NOT THE POINT

THE BAT­TLE LINES ARE DRAWN AS THE WSL SETS ITS SIGHTS ON NORTH WEST WA.

Tracks - - Regulars - Luke Kennedy

Those of us who are fans of pro surf­ing want to see WCT events go down in glo­ri­ous con­di­tions – be­hind-the-rock drain­ers at Snap­per, J-Bay with lines stretch­ing to in­fin­ity and Teahupoo as a ter­ri­fy­ing arena of fold­ing con­crete coils. We also like to see new lo­ca­tions in­tro­duced to chal­lenge the surfers, spice up the view­ing and give the com­men­ta­tors some dif­fer­ent raw ma­te­rial to work with.

How­ever, in ad­di­tion to be­ing pro surf­ing diehards, we all closely iden­tify with a par­tic­u­lar stretch of coast­line. At our re­spec­tive lo­cals, the waves we ride, the sand or shelf we walk across, the car park or check-spot we ban­ter in and the mem­o­ries of the all-time days all give colour and mean­ing to our lives. The shared ex­pe­ri­ence of such things binds us, in­still­ing a sense of be­long­ing and com­mu­nity. Each cor­ner of coast­line has its own set of un­writ­ten rules, its un­spo­ken un­der­stand­ings, its surf­ing folk­lore, its hi­er­ar­chy and its pow­er­ful char­ac­ters – some may say it’s tribal. How­ever, whether we are from Bondi or Boomerang, Kirra or Kal­barri there are facets of our lo­cal surf­ing cul­tures that we would all like to pro­tect.

These two facets of surf­ing – the wide sweep­ing gaze of the WSL and the nu­anced val­ues of a lo­cal surf­ing com­mu­nity are presently col­lid­ing on the north-west coast of Aus­tralia. It seems the con­flict be­gan when the WSL sug­gested they were seek­ing to add a high-qual­ity left-han­der to their WCT sched­ule and urged the ad­min­is­tra­tors at Surf­ing WA to ex­plore op­tions on the north-west coast. Cur­rently, the Mar­garet River Pro is sched­uled to be held in late May of 2019, how­ever it’s the fi­nal year in the event’s con­tract. While no one from the WSL will go on the record and say it di­rectly, it’s ap­par­ent that Mar­garets has fallen foul as a WCT lo­ca­tion for some within the or­gan­i­sa­tion. For many, last year’s shark drama (and sub­se­quent can­cel­la­tion) only served to fur­ther ex­ac­er­bate the feel­ing of in­dif­fer­ence to­wards Mar­garets as a WCT lo­ca­tion.

Con­scious that the Mar­garets con­tract was due to ex­pire in 2019 and jus­ti­fi­ably fear­ful that they would lose the sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment of funds and ku­dos that came with host­ing a WSL event, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from surf­ing WA

set their sights on Kal­barri. The once-thriv­ing cray fish­ing town is lo­cated al­most 600km north of Perth and is home to Jake’s Point, a world-class left-han­der. In their quest to se­cure a new WCT lo­ca­tion the Surf­ing WA del­e­gates had the full back­ing of Tourism WA (and there­fore the WA state govern­ment) and, it seemed likely that Northamp­ton Shire (Kal­barri’s Shire) would be ea­ger to em­brace the in­flux of funds as­so­ci­ated with host­ing an in­ter­na­tional surf­ing con­test. A doc­u­ment was pre­pared, list­ing the North­hamp­ton Shire as one of the po­ten­tial ma­jor stake­hold­ers in the event and out­lin­ing the eco­nomic ben­e­fits and in early Au­gust of 2018, Justin Ma­jeks (Surf­ing WA Events man­ager) and Tim Thirsk (Busi­ness Devel­op­ment Man­ager) from Surf­ing WA trav­elled north to meet with shire rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The two surf­ing WA mem­bers also no­ti­fied the Kal­barri Board­rid­ers (KBR) of their in­ten­tions, a move that quickly prompted the KBR to adopt a unan­i­mous stance against the pro­posal.

