When Broken Head Point resembles Snapper Rocks, it’s clear that the hysteria surrounding sharks on the NSW north coast did little to curb the crowds this summer.
When Broken Head Point resembles Snapper Rocks, it’s clear that the hysteria surrounding sharks on the NSW north coast did little to curb the crowds this summer. Just a few months ago business owners of the Byron Bay tourism industry were worrying that peak season would be a flop this year, with visitors preferring to maintain a wide birth of the arguably shark infested waters. For the hardened surfers, it was one positive outcome of shark-mania – at least the crowds might thin out a little. With the unrelenting east coast swell of early January however, the points from Snapper, through to The Pass, Broken Head Point and Lennox were firing. And if you were out there, you’ll know that finding a buddy (or 100) to surf with was not a problem.
Further south towards Lennox Head and Ballina people remain more wary. Before the attacks occurred, there would have been 40+ people surfing out Ballina’s North Wall in the recent conditions. Last week, there were just 8 bobbing figures sharing a pristine line-up. It seems that we’ve drawn an imaginary line just north of Lennox, and that the sharks too (we tell ourselves) abide by our geographical mind boundaries.
In August a public meeting in Lennox Head revealed the general consensus was to cull. Locals warned that the situation had the potential to cripple the surf tourism industry. One surfer and surf shop worker suggested board sales, which should have been starting to pick up, had plateaued.
Now we find ourselves midway through the busy summer period, and wondering, has business slowed up as predicted? Tracks asked Lennox Head surf shop owner Gav Allen for his two cents:
“Overall, we’re still trucking along ok. Some categories were hit harder than others. Beginner surf boards (foamies), which we usually sell a tone of before Chrissy, those sales were pretty much non-existent, and wetsuit sales were down. But saying that there has still been so many people in the water. The points have been as busy or busier than ever. There’s a little bit of a divide, I’ve spoken to some locals who haven’t been surfing locally for 6 months, but there’s certainly a core group of local surfers who are still out there. At the same time, the other surf shop in town closed up, so it’s hard to gage the numbers this season, because there are a bunch of other variables.”
Meanwhile, 20km up the road at Quicksilver, Byron Bay, Jesse Pumphrey painted another picture:
“Board hire and foot traffic are exactly the same. Foot traffic-wise, we’ve had more people come through in the last two weeks than last year. being a beach-front store, people come in on their way to Main Beach, so general beach-goers haven’t slowed up. People who are hiring boards are generally a little bit aware of the shark sightings earlier this year, but they’re still having a go. I’d say they’re not in tune with surf news media outlets, they’re not aware of immediate updates or alerts, and so they don’t hear of anything unless it’s on mainstream media. Lessons don’t seem to be down either as far as I know. I think businesses were affected more earlier in year, at the height of the attacks and sightings.”
It’s early days yet, but commerce follows the pattern of the people, and along with many seasoned surfers, beginners too seem to be abiding by the mental safety of that imaginary line north of Lennox. While the sharky waters may have put a dip in the sales flowchart earlier in the year – people forget the news oh so quickly – the surf tourism industry is by no means crippled. And the points are chockas.