This weekend’s Rock To Rock Paddle in support of the Gold Coast’s nomination to become a World Surfing Reserve (WSR) is tipped to be another significant push towards securing the coveted title and recognition the Gold Coast deserves.
The pressure for our local council and state government to get behind the city’s WSR nomination has never been louder, with more and more surf legends from across the world backing the plan to secure WSR status for the Gold Coast’s world-famous surf breaks. At yesterday’s media launch, organiser Andrew McKinnon was flanked by one of Australia’s greatest surfing icons, Cheyne Horan, as well as legendary iron woman Courtney Hancock – both ready for Sunday’s paddle and both pledging their unwavering support for the WSR nomination.
The paddle, commencing Sunday morning from Elephant Rock at 7:00am, is open to the public – surfers, paddlers and beach walkers are encouraged to show their support by getting involved in this historic and fun demonstration of Gold Coast surfing passion. If the Save Kirra rally and beach day in support of a WSR that was held in January last year is any measure of public support for beach protection, then the Rock To Rock paddle is sure to again attract the masses.
WSR recognition is rarely handed out by the governing body, and whilst the status may have little formal weight in relation to things like protective legislation, it carries a hefty anecdotal power that provides treasured coastal spaces, particularly surfing regions, with an extremely high-standard title with which community expectation for the proper protection and respect of surfing amenity is stamped loud and clear for the world to see.
It’s not just the paddle outs and protests though, behind the excitement is a very serious process that has been slowly underway for many years. More recently we’ve witnessed WSR Chairman Andrew McKinnon undertake a historic self-funded mission to Peru to learn more about the WSR legacy as well as a team of grommets complete a monumental paddle on International Surfing Day – from Snapper Rocks to Lacey’s Lane at Palm Beach, a journey of over 10km – to show their support for the WSR nomination.
Yesterday Andrew told LiQUiFY, “It was six grommets from the Snapper Surfriders Club, they paddled from Snapper Rocks to Lacey’s at Currumbin Alley. It was Pacha Light’s idea to do the paddle and together with Kiani Dobbyn, you know they’re both Palm Beach High School students in the sports excellence program there. The beauty was that it wasn’t just a paddle, we had breaks along the way where they had water and energy bars, and they caught waves!”
“They got waves at Kirra, they got waves all along you know, at the secret spots … they hugged the shore and did it like a surfing journey – it was really unique. We had, of course, Shayne Nienaber out there following on the jetski to make sure they were safe. The youngest was Taj Warren, he’s only 10, and his dad was out there on a stand up (paddle board) to make sure he was ok. We were just totally blessed with the conditions too, it was just a really special day. I was really inspired by them doing this, it meant that the younger generation are really concerned,” said Andrew McKinnon
A bevy of surfing industry and community icons are also right behind the push for a WSR title for the Gold Coast, with legendary names such as Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholemew, Larry Bertlemann, Peter “PT” Townend joining with locals Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson in support. The Gold Coast boasts an impressive record when it comes to surfing and surf sport champions, with at least 21 world champions holding as many as 38 individual world titles coming out of the Gold Coast. Rabbit, who is the 1978 world surfing champion and a Gold Coast surfing luminary, says it has to happen.
“We’ve got so many champions from this area, so many great role models, that it’s just undeniable. I think from a surfing amenity point of view, we need to give it every assist that we can,” said Rabbit.
The Gold Coast itself is one of the greatest surfing cities on the planet, boasting incredible world-class waves from South Stradbroke Island to the border – waves which drive not only our recreation and social fabric, but our economy as well. The broad umbrella that is surfing generates billions towards our local economy each year and is second only to general tourism as the fiscal spine of our city’s prosperity. Supporting and furthering protection for our surf breaks makes as much monetary sense as it does social sense, however there has been a notable lack of substantiated protections for and investment in our surf breaks over the years – arguably surf amenity on the Gold Coast has been largely ignored for a long time.
The National Surf Reserve titles were a welcome step in the right direction a few years back, but Mr McKinnon says we need to make it global if we are to see surfing thrive on Gold Coast for generations to come. It hasn’t been an easy path to even get the nomination happening either, with each WSR nomination needing to meet a strict set of criteria to even be accepted.
The nomination must have local government support and the surf breaks must not be facing any current threats of development or destruction – sadly the incredible South Stradbroke (TOS) surf break was dropped from the application at the last minute, but for critically important reasons. The new Queensland Labor government and the local council have given early in-principle support to the nomination of our point breaks from Burleigh to Snapper Rocks however indications surfaced suggesting the Tate-led Gold Coast council would not likely support the nomination if TOS was included, even though the proposed controversial cruise ship terminal for the area has now been abandoned.
In 2014 the Labor Party recognised the importance of the Gold Coast as a surfing city early on and took the issue to the last election, publicly pledging support for a WSR from Burleigh to Snapper – something the LNP were either uninterested in or could not evidently formerly match during the campaign. The LNP went on to record the largest ever swing away from their party at the ballot boxes. Regardless of party politics, it was however great to see the issue of Gold Coast surfing amenity make its way to the top of the political conversations.
