Stab Magazine | How To Torch A Surf Spot, With: Wellington International Airport
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How To Torch A Surf Spot, With: Wellington International Airport

All is not well in Wellington.

Words by Jake Howard

If you’ve ever had to go through customs in New Zealand, you’ll know they don’t fuck around when it comes to protecting their unique environment. Have a little something spilt on your shoe and you’re as good as barred. But even in the land of the Long White Cloud, the wheels of progress grind ever forward.

On the southern tip of the north island there is a rising quarrel between the Wellington International Airport and local surfers. With a runway extension in the planning stages, adjacent Lyall Bay may soon find itself in the oncoming path of an Airbus.

For those short on New Zealand surf history, on March 7, 1915, a certain Duke Kahanamoku introduced wave shooting to a stunned Kiwi audience at Lyall Bay. “He stood right up on the board, while the latter shot along at a great speed,” reads an account from The Evening Post. “By careful steering he prolonged the shoot for a distance of 150 to 200 yards.”

We should all hope to prolong the shoot. Needless to say, Lyall Bay is the official birthplace of New Zealand surfing and today serves as the pressure valve for Wellington area surfers thanks to its myriad beachbreak options.

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By no means the best surf action shot you’ve ever seen, but it does capture the (til now) harmony between the airport and the surfers.

The concern of the Surfbreak Protection Society (SPS), a group that is “dedicated to the conservation of the ‘treasures’ of the New Zealand surfing community,” is that the Wellington International Airport Ltd (WIAL) is attempting to force its runway extension through the Environment Court via some less-than-above-board political manoeuvring.

The WIAL’s original concession for extending the airport was to design and build some form of artificial reef to give surfers somewhere to go.

“At this stage of the project, and subject to further investigations, it is considered that a submerged wave focusing structure may be the safest and most cost effective approach for mitigating and potentially further enhancing surfing amenity in Lyall Bay,” reads the Wellington Airport Runway Extension Surf Break Impact Assessment (woah!), which was released in October 2015.

SPS, along with the Wellington Boardriders Club, have been working with them since May 2015 to figure out a solution, but at this time it appears the relationship is growing tenuous.

This March, SPS questioned the sincerity of WIAL’s proposed artificial reef after it came to light the airport company was allegedly pursuing loopholes in policies that specifically protect surf breaks.

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So much potential! Imagine conditions like this with the guidance of a designer artificial reef!

“In plain words, WIAL are telling surfers that the company is obligated to protect Lyall Bay’s surfing amenity ‘overall,’ yet on the other hand, are aggressively attacking the very legal obligations for them to do so, by seeking policy changes,” explains a SPS press release.

“A robust Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE) is essential, especially for a project of this magnitude, yet the design concepts for the swell focus structure in the middle of Lyall Bay differ significantly from one preliminary report to the next,” says SPS research and communications officer Mike Gunson.

This fight’s certainly not over, and it’s probably going to get more heated before it is, but if a trip through New Zealand customs is any gauge of what’s to come, Lyall Bay may be getting a new reef.

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Lyall Bay may be far from a world class break, but it sure has its moments.

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