A lot is made about the ever-increasing congestion in the water; sparks fly over poor surf etiquette, which causes us to reconsider the hierarchy and question the right of more experienced surfers to dish out left-hooks to the inconsiderate kooks clogging up the faces of waves the world over.
In the moment, a mêlée in the water is frustrating, yet its long term impact is rather insignificant. The ocean continues to send waves rolling through; paying little heed to the carnage that often unravels on its breaking peaks. Each fresh wave presents a clean, unmolested face, regardless of the volume of surfers in the water. And at the end of the day, the water empties, and the slate is wiped clean, the after effect of any tension lingering only in the blood pressure of those most aggrieved by the actions of the inconsiderate and downright unruly.
On the whole, we are concerned about the increasing volume of bodies in the water for purely selfish reasons.
Surfing’s surging popularity swipes us where no surfer likes to be struck: our wave count.
Not renowned for generosity in the water, surfers get twitchy when the mere suggestion of sharing waves is raised. The idea of allowing someone else to ride what we perceive to be our own stirs guttural feelings within our inner core. Yet have we considered the impact that these growing numbers are having on the coastline itself? What effect is surfing as everybody’s new favorite sport having on the immediate area surrounding these honey pot sites? And is further expansion sustainable?
Take my once favorite break in the UK; a nice sandy beach nestled on the north Cornish coast. With ample peaks spread across several miles of golden(ish) sand, there’s even a semi-secret spot waiting to reward those willing to endure a low-tide walk. It’s a beach that showcased everything that was great about British surf. That was until somebody announced that beachgoers should be offered more than a cup of tea from a polystyrene cup.
In an all too familiar act of perceived consumerist wisdom, it was decided that what this stretch of coastline really needed was a bistro from a well known British celebrity chef (the one who struggles with the size of his tongue). Apparently, also lacking, was an “extreme sports” academy, aimed at teaching the Range Rover-driving urbanites how to surf, balance precariously on a SUP, and generally clog up the water. And while we’re on this quest for progression, why not tart up the quaint old beachside hotel that until now had been unassumingly minding its own business? Instead, transforming it into an overpriced glass-clad reflection of what is fast becoming synonymous with everything that is terrible about British surfing.
Sadly, this phenomenon isn’t unique to this particular beach, coastline, county or country. Across the world, the cash is following the waves. Investors not necessarily acting in the best interests of those most in-tune with the beaches. Ultimately, they’re promoting surfing to achieve the highest return on their ventures, trashing the existing environments in the process.
But where does it stop? Surfing’s expansion shows no signs of slowing. Have our most fabled of spots reached a point of no return? Can there be any way back from the bastardization of our personal sanctuaries of escapism?
It used to be that a trip to the beach was a means to get away from the trappings of your typical consumerist society. Now it seems that all those things we attempted to escape by hitting the waves have been dragged along by the scruff of their neck to the water’s edge, infused with chia seeds, and then sold back to us at an overinflated price. Just how many more shops selling surf-related crap can be littered amongst the once serene coastlines?
What surfing, and in particular our most prized surf spots, really needs, is someone who can take an objective glance at the problem. The development of our beaches shouldn’t be left solely to those with a vested financial interest and whose main concern is maxing out the numbers arriving at already overpopulated areas.
Use of the ocean is free, yet there are those that seem hell bent on extorting this privilege by attempting to charge us for every conceivable facet related to our sport. Ridiculous parking charges. Prevention of overnight camping. Restricted access to beaches. No BBQs, fires, drinking, fun, joy or general merriment. Not unless you’re paying for the privilege.
Perhaps the best we can hope for is a cataclysmic global economic crash, leading to the bankruptcy of those invested up to their eyeballs. The coastline can then be reclaimed by those who value its worth the most, and those of us sensible enough to be free from ludicrous down payments on unnecessary four wheel drive cars and extortionately glitzy houses can sweep in and reclaim the prime beach front acreage.