I swooped on the ringing phone and a voice from the other side of the world, in a tiny beach town called Punta de Lobos miles from anywhere in Chile, whispered: “You’ve got it!”
This is how I learned that the 19-member Vision Council of World Surfing Reserves had voted overwhelmingly in favour of Noosa becoming the tenth World Surfing Reserve. WSR and its parent body, the Save The Waves Coalition, have their headquarters in Santa Cruz, California, but the reason the call came from Chile was that the announcement had been made at the dedication of the 2013 World Surfing Reserve, Punta de Lobos. Why it had taken four years for the reserve in Chile to be dedicated is a story that explains a lot about World Surfing Reserves and how they operate. We’ll come back to that, but first the question that I get asked all the time: so what exactly is a World Surfing Reserve?
The mission statement of WSR is to “proactively identify, designate and preserve outstanding waves, surf zones and surrounding environments around the world”. The Save The Waves Coalition, along with key partners like National Surfing Reserves (NSR) Australia and the International Surfing Association (ISA), launched the World Surfing Reserves concept in 2009, and it now serves as a global model for preserving wave breaks and their surrounding areas by recognizing and protecting the key environmental, cultural, economic and community attributes of surfing areas.
Since 2009, WSR has used its muscle to save iconic surf breaks from potentially destructive development and to lobby for better environmental protection. The case Noosa presented, in this, our third submission, was as an exemplar of best practice in coastal management and protection. In other words, in our case the heavy lifting had already been done. Since Dr Arthur Harrold and Max Walker formed the Noosa Parks Association and went to bat to protect our headland from development back in 1962, generations of civic-minded citizens have created layers of protection that all but guarantee Noosa’s position as the gem of the Australian coastline. But we’re not perfect, and the Noosa World Surfing Reserve will add a layer of protection for our often-overlooked surf break assets.
But let’s go back to Punta de Lobos, where a small crowd of surfers – musician Jack Johnson and wife Kim among them - had gathered to mark the dedication of the premier big wave left-hand point location in South America. Over the four years since its dedication, Save The Waves had waged a hugely successful campaign to buy back the Punta de Lobos headland from private developers and return it to the public as a World Surfing Reserve. With the help of surf brand Patagonia, the Marisla Foundation, Packard Foundation, Waitt Foundation and over 900 small donors, Save The Waves raised over $750,000 to purchase the property.
At the end of the intimate ceremony, WSR officials announced the vote for Noosa to become the tenth World Surfing Reserve. They probably also breathed a sigh of relief – no property to buy, no threats of development, no serious pollution issues.
But the decision to award Noosa was not a no-brainer. Only one WSR is selected each year, and according to Gold Coast World Surfing Reserve chair Andrew McKinnon, the 2017 selection was “probably the toughest to pick, with four outstanding candidates in the Azores Islands in Portugal, Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Noosa. In the end, Noosa was chosen for its beautiful point breaks and visionary coastal conservation.”
The November decision marked a major milestone for the hardworking committee that came together in December, 2013 at the instigation of Matt Horder from the Sunshine Coast Sports Federation, who felt it was high time Noosa became a National Surfing Reserve. With the help of important stakeholders like Noosa Council and Tourism Noosa, we put together a committee representing all beach user groups. I was elected chair, with Drew Pearson (Halse Lodge) treasurer and Juanita Bloomfield from Tourism Noosa secretary. Joining us were Omar Bakhach (Parks and Wildlife), Chris Doney (Noosa Heads Surf Club), Libby Winter (Noosa Parks Association), Di Cuddihy (Noosa Malibu Club), and Cr Tony Wellington and Alison Hamblin from Noosa Council.
After the long process of securing broad community support and funding partners, and of preparing a detailed submission that included a book and short film (thanks to Panga Productions), Noosa was dedicated as a National Surfing Reserve, covering five point breaks and numerous beach breaks between North Sunshine and the river mouth, in March 2015.
Not content to rest on our laurels, we then moved straight into a campaign to become a World Surfing Reserve, hosting members of the Vision Council so that they could draw their own conclusions about our surfing community, and preparing a far more detailed submission. Through this whole process, there have only been two changes to our committee. Dan Bedford from Social Tap joined us to enhance our social media profile, and when pressures of work overtook Mayor-elect Tony Wellington, he was replaced by Cr Jess Glasgow, also a keen surfer. Tony has remained our greatest supporter.
Noosa World Surfing Reserve will be dedicated at a special ceremony during the Laguna Real Estate Noosa Festival of Surfing next March. You can check out the sneak peek NFOS program in the coming IN Noosa Magazine out in December.
The 10 WSRs are:
Malibu (USA, 2009)
Manly (Australia, 2010)
Santa Cruz (USA, 2011)
Ericeira (Portugal, 2011)
Huanchaco (Peru, 2013)
Bahia de Todos Santos (Mexico, 2013)
Punta de Lobos (Chile, 2013)
Gold Coast (Australia, 2015)
Guarda Do Embau (Brazil, 2016)
Noosa (Australia, 2017)
World champion Ironwoman and paddler Jordan Mercer and
former world longboard champion Josh Constable are to become the official Ambassadors
for the Noosa World Surfing Reserve. Mercer, 23, is six-times winner of the
Molakai to Oahu Paddle Race, and the reigning world paddleboard champion
following her victory at the International Surfing Association World Paddle
Championships in Denmark earlier this year. Constable, a multiple Australian
longboard champion, was world professional longboard champion in 2006.
Picture: Noosa stalwart Phil Jarratt with Noosa WSR ambassadors Jordan Mercer and Josh Constable.