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May 11, 2021

Call for tougher regulations in the surf

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Should violent and abusive surfers face month-long bans from local breaks?

What about reporting serious surf rage incidents involving injury and broken boards to the police?

Or do we just need a more mature surf culture?

These are some of the suggestions local surfing elders have made to address toxic surf behaviour in Byron Bay.

The notorious ‘Locals Only’ sign at The Pass has been replaced with an Aboriginal flag. Image: Jeff Dawson

As the spray-painted ‘locals only’ sign at The Pass was replaced with a proud Aboriginal flag last week, former NSW Upper House MP and long-time surfer, Ian Cohen, said it was time for greater regulation in the waves.

‘There needs to be a balance between freedom and responsibility,’ said Mr Cohen, who has surfed for nearly 50 years, much of that time in the Shire.

‘People need to recognise that physical injury and damaged boards in the surf aren’t okay.

‘We don’t let people behave like that at the pub, why should we let them behave that way in the surf?’

Mr Cohen put forward a number of possible regulations that could be imposed, including short-term bans for surfers who were violent and abusive. 

Former NSW Upper House MP, Ian Cohen, who has called for tougher regulations in the surf. Image: Jeff ‘hanging 6 since 1986’ Dawson.

‘Unfortunately there are a few guys out there who have a real chip on the shoulder and seem to enjoy pushing other people around,’ he said. 

Mr Cohen said that the most serious incidents, such as physical assaults and deliberate damage to property, needed to be reported to the police.

‘There seems to be this unholy law in surfing that says, “what happens in the water stays in the water”, but that’s bullshit’, Mr Cohen said.

‘You’re subject to the same laws and human rights in the water as you are on land’.

‘Think about the impact on a child or teenager of being out at The Pass and seeing these alpha blokes throwing their weight around,’ he said.

‘We’re teaching these kids to be like Lord of the Flies.’

For legendary local surfboard shaper, Bob McTavish, the solution to the issue of conflict in the surf lay in creating a more mature surf culture. 

Mr McTavish did not comment on whether greater regulation in the surf was needed, but said Byron could look to the surf culture at California’s Malibu Beach as a way forward.

‘The culture there is ten years ahead of ours in terms of surf rage,’ he said.

Malibu example

‘There’s a very large number of people surfing at Malibu, but very little violence,’ he said.

‘When you pull up at Malibu, you’re going to be happy if you get two or three waves in the whole session. It’s a give-and-take situation.

‘Wategos seems to have that mature culture. You hear people cheering and whooping when someone gets a good wave.

‘But it hasn’t permeated The Pass yet.’

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  1. What about kooks that can’t control their equipment and injure or endanger other surfers. They don’t understand etiquette. And can’t read the ocean. There is a peaking order in the water for a reason. It maintains order. Everything is not for sale unlike on the land. If kooks don’t like it. Go run the lighthouse and run in to people or never give way, see how long until some tells you to p…. off. Let’s not forget Ian Cohen was one of the people in the shadows behind getting broken head back beaches and seven mile parking blocked off to the public. Seems like the thing to do in Byron these days.. be self serving. Its unfortunate Ian’s influence doesn’t transcend the waterline because his ability at surfing…

  2. If the surfer is a thug while surfing, the he’s a thug and a bully. Other surfers may well be afraid of the consequences if they report wave rage to the police. Maybe surf clubs can receive reports from the victims and let the police know.

  3. Geez … has it come to this ? Back when I surfed, it was for the ‘free’ and surfers were brothers of the revolution. Look at youz now ? Calling in the cops ? Going to ‘surf school’ will have a whole new meaning. Another sign of too many people.

  4. I’ve surfed the Pass all summer.
    Haven’t seen a punch thrown, heard a few angry shouts on a dozen or so occasions.
    yes, freedom and responsibility must be balanced but an onus needs to be placed on the responsibilities of people who have no basic surf skills being out there.

    My 11 year old son has escaped serious injury on numerous occasions from learners/backpackers/kooks who have no basic skills and even less idea of the most rudimentary surf etiquette.
    This is far more dangerous than the few hotheads still trying to impose some order on one of the most chaotic surf zones on Earth.

    What surprises me, given the insanely dangerous situation of kooks who have not even the most basic surf skills being in the line-up is not the surf rage, but the lack of surf rage. Imagine letting loose people on the road who did not know how to steer or operate a car and the response. Actual physical violence in the surf was far more prevalent in the 80/90’s but there were no phones or social media.

    Whats the solution?

    At times the Pass is a black diamond run, maybe an education program could be run letting learners/visitors know that they will be putting themselves and other water users in danger if they go out there without appropriate skills and knowledge.

    that might go some way to turning the temperature down on good days.

    Happy to hear other ideas though.


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