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Protecting Waves

Surfers Against Sewage has set out four key steps to protect the waves:

Increase public awareness

Objects such as mountains and rivers are the easiest things for people to envisage as elements that should be protected, because they are more or less fixed. The concept that a particular 'wave' needs protecting is, however, much more difficult. One reason for this is that when we refer to a 'wave', we don't really mean just one wave. We really mean the circumstances that come together to make waves break at a particular spot on the coast, in a particular way. Saying that we need to protect the 'right-hander at Thurso East' is a bit like saying we must protect the '09:50 from Paddington to Oxford'. In reality we are not protecting just one train; rather we are protecting the circumstances that allow that service to run.

Surfers become stakeholders

Surfers and other coastal water-users need an official voice within the politics of a country, in other words, become official stakeholders, this would ensure that their views are taken that much more seriously. A breakthrough has recently been made in Scotland, as a direct result of considerable lobbying by SAS. In February 2010, the Scottish Government recognised recreational water-users’ need for a voice on Regional Planning Partnerships within the Scottish Marine & Coastal Access Act. The amendment was forwarded by former Green Party Member of Scottish Parliament, Robin Harper, on behalf of Surfers Against Sewage. A seat on the regional planning partnerships gives recreational water-users the platform to voice any concerns relating to the marine environment and recreational wave resources. Achievements like these set a great precedent, which can be used as an example when justifying that water-users should become stakeholders in other countries.

Surfing reserves

Another way to protect an area containing good surfing waves is with a surfing reserve. If implemented in a similar way to a bird sanctuary or other type of nature reserve, the surfing reserve could make sure that, at least, certain 'iconic' surfing waves are protected forever. The concept was first introduced in Australia way back in 1973. Even though declaring a spot a surfing reserve in theory won't stop somebody coming along and destroying a wave if they really wanted to, the high-profile recognition of a spot will make a lot more people sit up and take notice if something negative starts to happen. In the UK, surfing reserves could be integrated into sustainable development practices managed alongside the environmental, societal and economic fabric of local communities.

Laws to protect waves

Laws are needed to specifically protect surfing waves. In the UK, developers already have to go through an expensive and time-consuming process to get planning permission, and this includes conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). If there were proper laws stating that surfing waves cannot be interfered with or destroyed, it would be in the developers' own interest to avoid putting their concrete in the wrong place. At the moment, no law exists in the UK to protect surf spots, but it does in one country: Peru. Peru has a history of surfing culture that goes back almost as far as Hawaii, and surfing is seen as a respectable and worthwhile pastime, unlike in many parts of Europe.

What leaders need to do

Waves and surf spots need to be recognised as part of the UK heritage and should be afforded greater recognition and protection. Surfers Against Sewage is calling for legislation to better recognise and protect UK surfing waves and beaches. Revised criteria could work within the existing Marine & Coastal Access Act, revised Bathing Water Directive, Water Framework Directive and the Clean Neighbourhood & Environment Act or be set up as a new piece of legislation. The first step towards this is a parliamentary debate on the economic and intrinsic value of UK surfing waves and beaches, and a comprehensive understanding of the threats to waves.