On July 22, 2010, Save The Waves Coalition in conjunction with National Surfing Reserves (NSR) Australia and the International Surfing Association announced that Malibu would become the first-ever World Surfing Reserve. The motion, inspired by the impact and success of UNESCO’s World Heritage Program, hopes that attracting global attention to the surf community’s most esteemed waves will inspire communities to better preserve their oceanic resources.
“It’s pretty simple,” says Joao De Macedo, World Surfing Reserves Program Manager. “We’re honoring iconic surf breaks.” WSR makes its selections using a “Vision Council” consisting of twenty-three individuals (including Jeff Clark, Greg Long, and Rabbit Bartholomew) who vote to determine future WSR sites based on wave quality, environmental characteristics, surf history, and local support.
“Once an international organization comes into the fold and is able to make some of the local policy makers understand that a break is cherished and appreciated by a much broader community – that brings a lot of positive energy to the table,” says Macedo. “It lifts a lot of the local quarrels to a different level.”
While a similar program known as National Surfing Reserves has honored eleven sites in Australia ranging from Maroubra Beach, New South Wales to Kalbarri, West Australia since 2006, this is the first surf reserve program to transcend international boundaries. Malibu’s new status, which will be consummated on October 9, 2010 sounds important, but actually bears no legal implications – a conscious decision on behalf of World Surfing Reserves to circumvent bureaucratic hang-ups. “The WSR has opted not to directly pursue [legal protection] since the wait for legislation can be so lengthy,” says Macedo. “It actually took over 20 years from the original Bells Beach Surfing Reserve (June 1973) until the establishment of the first NSR with the Maroubra Surfing Reserve in March 2006.”
“It’s more of a status symbol,” says The Surfrider Foundation’s Environmental Director, Chad Nelsen, who also serves on World Surfing Reserves’ Vision Council. “A world congress has decided that this is one of the gems on the planet. I’m hopeful that the designation will add to the people’s feeling that this place really needs to be protected “
According to Nelsen, who has conducted extensive research on the economic impact of surf spots like Malibu on the greater community through his blog Surf Economics, Malibu’s notoriously dirty water has cost the community millions of dollars. “That, in my opinion, is the issue at Malibu,” says Nelsen. “I am not sure a WSR designation in and of itself will increase the value of a surf spot. It’s more how the WSR status is used to protect and restore the quality of the surfing area that may increase or preserve its value. I think the designation is a good way to increase the political pressure to clean up the water quality at Malibu.”
While Malibu is the first surf spot to acquire World Surfing Reserve status, more are on the way. According to Macedo, Save the Waves plans to recognize Waikiki in Hawaii and Manly Beach in Australia within the next twelve months.