Artificial waves seem to be all the rage these days. The most recent development comes from Australia where a surf break at Blacksmiths Beach could be created by dredging sand from the Swansea Channel. As part of a dredging strategy to keep the channel navigable, Councillor Daniel Wallace is proposing that the excess sand be used to construct “a perfect wave” similar to the Gold Coast’s Superbank, which was born out of the Tweed River Sand Bypassing Project initiated in 1995. While the Tweed River sand bypass system certainly is responsible for creating a world-class wave out of what was originally a mediocre point break, it also bears much of the blame for ruining Kirra–a wave once considered by many to be the best in the world.
Wallace is optimistic about what could become of a surf break created by moving sand to Blacksmiths Beach. “If you look to areas on the Gold Coast, where they’ve created a ‘superbank,’ which is known as one of the best hollow waves in the world, if we could create something like that at Blacksmiths and attract people here for the surf it would have to be good for the city and good for local business.”
However, there are others who are not convinced that simply relocating the displaced sand to Blacksmiths will create the same flawless tubes that exist on the Gold Coast. As Australian surfing legend Mark Richards reminds us, a perfect surf break is more than just an accumulation of sand. “The (Gold Coast) Superbank, even though it was created by sand pumping, is unique in its geography. The reason it’s so good is not just the sand, it’s the swell direction and shape of the headland.”
Complicating things even further is that fact that shifting sands and ongoing dredging would keep the proposed surf break at Blacksmiths in a constant state of flux. “Every season would bring a new type of wave because of constant dredging,” says Wallace. While the same is true of Superbank, with changes to the wave being created as storms and swells shift the collection of sand beneath the surface, the fluctuations in Swansea may not result in similarly perfect waves. “Non-surfers don’t really understand the movement of the ocean and the way sand moves around a beach depending on swell direction,” adds Richards. “There is no guarantee it will stay where they pump it.”
Over the years, many other sand dredging projects have been proposed and/or undertaken that have threatened, changed, or in some cases, completely destroyed top-quality surf breaks. These include Aramoana and Whangamata Bar in New Zealand, Corona del Mar in California, and of course, Kirra on the Gold Coast. On the other side of the coin, there have been sand dredging projects supported by surfers because they either stood to create a world-class wave a la Superbank, or had the potential to save a break, such is the case in the dredging project to save Surfer’s Beach in California.
What makes sand dredging projects so complicated is that the impact on a specific surf break is difficult to predict and is always in a state of flux. Still, Wallace believes pumping sand from Swansea Channel to Blacksmiths Beach is a good way to attract surfers to the area, which would help boost tourism. Whether or not that is true remains to be seen. The Lake Macquarie City Council plans to begin working on a feasibility study for pumping sand to Blacksmiths Beach in the coming weeks.