Sunday, January 31, 2010

How can you OWN a wave???

Can a person or organisation OWN a wave? It’s a tough question, and a pretty contentious issue in the world of surfing. Waves are simply energy moving through the medium of water. The water doesn’t travel, the wave energy does. So how can the culmination of kinetic energy suddenly become a possession once it reaches a certain physical location?
Some truly great waves are affected by this issue, and it’s something that, it could be argued, goes all the way back to the Sport of Kings in pre-contact Hawaii.
If it didn’t affect great waves of course, it wouldn’t be such a problem.
Cloudbreak, pictured above, is a perfect example. In the mid to late 1970’s two surf entrepreneurs made a deal with the Fijian tribe who own the island to develop a surf camp there. The tribe’s land rights extend over their fishing grounds which happen to be the coral reefs over which not just one, but two world class waves break. The island is now an exclusive surf resort accommodating up to 36 guests at a time and costing somewhere in the region of $300 per day. But you get Cloudbreak or Restaurants to yourself. In fact, the only time that other surfers can sneak a look in is to do as I did and get out to the island on a Saturday morning (changeover day) and pay to surf in the few hours between one set of guests leaving and a new load arriving - usually by helicopter.
For me it was worth it, but is it right?
In pre-contact Hawaii, certain breaks such as Sunset were the sole playgrounds of Royalty and off limits to commoners. In 1950’s and 1960’s California ranch owners made access to spots along vast stretches of coast available only to those with access to a boat under threat of prosecution for trespassing.
These days more often than not the reason for off-limits surf is down to National Defence.
In the UK, The Pole in Pembrokeshire and Broadbench in Kimmeridge, Dorset both fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence and access is strictly controlled, most recently to much public outcry at Kimmeridge.
If they’re firing, and the reef’s firing, you ain’t surfing.
And if you’ve ever travelled between LA and San Diego you’ll know that a large tract of land and 15 miles of prime pacific coastline on the infamous Camp Pendleton Marine Base is off limits to surfers – a recent Surfer’s Journal/marine R&R incursion excepting. The flip side of this though, is that apart from tank tracks on the beach this is probably the closest to an untouched piece of coastline in Southern California and the only thing preventing an LA/San Diego megatropolis. So perhaps not such a bad state of affairs after all in this case.
But it’s a valid issue and one that will only grow as the number of active surfer’s grows, particularly in surf travel Edens such as the Mentawais. Competition for waves and a demand to score perfect UNCROWDED surf when paying over the odds for your one surf trip per year will lead to more and more “exclusive” resorts fighting to keep their waves private and off limits to overland explorers on lower budgets or bro’s on their boat trips.
The thing is, wave “ownership” has been a sticking point for this long, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be solved any time soon. Catch ‘em while you can.

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