Waves Under Threat

A cover of bodyboarding magazine, Riptide, featuring words by writer Jake Dean.

Originally published in Riptide magazine

5 bodyboarding havens that must be saved.

Did you know the world’s population ticked over to seven billion in 2011? Gnarly, huh? And there ain’t no rest for the wicked – United Nations predicts by 2050, after an unfathomable amount of lovemaking, Earth will house nine billion people. Not only is that a scary thought considering how crowded your local might get (piss orf, blow-ins!), but you’ve gotta be a bit worried about how sustainable that kind of growth can be on the environment (and our waves). Here we shine the spotlight on six wave havens already threatened by us silly humans and look at what we can do to ensure our beaches pump for years to come.

Punta Colorada, Mexico

Puerto Escondido’s Zicatela Beach demands most of the waveriding world’s attention in Mexico, but just down the road is another wave that’s a rite of passage for any travelling bodyboarder worth his salt. Punta Colorada’s heaving, wedging makeable shorebreak pits are also at the crux of the local bodyboarding scene so you can imagine the uproar when the Mexican Government gave the go-ahead to the construction of a luxury marina, commercial centre and jetty alongside the wave (and its diverse marine and estuary ecosystems where you can regularly see turtles, dolphins, migratory birds and crocodiles). An extensive social media campaign and petition opposing the development seemingly put the brakes on it last year, but Aussie expat surf resort owner Clive Richter says work has now begun on a water treatment plant – an early phase of the proposal – and says a lack of information from developers means its difficult for locals to find out what’s happening or mobilise to stop the plans.

South Stradbroke Island, Gold Coast

The Gold Coast is home to vast stretches of world-renowned sand-bottomed gems, but they don’t come much more perfect for booging than Straddie. Unfortunately Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate has been determined to build a cruise ship terminal since he took office in April 2012 and a development at the Broadwater has been firmly in his sights. The fear is that such a huge project – requiring massive and ongoing dredging of the seaway – would damage the surf at one of the world’s finest beachbreaks as well as restrict access to it. God help the developers if local ledge Nick Gornall got a hold of ’em. At the time of print the $7.5 billion development was in limbo, but four new environmental studies into its viability were about to begin. Watch this space.

Bali, Indonesia

It’s not just raucous Aussie bogans and moped stacks you have to worry about in Bali, many locals and surfers say the pollution problem in the island’s bath-like waters is getting worse each year. Much of the problem lies with the island’s ever-skyrocketing tourism industry. The number of foreign visitors to Bali in 2013 totaled 3.27 million – up from 2.94 million in 2012 – and unfortunately the island’s rubbish collection and disposal infrastructure isn’t able to cope with the vast volume of waste, leading to illegal dumping or rubbish being pushed offsite (which, of course, ends up in the ocean). Eleven-time surfing world champ Kelly Slater said in 2012 that Bali’s water pollution was the worst he’s ever seen, while the problem has also landed recent headlines in mega publications like Time magazine and the New York Times. An Aussie surf mag perhaps depicted the problem best in November 2012 when it ran a cover of Indonesian surfer Dede Suryana driving through a perfect Indo tube – perfect except for the kaleidoscope of plastic wrappers and junk cascading through the entire roof and wall of the pit. Nothing like a Dorito packet or syringe to the face while navigating the foamball, huh?

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

“Rio is literally swimming in poop”. This is how a writer at The Atlantic described the water quality in Rio de Janeiro – one of the Southern Hemisphere’s most visited cities – early last year. At the time of the article’s publication nearly 70 per cent of Rio’s sewage was going untreated, meaning runoff from its many favelas drain straight into city’s azure beaches. The renewed interest in Rio’s pollution problem comes as the city battles to clean up its beaches in time for next year’s Olympic Games. The Atlantic also reported the site of several of the games’ sailing events had 78 times Brazil’s legally allowed limit of fecal pollution (see poop). Now forget sailing, picture going for a wave. Brazil’s three-time world champ Isabela Sousa says the problem is especially bad at São Conrado beach, which she says is one of the country’s two best waves. Her good pal, Aussie Lilly Pollard, even felt the pollution’s effects firsthand, getting “really ill” while surfing there in 2010. A Facebook page called Salvemos São Conrado (Save São Conrado) was started in 2012 to shed light on the issue – complete with images of the dead rats, syringes, plastic toys, etc. that wash up on its shores – but whether the city cleans up its act in time for the Olympics and whether the water stays clean afterwards is anyone’s guess.


If you’re like the reported 97 per cent of the world’s climate scientists that agree Earth’s heating up at a much faster rate than ever before, then you’ll know the potential effects are pretty damn scary. Because us humans really love burning coal and oil as well as clearing forests (resulting in mucho greenhouse gases) days are likely to get hotter with more gnarly storms, floods, droughts and fire expected. Not to mention we’ll see rising, more acidic oceans, which could have huge impacts on plant and animal species (and entire ecosystems), and human lives, jobs and industries. And then of course there are the waves. With the rising sea level there’s the very real threat that low-lying coastal regions could be submerged. A 2014 UN report said sea levels were expected to rise by an average of three feet this century, which doesn’t bode well for wave-drenched Pacific Ocean countries like Fiji, Micronesia or new APB World Tour event host country the Maldives. And while it’s sad some of these great surf spots might one day not exist, spare a thought for the hundreds of millions of people who might be displaced.

Surfrider Foundation Australia Operations Manager Jessica Hensman says, as bodyboarders, we need to protect the ocean playgrounds we enjoy so much. “Our ocean’s the world’s largest ecosystem,” Hensman says. “It’s responsible for generating half the oxygen we breathe, a sixth of the animal protein we eat, for absorbing carbon dioxide and for beauty, inspiration and recreation. Without healthy oceans human life would be seriously threatened. If our oceans aren’t protected there’ll be no waves for us to enjoy.” Hensman says coastal development is the biggest threat to Australia’s surf, while the bigger threat to the ocean health generally is plastic pollution. She says getting enough exposure and support on coastal issues is the greatest difficulty Surfrider faces. “It’s easy to look at our beautiful coastline and forget we have problems with pollution and coastal development,” she says. “We need more passionate coastal ambassadors to spread the message. If your local wave’s threatened the most effective way to help is to put pressure on whoever’s making the decision. You have the power as a local resident to request a meeting with your local or state government representatives. Start hassling them, organise a meeting and express your concerns. Hassle until they’re absolutely sick of hearing about it!” She also encourages people to join the Surfrider Foundation because the more people who volunteer the stronger the voice and the harder it becomes for decision-makers to ignore the message.