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HomeNewsA new wave relaunches the Manly Freshwater World Surfing Reserve

A new wave relaunches the Manly Freshwater World Surfing Reserve

The Manly Freshwater World Surfing Reserve, one of 12 international surfing habitats protected from development and recognised for their cultural, economic, environmental and social benefits, was relaunched this month.

The event, which took place alongside Queenscliff ocean pool on 6 March, introduced a new committee and two new ambassadors: Layne Beachley AO, 7x Women’s World Champion surfer, and Guy Leech, 1986 World Ironman surf lifesaving winner and 7x Australian Ironman Champion.

It was also attended by James Griffin, NSW MP for Manly, and Zali Steggall, Federal Member for Warringah.

Layne Beachley, who revealed she began surfing on the southern corner of Manly Beach on a ‘foamie’ polystyrene board at the age of four, said, “I’m grateful that the committee have got behind this and will ride this campaign, and that James and Zali are here to continue enforcing that at a governmental level.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do for the environment with our custodianship… not only as leaders, but also as individual surfers. We can all drive to ensure that the permit is not only preserved and protected, but enjoyed by each and every one of us.”

7x world champion surfer Layne Beachley with partner Kirk Pengilly

Guy Leech recalled his youth swimming and training around Manly and Freshwater and in the Queenscliff tidal pool, prior to becoming a world-conquering Ironman; and also setting up a surf shop on the seafront where he first met a 14-year-old future women’s world champion, Layne Beachley.

“For all of us the connection to this area here has been a massive part of our life. For me, I wouldn’t have done the things I did in sport if it wasn’t for this area. And so I’m very protective of this place and what it means to me, and will be until the day I die.”

Guy Leech.

What are World Surfing Reserves?

Save the Waves Coalition is the administrative organisation that research and designate the World Surfing Reserves (WSR), before partnering with Local Stewardship Councils on a range of dedicated conservation programs.

According to the Coalition’s explanation booklet [available to download here]: “World Surfing Reserves serve as a model standard for preserving wave breaks and their surrounding areas by recognizing and protecting key environmental, cultural and economic attributes in coastal communities.

“Founded in 2009, this international program proactively identifies, designates and preserves outstanding waves, surf zones and their surrounding environments around the world.”

The Manly Freshwater World Surfing Reserve, originally dedicated on 10 March 2012 by 11x World Surf League Champion Kelly Slater, was the third in the world to be chosen.

From south to north, the 4km stretch of coastline encompasses Shelly Beach, Manly’s South and North Steyne, Queenscliff Beach and Freshwater.

Surf Lifesaving Championships on Queenscliff Beach. Photo: Alec Smart

Why Manly and Freshwater?

The Manly-Freshwater stretch of Sydney’s coast is considered the birthplace of surfing in Australia, where the sport/leisure activity was first demonstrated, documented and popularised, and where the first international competition was held.

Doug Lees, CEO of SurfAid, the charity that helps remote communities that are connected to surfing culture, summed up the reason why the region was an obvious contender.

“Everything about Manly encapsulates what the World Surfing Reserve represents. It is consistent quality surf – we get waves all the time! .…

“It’s got a rich surfing history. We know about The Duke [Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian athlete who popularised surfing in Australia with demonstrations at Freshwater Beach in the summer of 1914-15]; we know about the ’64 World Title where Midget [Farrelly] first won the first World Surfing Championship at Manly…

“The local business community thrives on the surf and the wonderful coastal environment that we live in… It’s up to us to protect the special surf ecosystems throughout the world, and Manly, … for their tremendous environmental, recreational, cultural and economic value.”

The Duke Kahanamoku Statue at the Surfers’ Walk of Fame, Freshwater. Photo: Alec Smart

Relaunch brings new wave of enthusiasm

Doug introduced the new Manly Freshwater WSR committee members who, along with himself, will carry the torch forward.

