There is no better way to start the 2015 world tour: Snapper Rocks, from above. Photo: ASP/Kirstin Scholtz.
What the Gold Coast as a World Surfing Reserve really means
Words by Jed Smith
The declaration of the Gold Coast as a World Surfing Reserve (WSR) represents a major win for surfers over greedy coastal developers. The decision comes on the back of several years of political arm wrestling between surfers and developers looking to jeopardise the Gold Coast's world class waves for the sake of multi-billion-dollar coastal developments.
"I said to Joel (Parkinson) and Mick (Fanning) we need to take this to the next step and get this area approved as a World Surfing Reserve cos, as Joel said, we don't wanna come back every 10 or 15 years and protest against some surfing development that's gonna be detrimental to the area," says Gold Coast World Surfing Reserve chairman and former ISA world longboarding champ, Andy McKinnon.
Concerned residents, along with a politically active and very high profile surfing community - one that includes members like Mick Fanning, Steph Gilmore, Dave Rastovich, Rabbit Bartholomew, Joel Parkinson and others - had previously thrown their weight behind two separate moves to block the construction of cruise ship terminals at either end of the Gold Coast. The first, likely to destroy arguably the world's best beachbreak, South Straddie. And the second, almost certain to kill Kirra. The decision to declare the Gold Coast a World Surfing Reserve makes developers’ job significantly harder.
"It's global recognition that our iconic pointbreaks are some of the best in the world… and what it also does is spread a level of awareness among the locals and around the world about how concerned we are about these breaks," says McKinnon.
The win didn't come easy. Earning WSR declaration required the surfing community to gain support from both state and local governments. This proved elusive with developers holding considerable bargaining power and influence in a region known as one of the world's tourism meccas. With Rabbit as their World Patron and Ambassador, and a list of 23 locally born-or-based world surf champions in their corner, the surfing community eventually turned the tide. The breaking point came in 2014 when news of a proposed shipping terminal at Kirra resulted in an extraordinary community backlash with up to 4000 residents turning out the beach to protest the plans.
"(The WSR declaration) taught me a lot about protests and activism,” says Andy. “You cannot effect change without bringing the government and authorities in line. You can protest and keyboard warrior all you like but you have to work in the system to affect change. It's easy to protest but hard to get a result. When you've got Joel and Mick behind you with Save Kirra, you have millions following.”
McKinnon hopes the win will inspire surfing communities all over the world to take the fight to developers.
"It's recognition and its awareness about what we have and it's a legacy for future generations," he says. “That's the big one.”