Re­spon­si­bil­ity as spokesper­son quickly fell to the Kal­barri Board­rid­ers (KBR) pres­i­dent, Kit Rayner. Kit is a 37-year-old fa­ther of two and for­mer com­pet­i­tive surfer. He con­sid­ers him­self a pro surf­ing fan, counts many of the top pro surfers as friends, and is well known in the surf­ing fra­ter­nity as a like­able rogue with a sharp wit who loves a prac­ti­cal joke. De­spite his pro surf­ing con­nec­tions, Kit felt it was his obli­ga­tion to re­flect the sen­ti­ments of a lo­cal surf­ing com­mu­nity, which is com­prised of sec­ond and third gen­er­a­tion lo­cals as well as fam­i­lies and in­di­vid­u­als who had moved to Kal­barri more re­cently in search of a bal­anced surf­ing life­style.

“It’s not just a cou­ple of salty old boys who are against it it’s the whole surf­ing com­mu­nity,” Kit told Tracks. An of­fi­cial state­ment from the KBR later stated that, “The surfers from Kal­barri are ac­tive mem­bers of the lo­cal com­mu­nity and are made up of lo­cal busi­ness own­ers, tourism op­er­a­tors, emer­gency

vol­un­teers, nurses, fish­er­man, hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion own­ers, builders, farm­ers – just to name a few.”

Kit stresses that while the KBR boasts 100 core mem­bers, con­test surf­ing has al­ways been to­tally at odds with the ethos of the club and the lo­cal surf cul­ture in Kal­barri. He out­lined the lo­cal phi­los­o­phy on con­tests in the of­fi­cial me­dia re­lease.

“There has never been a pro­fes­sional surf­ing con­test at Jakes and through the years this laid-back way of life has been passed down from gen­er­a­tions and we have come to ac­cept that and em­brace it. KBR don’t even have our own board­rid­ers events at Jakes. Once a year KBR holds a Me­mo­rial Day at Jakes to re­mem­ber our friends that have passed and this year we have had to can­cel that – be­cause we are deal­ing with this un­wel­come is­sue.”

The big­gest con­cern for the Kal­barri surfers is that a WCT event will up­set the equi­lib­rium of a wave and town that al­ready plays host to a core group of ded­i­cated lo­cals and a reg­u­lar sup­ply of trav­el­ling surfers. “Ten guys out is prob­a­bly av­er­age and 20 is crowded,” sug­gests Kit, who is quick to dis­tance him­self from al­le­ga­tions that the board­rid­ers are ruth­lessly ter­ri­to­rial and op­posed to the steady flow of tourism, which cur­rently feeds the lo­cal econ­omy.

“There’s too many peo­ple that just think we are selfish ass­holes and don’t want to share our wave. If any­one from around the world wants to roll into Gnar­aloo or Kal­barri now, it’s a beau­ti­ful place and you can go and get a few lit­tle waves… If it gets to the point where it’s 50 peo­ple it will lose its ap­peal … it gets heavy and if there’s too many peo­ple out there, boards fly­ing through the lip, it’s scary.”

The same sen­ti­ment was ex­pressed in the of­fi­cial me­dia state­ment re­leased by the Kal­barri Board­rid­ers in con­junc­tion with the North West Surfer’s al­liance. “Jakes Point can­not sup­port a huge crowd and the pro­posal to hold a WSL event here is just too big and too soon for our lit­tle town. KBR feels we should have rights to ‘say no and be heard’ by our lo­cal Shire, the State Govern­ment and the SWA… If a place is spe­cial to your hearts and you live your life ded­i­cated to this place, then a cer­tain amount of re­spect has to be shown to

the peo­ple who do.”

Ea­ger to take the ini­tia­tive with enquiries into the po­ten­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of a ma­jor con­test, Kit also con­sulted Dr In­dre As­mussen (B.Sc. First class hon­ours, PhD (Ecol­ogy) to con­duct a pre­lim­i­nary study. Ac­cord­ing to the me­dia state­ment re­leased the KBR, the re­search in­di­cates that there would need to be a mas­sive in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture to make Kal­barri and Jakes vi­able as a WCT des­ti­na­tion. The find­ings also sug­gested that ex­ist­ing tourist at­trac­tions like the Pink Lake are not equipped to deal with a mas­sive in­flux of peo­ple. “It’s the so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts that are the main con­cern,” sug­gests Rayner. “There are too many un­knowns with it. They (the WSL) can prom­ise the world … they just can’t prom­ise what it’s go­ing to be like af­ter they leave…”

