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What does it mean to protect a wave?(FODDER)

July 06 2010 | Jim's Blog,
by Jim

What is a wave?
The closest thing to the definiti
on of a wave may be the picture you paint in your mind when you think of waves... maybe that's Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu or maybe it's your local break. But what if that wave, the one in your mind, existed but you couldn't get to it because there was no access?

You've heard the proverbial "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a s

If a wave peels across a reef but no one is able access it... does it count?

The list of great waves with very limited access is a notable one... The Ranch... Tavarua (until a few days ago).

What if an insane wave, a mechanically PERFECT wave existed but the water was horribly polluted?

Again, there are a number of waves we can point to... mythical waves... where this is the case. Malibu, nicknamed "Malipoo", is one of the dirtier waves in Southern California. Are you getting my point?

Think of these examples. These are popular, iconic, surf-before-you-die waves. These waves are mechanically intact (many would label them "perfect") and yet have other characteristics that take them off the table for some.

Regarding access, Surfrider has a very clear stance. We believe coastlines, beaches and waves should be accessible to the general public. Another way to say this is we don't believe waves should be purchasable commodities. They shouldn't be privatized. Surfrider's organizational model is based on empowering locals and providing tools for local, grassroots volunteers to fight access issues like these. We have fought and won beach and wave access cases many times in the past few years. Remember that killer Ramones song "Rockaway Beach"? It was off limits to surfers until just a few years ago.

Regarding water quality and pollution-related issues, we've engaged in this area heavily since our inception. Malibu represents an interesting case study because 26 years ago Surfrider Foundation literally came into being in order to protect the First Point, Malibu wave form. We fought and won, and as a result the Malibu lagoon does not open up into the middle of the break. Instead, the mechanical Malibu perfection shown in films decades old still exists (and I applaud all that have fought initially and over the years to make that a true statement). Yet decades after that initial win we're still fighting to protect the wave at Malibu, this time it's due to pollution. Read the recent victory and you start to get a smell of what the issue is.

So let's go back to my original question...'s definitions are pretty dry. The Riptionary goes straight into wave slang. Surfline offers a good definition but only focuses on the form itself.

In my opinion a wave is the combination of several things. It's the wave form, the ability to access the wave and the water quality. A wave is the inherent form of nature which has not been adversely affected. In almost all cases it's a form that hasn't been damaged by coastal development. In the end a wave is a part of an ecosystem that is intact. To be fair there ARE a few waves that were created BY coastal infrastructure, Sebastian Inlet in Florida comes to mind.

Many waves point back to the thriving ecosystem, here are a few examples.

Tres Palmas in Puerto Rico was at risk of being damaged and lost because the very thing that shaped and groomed the face of the wave, the Elkhorn coral, was dying. In order to save Tres Palmas we invested years, massive amounts of work and over a million dollars to protect the ecosystem. The coral, coastal outflows, nearby development practices, local education and large-scale tire removal contributed to this effort. Today Tres Palmas is a protected wave by laws, not good intentions. It's also a protected wave due to new, ongoing local practices that minimize damage to the reef. This is an example of an intact ecosystem with a formal management plan in place. Because of these things the gorgeous, heaving wave lives on.

Pillbox, a wave in my hometown of Solana Beach, is somewhere between nothing-close-to-what-it-used-to-be and ruin ed.

Locals talk of a coastline that had cliff headlands that naturally groomed incoming swell. Old photos provide a baseline.

Today about 70% of Solana Beach has 40 foot seawalls in place to meet incoming waves. A person can not walk the beach at mid-to-high tide because the ocean is hitting forty foot vertical seawalls. Those seawalls have killed local surf by
flattening out the coast and sending energy from incoming waves straight back out. This has essentially ruined the surfing experience. It's also ruined the entire beach going experience as unless you're there at low tide. There isn't a beach to go to. In this case coastal development has turned a natural wave into a complete mess.

There's a similar story with Killer Dana. Once a famous, amazingly long right-hand point break, but today the wave form is nothing remotely close to what it once was (and some would simply state the wave is gone. Period. Worse... it's filthy. "Children's Beach" which is at the base of what was once Killer Dana is fighting for the distinction of THE most polluted water in all of Southern California.

The wave California Street (C-Street) in Ventura is nice now but you should have seen it before the Matilija Dam was in place. I never saw it but it's fairly easy to envision as it's a point break that is groomed by a combination of sand and cobble. The Matilija Dam is 200 feet tall and is literally filled to the brim with... sand and cobble meant for... California Street and beyond. In this case coastal development has starved the sculpting clay necessary to form the face. It's still a good wave but it isn't what it was.

The state of Maine is in it's own category with only 7% of the coastline publicly owned (and thus accessible). Think of that statement. Imagine not being able to access 93% of your state's coastlines. That is the reality that Maine lives with every day of the week. Surfrider believes this is fundamentally wrong, we believe beaches... all beaches... should be accessible.

I was at a chapter meeting in Eastern Long Island and a mom stood up and spoke about how her son paddled out at a public beach access, paddled parallel to the shore so he could surf where the wave actually broke. She was taking pictures of her son, who never set foot on sand other than public access sand. He happened to be surfing in front of a private beach club which called the police. The boy was ticketed. These are situations where we engage.

So what is a wave? A wave is a feat of nature, it rises and barrels. A wave propels a person along almost as if that person was walking on water. A wave is accessible by all of us. A waves is clean and experiences as little damage as possible from coastal development over the years.

The list goes on and on and on. The truth is that if you live in a beach community th
ere is SOME impact on the wave resources. The real issue becomes managing those impacts and keeping them in check.

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