I don’t want to be alarmist but could we be on the verge of losing one of our greatest freedoms: self regulation.
If you think about it, most (all?) of the decisions we take while surfing (whether to paddle or not for a wave, where to paddle back through, etc.) come from a series of universal rules that we, surfers, decided a long time ago and have been enforcing universally. Sure, we all know a few beaches/spots where these rules are applied differently depending on one’s place of birth, skin colour, residence or are simply reinterpreted according to selfish interest. But right now, the only rules from the “outside” world that apply to surfing are “swimming zones” in summer. Steer clear of those and plunge into the free ocean, out of reach of any rules and laws except from surfing’s own.
But all this could be about to change. According to regional French newspaper Sud-Ouest, after the high number of surfing related accidents resulting in injuries that occurred on the Capbreton – Hossegor – Seignosse stretch of coast this last summer (up to 35% more than the previous summer), these City Councils are studying the possibility of setting up some sort of surfing regulation. A regulation that, they say, would mainly affect surf schools (they will have a designated stretch of beach each, so as not to have an excess of learner surfers in the same break) but also surfers with rentals and, presumably, little or no ocean experience.
Although I’m a bit of an anarchist at heart, I am not against some sort of regulation in the water. When you consider what happens at some beaches (not only in France, try the greater Bilbao area for more of the same) during summer it’s nothing short of a miracle that there aren’t a lot more, much more serious surf accidents. Boards flying everywhere, massive drop-ins, people dodging loose canon boards from fellow surfers who don’t mind tossing them to the side instead of duck diving oncoming waves etc, etc… However we all know that once the “powers that be” start regulating an activity they have a tendency to go a wee bit too far; and surfing can indeed look very dangerous to non-surfers.
No need to go to Hossegor. Check Donostia on a late September Friday afternoon.
So I wonder: what could be next after they regulate surf schools? Will helmets be compulsory at certain breaks… or from a certain wave size? Will surfers have to produce so some sort of “driving licence” at some reefs? Will there be some sort of lifeguard in charge of regulating the number of surfers at each peak and, once full capacity is reached, make us queue on the sand and only let us join the crowd on a “one in, one out” basis?
Worrying thoughts indeed. Just in case let’s behave ourselves this autumn. Let’s not give them an opportunity to rule us too much.