Protecting waves


An environmental issue

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Protecting waves


The Protecting Waves issue.

British surfing waves are under threat from a growing number of activities around our coastline that could destroy or have long-term devastating impact on some of our most prized surfing beaches. This includes coastal developments, pollution, and restricted access.

Solid structures & commercial activities

Solid concrete structures sticking out of the coast into the sea represent the most common method by which surfing waves are destroyed, and the most permanent. If somebody builds a large concrete breakwater or sea wall, which destroys a surf spot in the process, that surf spot is gone forever.

Dredging a river mouth to make the water deeper for boat access or for extraction of minerals is also a way of destroying or degrading good surfing waves. Although this method isn’t always permanent and doesn’t actually involve building a solid structure, it does physically alter part of a natural system.


Contaminating the water alters the waves chemically, but not physically – so you might still be able to see them breaking perfectly, but you can’t get in the water to surf them. Pollutants that people put into the sea include things like lead, mercury, zinc, pesticides, fertilisers, hydrocarbons, nuclear waste and, of course, sewage.

Non-polluting contamination – litter

Another type of contamination which is not always hazardous to our health, but which definitely tends to make our beach and surfing experience extremely unpleasant, is unnatural objects abandoned by people in the marine environment. In other words, litter. Most of these things are simply unsightly; but some of them, such as syringes and broken glass, can be very dangerous.

Restricted access

The last example of how surfing waves can be taken away from us is when we are simply denied access to them. In this case, the waves themselves might remain undamaged, but somebody decides that the public is not allowed to surf them. In most cases, this is because the area of coast and adjacent ocean containing the waves has been claimed by somebody as their private territory.

Protecting Waves Facts & case studies

Environmental and wave protection issues

Expansion of Brighton Marina

In 2008 surfers in Brighton faced this challenge from a proposed expansion to Brighton Marina, impacting one of the most popular spots on the south coast of England. The council rejected the planning application due to massive public opinion.

Commercial dredging proposal in Cornwall

Commercial dredging proposal in Cornwall

Marine Minerals Limited is currently proposing a commercial dredging proposal off the coast of North Cornwall. The proposal is targeting tin reserves in the sand just offshore of some of Cornwall’s premier tourist spots, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, conservation zones, recreational and surfing beaches. Dredging millions of tones of sand, up to a depth of 2.8 metres, from as close as 200 metres from the shoreline could result is catastrophic impacts on wildlife, water quality, beaches and surf spots. It could also mean long stretches of sea closures as restrictive zones are placed around the dredging vessels.

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Restricted access at Broad Bench

Restricted access at Broad Bench

An example of restricted access is at the reef / point break at Broad Bench, Kimmeridge where one of England's best waves, surfed by a large number of people, is located. It is also just on the boundary of an MoD firing range, and is out of bounds to the public when firing is taking place. In 2008 the military decided to increase their firing exercises and close off Broad Bench for 228 days a year.

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Proposed harbor wall at Freshwater Bay

Proposed harbor wall at Freshwater Bay

Freshwater Bay, the classic Isle of Wight right-hander has recently come under threat from a proposed harbor wall. Local SAS Rep Matt Harwood led the charge to rebuff the initial proposal from the developer, however the threat still looms.

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No specific UK legislation exists to protect waves and surf spots.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act, 2009, gives people a right by law to be able to access all the beaches around England, and also provides the right to walk around the entire coast of England via a coast path. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) can override this legislation.

The Revised European Bathing Water Directive is also essential in helping call for better protection for surf spots and those that use them. The current DEFRA consultation on extending the Bathing Season and SAS’s calls for recreational water users to be classified as bathers are also vital to progress overall.

SAS’s Protect Our Waves Petition aiming to generate up to 100,000 signatures to highlight the value of surfing waves and locations to the UK Government and encourage MPs to debate legislation in order to recognise the importance of waves as a cultural, social, economic and environmental asset to coastal communities.

SAS believes that waves and surf spots deserve to be seen as part of UK heritage and should be afforded greater recognition and protection through debate and legislation.