Big Brother is Watching:
Everyone already knows crowds are a part of life. On the Gold Coast, this is true to such an extent that every time a fresh photo of the SuperBank’s utter perfection is reviewed by anyone interested in flawless right points, the jaw-drop factor needs to be continually tempered by an understanding of just how mobbed the place really is. It seems, in any developed area with strong surfing foundations, perfection comes with a price.
Recently however, on the Gold Coast, that price seems to be unusually high. An incident of violence at Snapper Rocks has caused some administrative members of the Australian National Surfrider Chapter to call for more regulation of crowds in the water, and now, authorities are considering instating beach patrols that would serve, in essence, as surf police. But, if policing the lineup sounds a bit too Orwellian for surfing, perhaps an explanation of what the fuzz would do is in order.
A description of their duties, outlined by Currumbin State Representative Jan Stuckey, in the Australian periodical The Sunday Mail, suggests that the surf police would basically be something akin to a barefoot version of your average security guard. They’d be empowered to give warnings and possibly write tickets if an incident seemed to be escalating toward violence, and would be responsible for alerting the real police in the case of especially serious physical confrontations in the lineup. They’d also keep track of repeat violent offenders, who would then be referred to the court system where, if the judge saw fit, they could be banned from the beach altogether.
A seemingly aggressive policy for dealing with surf rage, but as many locals see it, this public speculation about such measures has less to do with trying to resolve a problem and more to do with political publicity and a sensationalist press.
“It’s a total tabloid media beat-up,” says Bruce Lee, Snapper ripper and committee chair of the Snapper Rocks Boardriders Club. “There are breaks all over the world just as crowded as Snapper, and that’s a result of the current popularity of surfing combined with increasing population densities worldwide. It’s the danger factor created by crowds that have people asking for regulation, but the average surfer here doesn’t want the city council involved and isn’t about to go asking for their help.”
In Australia however, and the U.S., law enforcement and governmental involvement in the surf zone is not entirely unprecedented. Several incidents of surf rage violence have resulted in the extension of the long arm of the law into lineups in both countries in the past. However, those prior cases seem to have been reactive rather than proactive, and while violence in any forum is typically counterproductive and should be avoided and curtailed, it seems as if this particular proposal to regulate Australian beaches is more intrusive than many who would be affected by it would like. Additionally clouding the issue is the fact that it currently remains unclear where the surf police would stand with regards to the enforcement of general surf ethics, codes of conduct, that when followed, would eliminate violence from the equation by default, an oversight that suggests the solutions being discussed would address only the results of the problem and not its root causes.
Ultimately, any attempt to regulate surf behavior is a slippery, controversial topic where interpretations can be murky at best. There has yet to be a viable solution offered that will definitively ease tensions in overcrowded surf, and this is summed up nicely by Lee, who paddles out at a “very crowded” Snapper Rocks everyday. “Congestion is a huge problem,” he says, “but I really don’t see an easy way to fix it.”