They consist of chairperson Scottie Bell, local legend and surfboard maker; Susie Crick, former professional ice figure-skater who works with the Surfrider Foundation; Murray Fraser, beach and surf culture photographer; Joao ‘Johnny’ Castro, coastal/environmental engineer, and previously a member of Northern Beaches Council’s Environment and Sustainability Division; and Richie Lovett, surfboard designer-maker, former pro-surfer, and miraculous survivor of a shark attack, an Indonesian tsunami and two bouts of aggressive cancer.

Doug explained the purpose of their stewardship of the Manly Freshwater WSR.

“We’re a committee of local surfers and a couple of iconic ambassadors, all working together for the betterment of this area….

“Together, we’re a bunch of people who are committed to the local environment, the local communities, and the beaches of the great surf and the area in which we live.”

MPs back the boardriders

Local MPs Zali and James spoke at the relaunch event, promising their personal commitment to the long-term preservation of the reserve.

Zali Steggall and Sue Crick at the relaunch of the Manly Freshwater World Surfing Reserve. Photo: Alec Smart

Zali Steggall revealed she was born at Manly Hospital. She declared, “I feel very, very passionate about defending and protecting [the WSR]. It is at risk. The Northern Beaches and Lower North Shore are one of the most exposed areas to Climate Change, and coastal erosion will play a big part in how we adapt to it…

“Protecting the Manly Freshwater Surfing Reserve is incredibly important… There are conservation projects to make sure our oceans are healthy but it’s really important that everyone gets involved and gets behind them.

“But there are a lot of threats to our ocean, with deep sea mining, oil and gas extraction off our coast and all around Australia… For example, the PEP 11 [offshore gas mining] project that James [Griffin] and I are fighting, it’s like a cockroach that won’t die!”

James Griffin, the final speaker at the relaunch event, said, “London has Big Ben, and New York has Statue of Liberty, and we’ve got our beautiful beach. But unlike those other two things, our beach is free, and I think that’s one of the best parts about it. It’s free to anyone to go in and enjoy.

“And people use it for all sorts of reasons… And that’s why we should love and protect it, because it’s essentially the glue that binds our beautiful community together.

“But I think one thing that we’ve overlooked here is that we’ve of course done this for ourselves as a community. What we should also reflect on is that the surfing reserve will protect this area for people from right across New South Wales, and the world will want to come here and share and enjoy the beautiful asset that we’ve got.

“Like all good things, it’s not necessarily government that come up with a great idea. It’s driven from the community… We’re so lucky to have this here in Manly and long may it continue, well done team!”

The Gold Coast, Queensland, another of Australia’s World Surfing Reserves. Photo: Alec Smart

Where are the other World Surfing Reserves?

A new reserve is added to the list of globally-protected marine environments every year by the administrators, Save the Waves Coalition. A 13th WSR will be announced in 2024.

The illustrious list includes (in order of commencement): Malibu (USA), Ericeira (Portugal), Santa Cruz (USA), Huanchaco (Peru), Todos Santos Islands (Mexico), Gold Coast (Australia), Guarda do Embaú (Brazil), Punta de Lobos (Chile), Noosa Beach (Australia) and North Devon (United Kingdom).

[The complete list can be viewed here.]

The WSR evolved out of an Australian initiative, the National Surfing Reserves, co-founded in 2005 by Brad Farmer, a pioneer advocate for conservation of marine environments, who is now a WSR Executive Committee member; and Andrew Short, surfer, adviser, marine scientist and author of 12 books.

Download the Manly Freshwater WSR info booklet here: https://www.savethewaves.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/WSR_Manly_Freshwater_Booklet_Web.pdf

Save the Waves: https://www.savethewaves.org/wsr/

Surfrider Foundation: https://www.surfrider.org.au/

Gold Coast World Surfing Reserve: http://www.goldcoastworldsurfingreserve.com/

Noosa World Surfing Reserve: https://www.noosaworldsurfingreserve.com.au/


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Manly Observer is an experiment in providing non-sensationalist hyperlocal news on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We cover the big news across the LGA, but with a hyper focus on the Manly electorate encompassing Balgowlah, Seaforth, Freshwater, Brookvale and Curl Curl up to Dee Why. It is run by those living in the community for the benefit of an informed community. We care about an informed and connected community. That’s it. Simple. Thank you for your support in keeping quality local news alive!

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