Mr McKinnon believes the South Stradbroke break should be included due to its incredible value and place in the Gold Coast’s surfing history and geography, however securing full support from the local government is vital for the overall plan. There are hopes that the surf break will one day be retrospectively incorporated into the WSR should the nomination be successful, but it is understood that would ultimately depend on the council’s future support and right now the focus is Burleigh to Snapper.
On January 19th 2014, thousands of people rallied to save Kirra and push for a WSR, including a massive human symbol spelling out WSR on the beach at North Kirra. Andrew tells us that is where the WSR campaign was born, and public support has only gone from strength to strength since, regardless of the state and local government’s varying positions.
“We’ve been working hard since that time, and then towards the end of last year, we had no hope. We didn’t have state government support, we didn’t have council support, it was really struggling, and then the change of government gave us a whole new positive approach. Now we just need to get City Of Gold Coast on side to support it, and you know, it’s not a big deal. What we’re asking for is not such a big deal – it’s for everyone, all the beach users. It won’t negatively impact on the beach users, this is for everyone to be proud about. There’s only seven world surfing reserves (on the planet), and we’re going for number eight.
“Already there’s a lot of competition though. Bali’s Uluwatu, J-Bay in South Africa has just announced a nomination, and Mundaka in Spain. Each WSR campaign or nomination is quite different from each other – in Mundaka they’re concerned about the dredging there, damaging one of the greatest lefthanders there, J-Bay … obviously they want to protect their iconic point break there – but we’ve got six iconic point breaks here (laughs). Uluwatu in Bali has water pollution problems too, but they are just now addressing all of that.
“In the end it’s about the legacy, it’s about preserving what we’ve got. If we don’t get it in 2016 we’ll go 2017, if we don’t get it in 2017 we’ll go for the Commonwealth Games year in 2018 – one way or another it has to happen.”
Surfrider Foundation Gold Coast And Tweed’s president Greg Howell says Surfrider, an international organisation for surfers and the environment, is right behind the nomination.
Greg told LiQUiFY, “We were part of the instigation of the National Surfing Reserve status, which we have on the Gold Coast, so it was just a simple progression to go for World Surfing Reserve, and one day hopefully some legislation behind it to back it right up.
“We’re co-event organisers for this (the paddle) and we’ve worked closely with Andrew on various levels when it comes to surfing and the environment for many years now,” said Greg.
Cheyne Horan and champion iron woman Courtney Hancock aren’t shy in their support though, and both expressed that they were excited to be part of the campaign and the upcoming paddle. Cheyne didn’t mince words when he spoke yesterday either.
“I think the paddle represents all of our surfers protecting our beaches. People don’t (often) know that they’re under threat, you know from commercialism and all of that. Our beaches are our number one asset on the Gold Coast, people have come to the Gold Coast because of the beaches. Pipeline, Jeffery’s Bay, all around the world all of these places have become popular because of the great surf that they have. People aren’t going to Wagga Wagga or Blue Mountains and staying – they come here to stay and enjoy golden sandy beaches with fantastic surf,” Cheyne told reporters yesterday.
“We’ve got to preserve what we have, it’s the same as when I was a little kid. We used to run around the point at Snapper and surf out there without legropes on, and swim in at Rainbow Bay – it’s this full-healthy lifestyle through the waves and the beaches,” said Cheyne.
“All these people are coming in from overseas, we have this (great) surf industry here, that’s all based just around surfing.
“We need the world surfing reserve on the Gold Coast, we need it really right around the Australian coast. Australia’s coastline is pristine, and there’s enough inland land to do all the building and everything they want to do, but keep the edges natural.”
Legendary Gold Coast iron woman Courtney Hancock agrees that the surf breaks and beaches deserve every bit of protecting and acknowledgement we can secure for them. The 26-year-old’s passionate response yesterday highlighted the far-reaching significance Gold Coast surf breaks play in our city’s construct and identity.
“I think we need to look after our main defining possession here on the Gold Coast, and that’s our beaches. I’ve never met one person here on the Gold Coast where the beach isn’t entailed in their life, so I think it’s important that we cherish what is so special to us,” said Courtney.
“For me, on the day (of the paddle) my role is helping that younger generation come through, so on Sunday I’ll be here at Currumbin helping out with the paddle, and I guess helping my generation keep aware of what’s going on. I think a lot of people need to realise, our beaches are in trouble, and we do need to get that support through to help us out. I think once people are aware of it, there’ll be a lot definitely getting on board.”
The paddle out will be a great opportunity for anyone to show their support and a great way to further the nomination and push for World Surfing Reserve status on the Gold Coast. All are welcome to paddle as well as walk the beach course should they want to avoid winter waters. There will be a paddle register at 7am at Elephant Rock (next to Vikings Surf Club), Currumbin and once sorted, the walk/paddle to the Alley will commence parallel to the shore. BBQ breakfast will be available at the end, plus some great prizes up for grabs for registered participants. T-shirts and stickers will also be available in support the WSR. Rock To Rock paddle THIS SUNDAY MORNING – full details on the official WSR website here!