Thrust into a role where he must ar­tic­u­late the con­cerns of an out­spo­ken group of lo­cal surfers, Rayner is not naïve about the pri­or­i­ties of lo­cal busi­ness groups. “In their eyes (lo­cal busi­nesses) if you don’t surf why wouldn’t you want it to come?” he states mat­ter-of-factly. The is­sue is again teased out in the of­fi­cial me­dia state­ment. “We un­der­stand some lo­cal busi­ness own­ers are in favour of the event and we re­spect their rea­sons, how­ever we res­o­lutely be­lieve they should also re­spect our rea­sons since this is a surf­ing event-ac­tiv­ity and we are the lo­cal surf­ing com­mu­nity.”

Rayner’s fear is that the con­test pro­posal will cause on­go­ing ten­sion be­tween surfers and non-surfers in a small town with an of­fi­cial pop­u­la­tion of just over 1500. “It’s just cre­ated a huge wedge in the town at the mo­ment. We just need a de­ci­sion to be made… – ‘Na, Not hap­pen­ing’ – so ev­ery­one can get over it and ev­ery­one can get back to their lives. Or if it was go­ing to hap­pen we’d hope­fully just deal with it.” Rayner points out that while big­ger power play­ers like the WSL and Tourism WA en­ter­tain the idea of a con­test, they don’t have to live in the town. “I’ll prob­a­bly have to host a town hall meet­ing. Just so no one’s roast­ing the shit out of each other on so­cial me­dia. That’s the worst thing be­cause you can see that the town is just tear­ing it­self to shreds.”

If the Kal­barri surf­ing com­mu­nity find them­selves in a prover­bial David and Go­liath bat­tle against the WSL, the West Aus­tralian govern­ment, the Northamp­ton Shire and Tourism WA their of­fi­cial ally in the de­bate is the Na­tional Surf­ing Re­serves or­gan­i­sa­tion, led by NSR founder, Brad Farmer.

Kal­barri re­ceived Surf­ing Re­serve sta­tus back in 2010, a move en­dorsed by the state govern­ment, the Northamp­ton Shire, the Kal­barri com­mu­nity and sig­nif­i­cantly the lo­cal Aboriginal Nunda el­ders. Of the 23 other lo­ca­tions in Aus­tralia that have Surf­ing Re­serve sta­tus, sev­eral, in­clud­ing Bells and Snap­per Rocks, play host to WCT events. So, how is Kal­barri dif­fer­ent? Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial po­si­tion of the NSR there are a num­ber of lo­ca­tions in Aus­tralia con­sid­ered, “sa­cred ‘no- go zones’ for surf­ing con­tests, both by the lo­cal surf­ing com­mu­nity and the wider recre­ational surf­ing pub­lic. These in­clude the NSR’s Point Sin­clair (Cac­tus, South Aus­tralia) and Kal­barri (West­ern Aus­tralia), as well as places like Red Bluff and Gnarlaoo, both lo­cated in re­mote parts of West­ern Aus­tralia.”

The un­der­ly­ing mes­sage is that it is a func­tion of the NSR to play an ar­bi­trary role in help­ing to make choices about which lo­ca­tions are and are not suit­able for surf­ing com­pe­ti­tions. While list­ing a swathe of rea­sons why Kal­barri qual­i­fies as a sa­cred, nogo zone for con­tests, Brad Farmer sug­gests that ul­ti­mately one core tenet of the NSR ex­plains the NSR’s stance on Kal­barri. “NSR pro­vide that surfers will have pri­macy in any de­ci­sion that may (ad­versely) af­fect the surf­ing amenity or ex­pe­ri­ence.”

It’s a line of ar­gu­ment which has won sup­port from Wayne Lynch. For nearly half a cen­tury Lynch, a one-time teenage prodigy and suc­cess­ful com­peti­tor, has walked the thin line be­tween spon­sored rider and highly prin­ci­pled soul surfer. Lynch’s will­ing­ness to grap­ple with the com­pet­ing forces at work in surf­ing has given a cer­tain grav­i­tas to his views on ev­ery­thing from surf­board de­sign to the en­vi­ron­ment. “I still be­lieve that a cor­rectly func­tion­ing democ­racy means lo­cal peo­ple have the right to say yes or no to what­ever the is­sues are that af­fect their com­mu­nity and en­vi­ron­ment,” he told Tracks in sup­port of the stance adopted by the KBR

“IT’S NOT JUST A COU­PLE OF SALTY OLD BOYS WHO ARE AGAINST IT, IT’S THE WHOLE SURF­ING COM­MU­NITY.” KIT RAYNER

and North West Surfers Al­liance.

