For every wave you get

Image of Emerald Beach at sunset

“If you love a place, you have a duty to protect it” Jeff Johnson, 180° South 

The sand feels cool beneath my feet as I make my way across the pre-dawn darkness to the ocean. The east is inviting a new day. Although the beach is empty, I know that I am not alone in this daily ritual. Perhaps at the next beach, or a few down, others are neoprene clad, feeling the excitement that comes with the early morning chill and the anticipation of entering the water. Still others, that don’t surf, creatures with gills not lungs, waxy surfaces not skin, bold antennae instead of eyes, share this liquid love as well. Science tells us that we all began in the sea. My heart this morning, and every time that I surf, confirms that it is so. 

As surfers, we gain so much from the ocean. Every surf offers a place of solace if we desire time alone, connection if we seek others, and the pure simple thrill of catching a wave.

Created by tides, and the simple motion of wind over water, surfing has become one of the most popular pastimes on the planet. 

Some of my best memories have been in the ocean. Some of the lowest points in my life have been softened and healed by saltwater. Some of my earliest memories were of being in the sea. I am sure any surfer would say the same of their relationship with the ocean. Every time we paddle out we gain so much. And we are given these gifts for free. 

A few years ago I asked myself ‘what do I give back?’. For the thrill of surfing, or the joy of playing in saltwater, what do I give the ocean in return? What do I do to take care of her, to tend her, to make sure she is okay? At the time, I couldn’t find an answer. Like much of my culture, I was a great taker. If anyone asked me, I would have told them how much I loved the ocean. But my actions did little to confirm that this belief was of much substance. 

Our oceans are in trouble. They are full of plastic. They are used as a dump zone for unwanted polluted water. They are over fished. And they are over it.

To make matters worse, in response to excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, our oceans have taken in more carbon in the last 200 years than they have known in the last 50 million. They are now 30% more acidic leading to shell bearing animals being unable to survive. This spells disaster for the food pyramid and ultimately, us. But instead of letting these problems paralyse us, we need to roll up our sleeves and do something about it. 

One organisation that is doing their best to give back to the ocean is the Surfrider Foundation. The Surfrider Foundation was founded over 30 years ago by three passionate surfers in Malibu, California. These surfers were concerned that their favourite wave would be destroyed and decided to do something about it. The Surfrider Foundation movement has now spread to 18 countries around the world, including Australia. From beach clean ups through to full scale protests to stop ocean-damaging development, the Surfrider Foundation is an international movement of surfers dedicated to caring for the sea and coastlines that they love.  

They also have a long history here on the Coffs Coast. They were one of the lead organisations in the fight to stop a ‘Poo Pipe’ on Look at Me Now Headland at Emerald Beach in the 1990s. At that time Greg Hill was the president. Greg worked hard for many years with the local community to stop what was a ‘greenlight’ sewerage outfall. The area is now a nature reserve. After over a decade of rest, Coffs Coast Surfrider are back with fresh faces and renewed passion to address the issues of this decade including ocean plastic.

One of our first projects back in 2018 was the “Hold Onto Your Butts” campaign that was trialed at Emerald Beach. The project received financial assistance from Coffs Harbour City Council and ‘Keep Australia Beautiful’ to install cigarette butt receptacles at the beach in response to hundreds of butts being left on the ground along the foreshores. Sadly, most smokers don’t realise that butts now have plastic filters that do not decompose. In 2019 we hope to inspire a new generation of ocean-going eco-warriors who feel passionate about looking after the waves they love and thinking about how their day to day lives impact our blue home.  

I would like to challenge all surfers and anyone who loves the sea, to consider this proposition – for every wave you get, give something back. It can be simple – if you get 10 waves that surf, pick up 10 pieces of rubbish from the beach. Or it can be big – join a local Dunecare group or perhaps consider joining us at Surfrider Coffs Coast. Despite the complexities of the problems that we face on the planet, the solution is actually really simple – if you love a place, do what you can to protect it. 

– Words by Lilli Nicolson