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Identifying the threats to waves

Once we know about environmental and other threats to surfing zones we can begin planning an effective campaign to protect the wave, engaging our nationwide network of members, regional reps, volunteers and grassroots supporters.

One of the biggest threats is a lack of awareness or engagement from the local surfing community, so questionable development or consistent pollution issues pass unchallenged. We cannot afford to be apathetic in the face of coastal threats, effectively tacitly endorsing pollution, over development or any other threat. We must have a voice on these issues.

There are many ways the quality of waves can be threatened; below are just a few examples.

Solid structures and new developments

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. An example is the building of a breakwater to stop the wave energy entering a certain area where people want to keep their boats. Most fishing ports were already built hundreds of years ago. Normally the problem nowadays is a yacht marina where people keep their expensive motor boats. 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.

Dredging a river mouth to make the water deeper so that boats can come in and out 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.


In the UK, the biggest problem with pollution is sewage. SAS has been a major influence in improving the UK's sewerage systems but we still have a long way to go. The major threat nowadays is the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) and its misuse by water companies. According to the water industry itself, the number of CSOs around the UK is around 31,000. Many of these are completely unregulated. The CSO is a kind of emergency outlet for the sewerage system, which discharges raw sewage and wastewater into rivers and into the sea when the system is overloaded. In the 10 weeks since the bathing season started this year SAS have issued over 30,000 text messages warning water users about the 416 raw sewage discharges across just 62 beaches as part of the Sewage Alert Service.

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. This typically includes rubbish that people throw on the beach, objects put into the sea from commercial ships and fishing vessels, industrial waste entering the sea via rivers, and solid items that people put down the toilet entering the sea via sewage outlets. 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. 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. There appears to be one exception though: the military. The reef / point break at Broad Bench, Kimmeridge is one of England's best waves, surfed by a large number of people. 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.