A THINK-TANK of Newcastle surfing academics believes last Saturday’s landmark use of the harbour at Surfest is a perfect example of what can be achieved by maximising the potential of Hunter surf sites.
Surfest was moved to Newcastle Harbour to take advantage of the sheltered site on Saturday when near-cyclonic north-easterly conditions and huge swell rendered all other beaches unrideable.
It was the first time an Association of Surfing Professionals event has been held on a harbour break and footage of world champion Joel Parkinson and other competitors riding barrels at the site gained worldwide attention.
Robert Sirasch is convener of the Hunter Surf Industry Cluster, which was established in 1998 by a group of surfers from the University of Newcastle.
The not-for-profit, non-government group researches the development and sustainable use of the coast and its environs for commerce, employment and recreation with a view for protection of the environment.
It was founded after a 1998 study completed by the university showed that the use of the Hunter coastline generated about 400 jobs and $38million.
Sirasch made a submission to Newcastle Port Corporation in 2010 promoting work on the harbour surf spot to potentially make it safer and the break better.
‘‘It’s a place to go when you can’t surf anywhere else,’’ Sirasch said. ‘‘The difficulties are with safety, because there is talk of steel bars and other things in there.
‘‘But there’s dangers on every surf break. What you want to do is make sure the dangers are minimised.’’
He said surveys of the area and consultation with local surfers could even make the unique break longer.
‘‘There’s a possibility of increasing the length of the ride with positioning of rocks and what-not,’’ he said.
He said Surfest’s move to the harbour had helped showcase Newcastle to the world and work on the site would make a return easier if storm conditions again struck the annual contest.
‘‘This is the time of the year, during Surfest, when we get those north-easterly lows,’’ he said. ‘‘It breaks more often than people think.’’
He said the Hunter Surf Industry Cluster had looked at several other sites and was hoping to hold a symposium to gather ideas for improving breaks.
He used the work of Greg Redgard at Bargara in Queensland in 1997 as an example of what can be done.
Redgard completed the world’s first planning authority approved surfing reef enhancement, which included the removal of hazards, extension of the ride and improving the wave-breaking shape.
He did the work after a friend died after hitting rocks while surfing.