The green room: a surfing-conscious approach to coastal and marine management.

Author:Ball, Scott
  1. INTRODUCTION II. WHAT IS A SURFING RESOURCE? A. Peel Angle B. Breaking Intensity C. Holistic View III. WHY SHOULD WE PROTECT SURFING RESOURCES? A. Value to Surfers B. Cultural Value C. Economic Value IV. WHAT ARE THE MAJOR THREATS TO SURFING RESOURCES? V. WHAT IT MEANS TO PROTECT SURFING RESOURCES VI. METHODS FOR PRESERVING SURFING RESOURCES A. Laws With the Purpose of Protecting Surfing Resources B. Government-Owned Parks C. Marine Protected Areas D. The Public Trust Doctrine E. Official Recognition of Surfing Resources F. Public Education G. Other Mechanisms 1. Eminent Domain 2. Land Trusts 3. Listing on the National Register of Historic Places 4. Conditional Easements and Exactions VII. CONCLUSION Introduction

In recent history, mankind has recognized significant value in the earth's natural resources, and has made substantial progress in preserving these resources in the face of heightened exploitation and development. Endangered species and their habitats, geological wonders like Yosemite Valley, and pristine rivers and lakes have received the bulk of attention from this preservation movement; and due to the work of concerned admirers, many of the planet's most appreciated natural sites have remained relatively free from the post-industrial impact of human society. (1) One type of natural resource enjoyed by millions of people and similarly threatened by the activities of society has received relatively little attention, however. Surfing resources are finite in number, fragile, and not often considered when evaluating coastal development projects. (2)

High quality surfing resources are rare along the world's coastlines, and they provide healthy recreation for surfers and onlookers alike. (3) Unfortunately, many surfing resources have been negatively impacted or destroyed as a result of inconsiderate human activity. (4) The loss of a surfing resource impacts not only the surfers who frequent it, the surfing community as a whole, and local communities whose economies benefit from surfers visiting the area because of its surfing resources. (5) Until recently, surfers were virtually helpless in combating negative impacts to these resources, but as the number of surfers has grown, groups like the Surfrider Foundation and Save the Waves Coalition have formed, organizing people and mobilizing resources for the preservation of surfing resources. (6) This progress, however, is just a first step towards creating a coastal management policy that prioritizes preserving quality surf breaks.

This paper advocates for the preservation of surfing resources. First, section II explores the definition of a surfing resource. Next, section III explains why surfing resources are valuable to surfers and non-surfers alike. Section IV then covers what sorts of threats face the world's surfing resources and provides some brief examples of resources that have been lost. Finally, section V explores and evaluates different methods that advocates may employ to preserve the surfing resources still in existence. While the discussion of methods for preserving surfing resources includes international examples, its primary focus is on methods that could be effective in the United States, and California in particular.


What Is A Surfing Resource?

One central aspect of surfing that is often misunderstood by non-surfers is that not every beach or coastal area is suitable for surfing, let alone ideal. (7) Breaking waves vary greatly in their shape, speed, and intensity, and only certain combinations of these factors create waves that are surfable. (8) Most of what determines these characteristics is the local bathymetry, or underwater topography, of the area. (9) Other ingredients necessary to create surfing waves include swell height and period, wind speed and direction, and tide levels. (10) Different regions of the earth vary with respect to the quality and consistency of these latter factors as they apply to surfing, but this paper assumes that on any stretch of coast exposed to the ocean, these necessary ingredients exist (although not at all times). (11) For the purposes of this paper, the focus will be on the conditions that create waves of appropriate shape, speed, and breaking intensity for surfing. Other research has worked to identify and quantify the factors that optimize these wave characteristics in greater detail, (12) but this paper only provides a brief overview.