If Wayne Lynch has al­ways main­tained a some­what in­dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude to­wards com­pe­ti­tion, Taj Bur­row could not be ac­cused of the same. In 18 years on tour Taj was twice run­ner-up in the world ti­tle race and claimed 12 ASP/WCT ti­tles. How­ever, de­spite surf­ing to the tune of a con­test siren since he was a kid, Taj, who has spent his fair share of time on the North West coast of WA, is back­ing the Kal­barri surf­ing com­mu­nity in their fight against the WSL pro­posal. “I think Kal­barri should re­main un­touched by the WSL. Of course it would in­crease crowds. This topic just be­ing in the me­dia alone will in­crease crowds.”

While last year’s Mar­garet River event was marred by the shark drama and there have been rum­blings of dis­con­tent with the event from some fans and surfers, Taj still ar­gues that it’s a great set­ting for a WCT con­test. “Margs, Box, North Point,” is in­sane he states, show­ing he’s lost none of his in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm since re­tir­ing from the tour.

The sen­ti­ments ex­pressed by Taj are re­it­er­ated by Ian Cairns who sug­gests tak­ing a more ex­pan­sive view of WA’s south-west. “A more ag­ile mo­bile event in the Mar­garet’s/ Yallingup area is a bet­ter call. Bood­jidup to Three Bears. There’s hun­dreds of pos­si­bil­i­ties on a range of swell and wind con­di­tion.”

Cairns spent much of his youth roam­ing the North Coast of WA, and is fa­mil­iar with the al­most sa­cred role the re­gion plays in West Aus­tralian surf cul­ture. A trail­blazer in the nascent, 1970s pro surf­ing scene, Cairns helped shape the for­mat and model for pro surf­ing and was ul­ti­mately run­ner-up in the in­au­gu­ral year of the IPS in 1976. By 1982 Cairns had launched a coup to over­throw the IPS and re­place it with the ASP, where he held the role of ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor un­til 1986. Given his WA back­ground and ex­ten­sive in­volve­ment with pro surf­ing at all lev­els, Cairns is uniquely qual­i­fied to com­ment. “Surely adding the flex­i­bil­ity to in­clude other waves in the Cowaramup area, Yallingup and Rab­bit Hill would be a bet­ter op­tion,” he ar­gues. “Those ar­eas are ac­cepted as event lo­ca­tions and can be pulled off with­out mas­sive protests and surely the WSL needs to be more attuned to the surf­ing world’s sen­si­bil­i­ties.”

Cairns also sug­gests there are some rather prac­ti­cal rea­sons, be­yond the pol­i­tics, which make Kal­barri (Jakes Point) and Gnar­aloo (Tomb­stones) far from ideal lo­ca­tions for a WCT event.

“Both Jakes and Tomb­stones are in­sane if the swell is pump­ing but there are few op­tions if it’s small, which is of­ten.”

The cho­rus of op­po­si­tion to the WSL pres­ence in the North West stretches a long way. The North West Surfers Al­liance, the other as­so­ci­a­tion of­fi­cially op­posed to the con­test ini­tia­tive, in­cludes surfers in an 800km stretch from Kal­barri to Ex­mouth. There has been some sug­ges­tion that if Kal­barri proves to be un­suit­able as a WCT des­ti­na­tion the WSL fo­cus will shift to Gnar­aloo. When the Rip Curl Search ex­pressed an in­ter­est in host­ing an event at

Gnar­aloo back in 2009 the ini­tia­tive was met with blunt op­po­si­tion from lo­cal surfers and there is noth­ing to sug­gest at­ti­tudes have soft­ened.

