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Do artificial reefs work? Volume 1: Surfer feedback

June 26 2009 | Artificial reefs, Jim's Blog,
by Jim

There has been a constant din of conversation surrounding artificial reefs. The idea of popping reefs into coastal spots to make surfable waves speaks to a desire to control our destiny (and "manage" our natural surroundings). Yet this is also one of those subjects whose successes have proven very illusive.

One of the reasons artificial reefs continue to generate strong opinions is the relatively small amount of quantitative data on the installed reefs. For as much as science is cited on why they should work, there is virtually no quantitative data on how well they are working. A few numbers would be great to have. What are the attendance or visitation figures? What is the average swell height? How much has the local economy gained from having an artificial reef? The lack of quantitative data then pushes the dialog to the qualitative front.

Due to the ongoing interest in this subject I thought I'd share a few angles into it via a series of blog posts. First up, user feedback (or better... surfer feedback). A few days ago a blog post went up with what I thought was a simple and brilliant approach to the larger value of artificial surfing reefs.

Ask the locals.

Better yet, if a reef is going in for "high quality" waves, ask some of the better surfers around for their perspective.

I see this as brilliant, as it is easy to dismiss a single person, label them crazy, or claim their ideas are tied to an agenda of some kind. It's pretty straightforward to negate someone like that, but this person went to a neutral group of people, arguably a group whose opinions carry weight, sponsored and professional surfers.

For the longer version of this I suggest you go to The truth about the Mount Reef post as the author, Hamish Mathieson, has done a very nice job assembling views on the key questions on Mt. Reef in New Zealand. The reason Mt. Reef is interesting is because it's one of the examples people tend to hold up as being a success more than any other. I'll share perspectives on other reefs in future posts.

Worth noting on his post, none of the photos on his blog come from Mt. Reef... they come from local natural wave alternatives to Mt. Reef. On his post he asks seven local sufers the same questions, I've shared one of their responses here.

Now, you may think this is out of context. Again, I suggest you read his entire post here (which was built after his original post caught some people's attention).

What I like about his post more than random comments you find on the internet is that he identifies himself, the surfers, and comments from people that are also named. When I see comments on the 'net with a random moniker, I almost always dismiss them. It's way too easy for true agendas and commercial perspectives to seep into comments when they can appear anonymous. If a person doesn't identify himself (or herself), I tend to discount what they are saying as they are shielding their identity for some reason unknown to the reader. Hamish makes his case by being transparent and quoting real people, real surfers. Most other debates on subjects like these unravel into virtual catfight with a slew of people that haven't identified their allegiances or even their name.

Which brings me to this next clip, for an alternative view on this particular reef check out this YouTube clip. It's supposed to be impressive but honestly, Georges (not close to the best wave in my area) was better than this the morning I'm writing this post. One thing many of us learned a long time ago is that every spot, even the junkiest spots, tend to break well once or twice a year. This again points to the need for some objective quantitative data on artificial reefs.

To net this out I'm not suggesting that all surfers are against artificial reefs. I don't think they are. Yet I do find it very hard to find a groundswell of surfers that will share positive, personal experiences beyond a photo here or a video clip there.

My sense is that, overall, surfers are cautiously optimistic on artificial reefs. Yet I also believe that surfers that have experienced artificial reefs are less than cautiously optimistic due to their real-world knowledge. So, where do you stand? Let us know who you are and what your experiences with artificial reefs are. Please don't reply if you work for a company that makes these reefs, let's keep this user... 'er surfer feedback.
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