  1. Peel Angle

    The peel angle of a breaking wave is the angle between the unbroken wave crest and the whitewater line of the broken portion of the wave. The peel angle is probably the most important characteristic for determining a wave's suitability for surfing. (13) The peel angle of a breaking wave can be anywhere between zero and ninety degrees, with zero degrees being attributed to a wave that breaks all at once leaving no unbroken wave face for a surfer to ride. (14) A ninety degree peel angle equates to a wave that hardly breaks at all as it propagates toward the beach and does not become steep enough to offer a powerful wave face for surfing; however, a wave with a ninety degree peel angle is still surfable. (15) Neither of the extreme ends of the peel angle spectrum is ideal for surfing, so a location that can produce breaking waves in between these two extremes is desirable. (16)

    Smaller peel angles reflect faster breaking waves, and larger peel angles reflect slower breaking waves. (17) Different surfers prefer different speeds of waves, and in general, more advanced surfers will prefer faster waves while beginners will prefer slower waves. (18) One estimate of a preferred range of peel angles for advanced surfers is thirty to forty-five degrees, while the estimate for beginner preferences is in the sixty-degree to ninety-degree range. (19) Further, the waves that are ideal for advanced surfers are more likely to be considered high quality waves than those that are ideal for beginners. (20) Thus, only a small range of possible breaking wave peel angles will create high-quality surfing waves.

  2. Breaking Intensity

    Another characteristic of breaking waves that is central to creating waves suitable for surfing is the breaking intensity of the wave, which is essentially a measure of the steepness of a wave as it breaks. (21) Ideal surfing waves must be steep enough to offer the surfer enough power and potential energy to generate speed for performing maneuvers, but must also achieve this steepness in a manner that does not over-power the surfer. (22) Researchers have identified four different categories of breaking waves, defined by their different breaking intensities (listed in increasing intensity): spilling waves, plunging waves, collapsing waves, and surging waves. (23) Spilling waves are the least steepas they break, the crest of the wave crumbles down without much force. (24) Plunging waves are much steeper, going beyond vertical as they break with the wave crest throwing out beyond the face of the wave, creating a hollow cylinder of water. (25) Collapsing waves are similar to plunging waves in that they go beyond vertical, but instead of gradually increasing in steepness before throwing out, collapsing waves tend to fold over on themselves at the same time that they begin to shoal up, breaking very powerfully as they unleash all of their energy very quickly. (26) Surging waves break onto the shore, essentially shoaling up at the edge of the shoreline and then rushing up the beach. Unlike the other three categories of waves, surging waves do not break far from shore or create white-water that makes its way to the beach (27)

    Of these four categories of waves, only spilling and plunging waves are suitable for the majority of the world's surfers. (28) Further, more advanced surfers prefer plunging waves to spilling waves because the increased steepness of plunging waves offers more power which then can be translated into speed. (29) Also, when the crest throws over the face of the wave, it offers advanced surfers the opportunity to position themselves inside the hollow part of the cylindrical wave, which is one of the most sought-after experiences in surfing. (30) Thus, within a broad range of wave-breaking characteristics, only a certain segment of this range is suitable for surfing, and an even smaller segment creates waves that are ideal for surfing.

  3. Holistic View

    The difficulty in finding good surfing waves is compounded when considering the fact that both peel angle and breaking intensity are characteristics of a single wave. (31) Consequently, to create a quality wave for surfing, the wave must have both a suitable peel angle and a suitable breaking intensity. (32) As a result it is relatively rare to find a location that produces a quality surfing wave. (33) It is important to keep in mind that the above explanation of factors creating a quality surf break is bare bones and neglects many smaller details that go into producing a quality surfing wave. (34) This explanation is merely meant to illustrate why not all stretches of coastline are considered to be surfing resources. Shaw Mead clearly explains this reality:

    There are thousands of kilometres of coastline around the world that receive enough swell needed for surfing. However, there are only a limited number, a relative handful, of high-quality surfing breaks on these coasts, even less that are easily accessible to the majority of the world's surfing population. Take the Australian coast as an example, even though it boasts an incredible number of high-quality surfing breaks in comparison to many coastlines around the world, in total these breaks represent only a tiny fraction of the entire coast. Indeed surfing breaks that consistently produce world-class surfing conditions are rare. (35) Surfing resources are therefore uncommon natural occurrences. The result is that surfers congregate at the locations that produce quality surfing waves, competing with one another over a...

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