Manly-Freshwater: Australia’s first World Surfing Reserve

Manly-Freshwater: Australia’s first World Surfing Reserve

BURLEIGH Heads, Queensland, 1991 – Another young American “rising star’’ is at the offices of Surfing Life magazine trying to impress the editor. Next door, Brad Farmer sat in his office of the Surfrider Foundation, a non-profit championing conservation of the world’s beaches.

The magazine editor, a friend of Farmer’s, soon brought the wannabe world champion in to meet him. The aim was to introduce Surfrider as a cause that a surfer might be involved with outside the sport.

Farmer can still remember some of the meeting. “He was another pimply-faced teenager who hadn’t won a world championship,’’ he said. “So I asked him, `if you make anything of yourself, can you ensure part of your philosophy is protecting the world’s beaches.’‘

Farmer was in luck. The surfer’s name was Kelly Slater. Fast forward to 2010, and Farmer who stayed loosely in contact with the man whose career rocketed into the stratosphere finally got Slater to be part of his latest project, World Surfing Reserves, when they met again at Bondi.

For the former Greenpeace campaigner, Slater’s endorsement was a boon to his project’s legitimacy.

Farmer has advocated for coastal protection since he was an 11-year-old boy petitioning against developers moving in on Paradise Point (now Sovereign Islands) on the Gold Coast.

Since then, he has been jailed in the Soviet Arctic, travelled around the world promoting various enviro-causes and has written for the Green Left Weekly.

He doesn’t try to hide the politics of World Surfing Reserves, either.

“There is an unashamed environmental agenda,’’ he said. “We’ve seen surf breaks around the world vandalised … and you start to recognise these are sacred sites, like indigenous communities have.’‘

Yet his methods to promote that agenda from groups called Save The Waves to the current one have improved greatly.

“We’ve become more sophisticated in the ways we engage governments and stakeholders. The days of waving placards and getting thrown in jail is in the past,’’ Farmer said.

* Malibu, USA
* Ericeira, Portugal
* Manly, Australia
* Santa Cruz, USA

While World Surfing Reserve status carries no legal authority, just public appreciation, Farmer realises how formidable that can be.

It’s not just surfers’ appreciation, either. Business and governments should have a vested interest in protecting surfing beaches, too.

“We’ve got to put an economic value on a surf break,’’ he said. “There will always be a developer who says `if we put a marina here we can value it at $3 million’. But (the waves) are one of the greatest symbols we sell to tourists.’‘

While Manly-Freshwater has few concerns, some beaches elsewhere have been ruined.

Farmer has scientific backing for his views, too, from Prof Andrew Short, a WSR committee member.

Formerly of Sydney University, he has researched coastal systems here and abroad and was quick to back the national and WSR scheme. He has seen beaches in Hawaii overrun by development and believed there was no formal protection for breaks at places like Manly-Freshwater.

“I thought if it can happen here (in Hawaii), it can happen anywhere,’’ he said. “And there are fantastic breaks in Europe being earmarked for port development that will ruin those breaks. So we’ve got to get in and earmark these locations early to prevent inappropriate development.’‘

Manly-Freshwater might not face those dire scenarios, but there would be factors to consider in future.

“It’s about providing access; parking for people using the beach, and to provide that in the future,’’ Prof Short said.

Manly would also needed more sand pumped onto it in future. Rising sea levels would only worsen erosion, according to Prof Short.

While he acknowledges our strip gains no statutory benefits via its new status, the scheme is still unfolding. WSR representatives plan to attend a UNESCO meeting in Paris this year where Farmer will appeal to delegates to recognise surf breaks as phenomena of universal value.

Late 1880s:
Islander Tommy Tanna taught local boys how to bodysurf
1912: Earliest known account of boardriding in Australia during a surf carnival at Freshwater on January 26 by local man Tommy Walker
1914: Duke Kahanamoku surfs at Freshwater on December 24 and at Freshwater and Manly on January 10, 1915

Read More: Manly Daily

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