Lennox Head World Tour Event Rejected For Now
The WSL’s Australian Dream Tour is suffering setbacks.
The Ballina Shire Council just rejected the World Surf League’s bid to hold one of their four World Tour contests at Lennox Head during an “extraordinary meeting” that ended moments ago in the Ballina Council Chambers.
As the council handed down its verdict, the dozens of Lennox locals crammed into the foyer outside the council chambers let out a roar of approval, startling several councillors.
WSL General Manager, Andrew Stark, appeared on the big screen via zoom to present his case to a round table of Ballina Shire Councillors but to no avail. The WSL’s planned event was rejected on the basis of the “unacceptable risk” of a COVID19 outbreak due to contest; the impact on the local Lennox Head community; Lennox’s status as a Surfing Reserve, which prevents it being “used by a private commercial operator”; and a lack of proper process and community consultation.
The WSL will now wait and see if the NSW State Government is willing to overrule the Ballina Shire’s decision.. According to Lennox Head local, Nick Mercer, speaking inside the chamber, the decision to hold a contest against the community’s wishes could be met with a protest paddle out during the event by local surfers, raising the possibility of an “ugly confrontation” with security.
As the verdict was delivered and the crowd erupted, confusion also reigned with one councillor turning to give two members of the Lennox-Ballina (Le Ba) boardriders club a vigorous double thumbs up. Except Le Ba wholeheartedly supported the WSL’s bid to hold a contest at Lennox. An awkward impasse then unfolded as the councillor failed to compute the nuance and persisted with his vigorous thumbing.
“Within our committee there wasn’t one person that was against it. I can only speak on their behalf. I couldn’t speak on all of Le Ba’s behalf but that’s why I ran with it,”Le Ba board riders President, Ben Beasley, told Stab following the meeting.
“Anyone who has families in the area, from what I got all the kids were super excited to see all their pro surfer idols coming to the area. The benefits that they were going to give to our club and community was phenomenal in the way that they were going to support Le Ba and all the kids and juniors, and wildcards into Pro Junior events. That’s why I was all for it,” he says.
It turns out Le Ba are not the barometer of public opinion many people thought they were. At least two councillors were left scoobied by the divide between the Le Ba club, who voted for the contest, and the few dozen Lennox Locals packed into the chambers opposing it.
“Le Ba represents a really small percentage of the local community. They don’t speak for all of us,” said Ben Holmes, one of three Lennox Head surfers invited to speak to councillors inside the chamber.
“When I was in Le Ba as a junior, when Donny Munro was president, we deliberately didn’t surf the point because we respected the crew.”
“The kids may think it’s awesome to see their surf heroes but they’ll pay for it down the track. Look at what happened to Kirra,” he said.
They might have been in boardshorts, bucket hats and wrap around sunglasses (with strap) but the Lennox surf community were mercurial in their command of the microphone. Eloquent and with a detailed understanding of the various levers to pull in order to pose a threat to both government and world surfing’s governing body, their staunch and well organised opposition – despite a conspicuously fast approval process – drew acclaim from at least one councillor.
“This community knows how to mobilise, that’s all I’ll say,” said councillor, Sharon Cadwaller.
If they were ready to rumble that’s because this isn’t Lennox’s first rodeo. Back in 2017, the community warded off plans by the NSW State Government to erect a monolithic 35 meter ski jump at Lake Ainsworth just north of Lennox Head. They also successfully stared down an attempt to hold a Rip Curl Search World Tour event at Lennox in previous years.
“We killed off the Rip Curl Search. My brother even drove all the way to Melbourne, to Torquay, to have a word with him. Killed that off,” says Don Opey, a retired school teacher and longtime Lennox Local.
There is one contest held at Lennox, the Skullcandy Gromsearch, which was noted by one councillor. “It’s incongruous that we have Gromsearch and their dream is to one day surf in a World Tour event…There’s a lot of contradictions,” he said.
The Lennox World Tour contest was scheduled to be held between the 1st and 11th of April approximately the same time as the easter Bells Beach World Tour event, prompting one councillor to let slip news that Bells had been cancelled with Lennox set to replace it.
Rip Curl’s marketing director, Neil Ridgway, denied that is the case.
“The Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach has not been cancelled at this time,” he told Stab.
“Will it run? That will depend on what happens with the pandemic and the government restrictions on any given day. We would love to ring a Bell in 2021, and we know we have to be flexible for as long as we can to see if that happens. The WSL are working very hard to run a tour here in Oz. Everyday they have to try and find the options that will work. If they can pull it off it will be a real feat in world sport. Covid 19 has taught us that you have to adapt everyday to make things work. You protect the country from covid 19 and you take your chances on the day. Sometimes the surf shop is open, other times it’s shut. But you don’t give up.”
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