WA surfer and jour­nal­ist Sean Mur­phy trav­elled to the North West to pro­duce a seg­ment for ABC’s ‘Land­line’ shortly af­ter the Gnar­aloo ini­tia­tive was squashed back in 2009/2010. Play­ing on the col­lo­quial ref­er­ence to the North West as the ‘Co­ral Coast’ Mur­phy in­stead dubbed it the ‘The Quar­rel Coast,’ draw­ing at­ten­tion to the fact that there were so many com­pet­ing in­ter­ests at play in the re­gion. Asked if the WSL had a case for host­ing an event at Gnar­aloo, Mur­phy re­sponds with the del­i­cate diplo­macy of an ex­pe­ri­enced jour­nal­ist.

“In a per­fect world wouldn’t it be fan­tas­tic to see two world class surfers go­ing wave for wave at Gnar­aloo, but the place has got an al­most spir­i­tual rep­u­ta­tion and get­ting over that is per­haps a bridge too far.”

Mean­while, the WSL have been less po­etic with their lan­guage, pre­fer­ring to stick to the for­mal rhetoric in re­la­tion to the Kal­barri ini­tia­tive. When An­drew Stark (the re­cently minted WSL Gen­eral Man­ager of Aus­trala­sia and Ocea­nia) was asked, in the con­text of Kal­barri, if the WSL have any of­fi­cial pol­icy on host­ing events at lo­ca­tions where there is strong op­po­si­tion from lo­cal surfers he stated, “For any lo­ca­tion we look at we will do ex­ten­sive com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion with the key stake­hold­ers at the right time of the as­sess­ment process. I am ref­er­enc­ing that to any event lo­ca­tions we look at any­where.”

Sim­i­larly, while rep­re­sen­ta­tives from surf­ing WA were ini­tially will­ing to talk more openly about their role and ra­tio­nale for ex­plor­ing al­ter­nate WA lo­ca­tions at the be­hest of the WSL, they ul­ti­mately with­drew their com­ments and is­sued the fol­low­ing state­ment.

“The cur­rent event agree­ment to stage the Mar­garet River Pro ex­pires fol­low­ing the event in 2019 and dis­cus­sions re­gard­ing fu­ture years are on­go­ing.

As you can ap­pre­ci­ate, dis­cus­sions around fu­ture events are of a com­mer­cial na­ture so we can’t share all the de­tails with you but we can as­sure you that any fu­ture event will abide by the rel­e­vant lo­cal, State and Fed­eral guide­lines and will in­volve con­sul­ta­tion with the rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers at the ap­pro­pri­ate time.

We want to achieve the best out­come for the sport in the State as well as one that will have ben­e­fits for tourism in WA.”

The rhetoric above may lack the pas­sion of the staunch op­po­nents from the North West, but it’s still ap­par­ent the WSL are not re­nounc­ing their in­ter­est in Kal­barri and Gnar­aloo as po­ten­tial lo­ca­tions for WCT events. Per­haps the waves will turn on for Mar­garets in 2019, the sharks will stay away (safety mea­sures have been con­sid­er­ably ramped up ac­cord­ing to Surf­ing WA) and ev­ery­one will be happy to see the con­tract ex­tended. Re­port­edly, $6 mil­lion has been spent over the years to im­prove the con­test site at Surfers Point, Mar­garet River, and, un­like the crew from the North West, the Mar­garet’s surf­ing com­mu­nity want to hold on to the event. How­ever, if the Mar­garet River re­gion is not em­braced as an on­go­ing fea­ture of the WCT cal­en­dar, then a small surf­ing com­mu­nity from north-west WA will be pit­ted against heavy­weight cor­po­rate and govern­ment might, in its at­tempt to prove that some places are just too sa­cred for con­tests.

Photo: Mike Ri­ley

Main: Would the raw ap­peal of Jake’s Point be spoiled by a WCT event?

Photo: Mike Ri­ley

Main: The an­nual Me­mo­rial Day (pic­tured be­low) is the clos­est thing to a con­test the Kal­barri Boad­rid­ers have ever had.

Main: The Kal­barri surf­ing com­mu­nity gath­ered on Jakes Point to make their sen­ti­ments clear to the WSL. In­set: Kal­barri Board­rid­ers pres­i­dent, Kit Rayner, sam­pling some north-west juice.

Photo: Tom Pearsall

Main: Shane Felsinger en­tombed at Gnar­aloo.

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