professional surfing contest at Jakes and through the years this laid- back way of life has been passed down from generations and we have come to accept that and embrace it. KBR don’t even have our own boardriders events at Jakes. Once a year KBR holds a Memorial Day at Jakes to remember our friends that have passed and this year we have had to cancel that - because we are dealing with this unwelcome issue.
Having said that, there are a lot of good surfers in town, some have gone onto surfing careers, but most are just happy to surf for fun. For all of us that have got into professional surfing we have always done it elsewhere. There have been events in the past organized by the locals, but basically novelty events for the locals and their travelling friends.
Jakes Point is no secret, neither is Gnaraloo and Red Bluff (Quobba). If genuine surfers want to travel to these remote places, we welcome it. As pioneer travelling surfers, we all know the rules and respect is shown to the locals where ever you may travel to in Australia or the world.
If a place is special to your hearts and you live your life dedicated to this place, then a certain amount of respect has to be shown to the people who do.
To take away the voice and the educated opinions of the main custodians of Jakes is ‘offensive’ and disrespectful to say the least.
If there is a proposal to hold a surfing event in a certain area, first and foremost; ask the local surfers or local boardrider club of the region. National Surfing Reserves provide that ‘surfers will have primacy in any decision that may (adversely) affect the surfing amenity or experience’ and that has been upheld and endorsed across Australia and the world.
If the local surfers or local boardrider club say yes to an event or activity on any scale at the surf break, then it proceeds subject to any required legalities. If they say no, respect their wishes especially if the vote is by majority or unanimous. We wouldn’t hold a massive golf tournament at the local golf club; if the local club said no or did not have the carrying capacity or wish world attention and crowds they could not sustainably service.
We understand some local business owners are in favour of the event and we respect their reasons, however we resolutely believe they should also respect our reasons since this is a surfing event-activity and we are the local surfing community.
Jakes Point cannot support a huge crowd and the proposal to hold a WSL event here is just too big and too soon for our little town. KBR feels we should have rights to ‘say no and be heard’ by our local Shire, the State Government and the SWA.
We have engaged the services of Dr Indre Kirsten Asmussen to prepare an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on the area to compare the social and environmental impacts that this event would have on the town to show how committed we are to our stance. This is her comments on the issue –
“At Margaret River over $6 million has been spent to upgrade Surfers Point to cater for the surf contest, and the Cape to Cape tourism region manages visitor access well. To bring Jakes and the surrounding area to a standard, where it could cater for an international event would require significant investment - to minimise impact of the contest on the site and visitor access to the region. To date, the Shire of Northampton, has invested little on environmental and visitor management outside the National Park. A draft Coastal Management Strategy exists but has still not been implemented. Similarly, visitor access to Pink Lake (our premier international tourism destination) is poorly managed. We cannot proceed with such disregard for the environment. Jakes Point should be designed for the community not a contest, likely to depart for another wave in the near future, leaving the region with the maintenance costs (like Margaret River)”.
We feel deeply for Margaret River and support them in trying to keep the contest down there. It is a prestigious event and has a lot of history and has been getting better and better since it has added the Box and North Point to the format. The amount of money ($4-6m AUD) in infrastructure to get main break up to the WSL standard to be ripped out from under them and told it might be moving is a devastating blow for them.
It is also why we urge Tourism WA and our Northampton Shire Council and the State ALP McGowan government to proceed with caution in the dealing with this. Who is to say they (WSL, SWA and global media network viewers) won’t get bored with Kalbarri after one year, leaving us with the socially divisive and environmental aftermath to deal with. There are clearly too many unknowns that can’t be answered.
SWA, Tourism WA and the WSL cannot guarantee any detrimental environmental and social impacts on our town.If such a contest changes our surf breaks and beaches for the worst, the damage is most likely irreversible.
The KBR are also members of the North West Surfing Alliance which unites Kalbarri, Carnarvon and Exmouth boardriders to support the preservation and protection of similar beaches and coastline from Kalbarri to the North West Cape (Exmouth). It was formed in 2007 and still stands today.
They have tried this once before in 2007/08 to run the ‘Rip Curl Pro Event’ at Gnaraloo and this is why the NWSA was created. The petition to the Premier at the time received support of over 3,500 signatures, who agreed that the area was too special, and that
Dr Indre Asmussen
B.Sc. First class honours, PhD (Ecology)
commercialisation was not welcome. This event did not go ahead due to a variety of reason’s one being, “Rip Curl apparently stated its unwillingness to make the required full financial investment needed to complete the Environmental Impact Assessment study to the standard, scope and detail required.” (Gnaraloo Station Media Release, April 2009)
The KBR united with the NWSA now call on the support of everyone who would like to join our voice to respect, protect and preserve Jakes Point, Gnaraloo and Red Bluff (Quobba) so genuine travelling recreational surfers can enjoy them in their natural ‘spiritual’ state for years to come.
To let the corporatised WSL walk over us and disrespect the wishes of people that have built their lives around these places will set a dangerous precedent that they can do pretty much whatever they want whenever and wherever they want - and that just can’t happen.
OFFICIAL POSITION STATEMENT
NATIONAL BOARD OF DIRECTORS
14 September 2018
National Surfing Reserves (NSR) and Surfing Contests in Regional and Remote Locations
The World Surf League (WSL), Surfing Australia (SA) and other organisations regularly hold surfing contests at a number of recognised sites around Australia, including World Surfing Reserves (Snapper Rocks, Manly) and National Surfing Reserves (Noosa, Merewether, North Narrabeen, Margaret River, Yallingup). These sites often have a long tradition of contests and are suitable locations for such events and are generally accepted by the local surfing community. Bells Beach was in fact formally gazetted in 1973 by the Victorian government to provide for a surfing contest at a ‘Surfing Recreation Reserve’ – the World’s first.
There are however, a number of sites around Australia which are considered sacred and 'no- go zones' for surfing contests, both by the local surfing community and the wider recreational surfing public. These include the NSR’s Point Sinclair (Cactus, South Australia) and Kalbarri (Western Australia), as well as places like Red Bluff and Gnarloo, both located in remote parts of Western Australia.
The reasons these sites are off-limits to contests and commercial surfing is for a number of reasons:
- to preserve the natural, undeveloped appeal of the site
- to minimise unwarranted publicity which will cause increased visitation and further stress upon an already fragile environment
- to keep the site sacred and untainted by commercial interests
- to allow the local surfing community to maintain stewardship at their Break
- to ensure Australia does in fact honour such sacred sites of intrinsic environmental, social and spiritual value to local and international interests
- to enshrine such places for the enjoyment of future generations
- to protect the community of local surfers from an unworkable increase in carrying- capacity of local breaks and infrastructure. Surfing at any Australian beach is both free and open to all, and it is the mandate of local surfers and their community to see these areas preserved.
The Board of National Surfing Reserves object to minority 'out of area' commercial interests opposing the majority a local surfing community in order to close down the surf to the locals and general public to further their commercial interests for short term gain but long-term pain, particularly as such events place these remote uncrowded sites on the international surfing bucket list.