Santa Cruz to celebrate World Surfing Reserve designation
More than just the first documented surf spot in mainland American surfing, Santa Cruz is also home to world-class waves, a slew of professional surfers, and a community of environmentally minded folk. But even this seaside town is not immune to threats of coastal and marine destruction that jeopardize beloved surf spots up and down the California coast.
In some cases—such as with spots like Killer Dana’s and Corona Del Mar in Orange County and Stanley’s in Ventura County—developers won and the surf spots were demolished to make way for economic progress. But in other instances—such as when Hawaii’s then-Gov. Linda Lingle signed the state’s Surfing Reserves Bill in 2010, which established the Duke Kahanamoku and the North Shore surfing reserves—the surfers won and the sites became legally protected.
Instead of waiting for a hurdle to materialize, the Davenport-based nonprofit Save The Waves Coalition has taken a defensive strategy and created an international program to buffer global surf zones from future threats. They also aim to inspire surfing communities to become stewards of the sea.
“You don’t necessarily need a new law,” says Mark Massara, vice president of social responsibility at O’Neill Wetsuits and a member of Save The Waves’ advisory board. “Coastal acts specifically protect surfing and ocean recreation activities, but our experience has been that we’ve lost surf spots over the years [anyway]. We’ve created a new policy and consideration layer that’s going to be in effect.”
In February 2011, the World Surfing Reserves council approved Santa Cruz as an official World Surfing Reserve (WSR), after Jim Littlefield, West Coast environmental projects director for Surfers’ Environmental Alliance, submitted an application on behalf of the local stewardship council on Dec. 2, 2010.
Although not a legal designation, the Santa Cruz WSR has been endorsed and recognized by the Santa Cruz City Council and Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. Mayor Don Lane has proclaimed April 2012 as “World Surfing Reserve Month,” and April 28, 2012 as “World Surfing Reserve Day.” Santa Cruz joins the growing list of international reserves in place, including those in Malibu, Calif., Ericeira, Portugal, and Manly Beach, Australia.
There are several events on the horizon to usher in Santa Cruz’s designation, including a local short film festival at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 26 at the Del Mar Theatre. On Friday, April 27, Save The Waves is throwing a WSR Santa Cruz fundraiser and celebration at the Cocoanut Grove beginning at 7 p.m. that will feature live music and an Evolution of the Wetsuit fashion show.
On Saturday, April 28, an official ceremony will be kicked off with a morning paddle-out at Pleasure Point at 10 a.m. and continue with an afternoon dedication ceremony at Steamer Lane at 1 p.m.
“The point is to collectively identify threats to the surfing reserve and then work with local jurisdictions to overcome those threats,” says County Supervisor Mark Stone, who is also a member of the WSR local stewardship council, says of the designation. These threats include everything from oil spills and development to the effect on water quality.The concept of a surfing reserve originated in Australia in 1973, but was not enacted there until 32 years later, when the National Surfing Reserves Australia was formed in 2005.
In 2009, Save The Waves partnered with NSR Australia, the International Surfing Association (ISA), and Stanford’s Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) to launch an international WSR program. Originally compiling a list of potential sites, WSR has switched to a more grassroots approach where communities are now required to nominate their potential surfing reserve waves or areas. Santa Cruz was fourth on the original list of proposed reserves. Applications are currently pending in Huanchaco, Peru and Todos Santos/San Miguel, Mexico, among others.
Although the Santa Cruz WSR does not bring along a set of regulations, “[It] highlights the fact that we recognize how important the waves are to our community,” says Supervisor John Leopold, also a member of the WSR local stewardship council.
Reserves are either designated as an individual “wave break” including only one spot or as a “surf zone,” where many waves along a coastline are protected. When deciding on what global surf spots to designate, four criteria are evaluated by Save The Waves: quality and consistency of wave or zone, environmental characteristics of area, culture and history of area, and the amount of local community support.
“The WSR implicitly underscores the importance of our waves and coastline,” Pat O’Neill, president and CEO of O’Neill Wetsuits, writes in an email to GT. “[It] provides additional worldwide recognition to what we have long known and cherished—that Santa Cruz is a unique special place worth protecting for our families and future generations.”
Receiving a WSR designation means that a coastal area is recognized as being a “globally significant surfing ecosystem.” When the World Surfing Reserves Vision Council (a 26-member group) approves a status, a Local Stewardship Plan is put in place that outlines how the local community will go about protecting their coastal and marine resources. Managing a WSR consists of evaluation of threats and response, stewardship and community outreach, and education. Designating a WSR adds another layer of protection to buffer legislation such as zoning laws, and legally protected sanctuaries.
“Sometimes all of those laws don’t work,” says Massara. “[Designating a WSR] informs decision-makers about how important the waves are to the community.”
The program has caught some flack for lacking legal legitimacy against potential threats, and some worry that a WSR designation will bring more surfers to Santa Cruz, making crowded surf spots even more congested. Criticisms aside, Save The Waves’ Environmental Director, Katie Westfall, asserts the importance of the program.
“WSR is not about just putting up plaques and having a ceremony,” says Westfall. “It’s about increasing stewardship and protection of the world’s most amazing surf spots.”
The stretch of coast reserved spans approximately seven miles, from Natural Bridges State Beach to Opal Cliffs. The local stewardship council was formed with a primary role of overseeing management of the Santa Cruz WSR. The council includes Littlefield, county supervisors Stone and Leopold, Santa Cruz City Councilmember Hillary Bryant, and locals Jane McKenzie, Dan Young, Brian Kilpatrick, and Dustin Macdonald.
Additionally, a number of local surfers have been inducted as ambassadors of the reserve, including Robert “Wingnut” Weaver, Sarah Gerhardt, Ken “Skindog” Collins, Jamilah Starr, and Kyle Thiermann. Their role will be to use their celebrity to bring attention to the community over any future coastal threats.
“It’s good for our economy that so many people come here to surf, to enjoy that part of what the bay offers—it’s a benefit to the whole economic region,” says Weaver. “It’s great we’re finally recognizing the benefit that surfing adds to a community—emotionally, financially, spiritually—the whole nine yards.”
Visit worldsurfingreserves.org for more information. Photos: Keana Parker