Check the first part of this feature HERE.
But in 2005 the surfers found out that a first draft of the project had been approved and, if it went ahead would completely block all swell to both Barceloneta beaches. This project was publicly displayed and all involved parties were invited to propose amendments. The A.C.S. hired the services of the New Zealand based engineering firm ASR Ltd, which produced a paper on artificial reefs as a possible solution to the erosion problem. This paper was presented by the A.C.S. as a proposed correction to the project. The ASR Ltd fee was paid by the A.C.S. and through donations from local surfers.
On a sunny Sunday of March 2006, and after several months without news, the A.C.S. organized a first demonstration on the Barceloneta beach. Over 300 surfers attended this peaceful event under a SOS SURF BCN banner. The demonstration made the 9 o’clock news that night and first pages on next day’s newspapers. A fierce battle between the A.C.S. and the City Council followed: the City Council tried to portray the surfers as a bunch of selfish citizens who didn’t care about the erosion problems. The A.C.S., meanwhile, maintained that technically both interests could be satisfied at no extra cost. After lots of pressure from the media the City Council agreed to leave some open beach space for the surfers, although it maintained its position against the building of an artificial reef.
The mighty shore break of Hospital del Mar. R.I.P. Photo courtesy of Joan Funkysurfing.
In September 2006 the first works started on the two Barceloneta beaches. The long rocky piers that frame the beaches were lengthened and curved inwards, creating large swell shallows. That killed of one the most charismatic of the Barceloneta beachbreaks, known as Hospital del Mar and the only option during strong on-shores or big swells. But the worst was still to come: an island pier running parallel to the beach was built at barely one meter above sea level, blocking some two-thirds of the total length of the beaches from any swell. Since then only 400 meters of beach (of a total of 1,3 km) are still open to the swell. If the crowding situation was already bad, it got much worse; but at least and thanks to the demonstration and ensuing media pressure there still is some surfing to be done on La Barceloneta.
November 2006: up to 1.000 surfers (with some windsurfers and kitesurfers) marching together trying to save their waves. Photo courtesy of Joan Funkysurfing.
Fearing the worst regarding the northern beaches, especially el Bogatell which although not as popular is also surfed very regularly, the A.C.S. held what has probably been one of the largest demonstrations in Europe by surfers so far. Around 1,000 surfers (along with some windsurfers, kite surfers, kayakers and even dinghy sailors) marched from the Bogatell to the premises of the Environment Ministry in Barcelona on Sunday November the 19th, 2006. Timing was key as the Barcelona Council elections were due in April the following year.
Three years later
Surfing in Barcelona is still possible, both at the 400 meters of open beach on Sant Sebastià and on the northern beaches -Bogatell mainly- where the works haven’t started yet. The surfers have lost at least one main break (Hospital del Mar) and their playing field has been greatly shrunk along the rest of the Barceloneta. On the other hand the City Council is not entirely happy as there’s still some erosion after every big swell. The city elections were held in April 2007 and the party to which the Environment Counsellor belonged to lost many votes, but the same three parties renewed their coalition and still run the City affairs.
There is a strong collective feeling of pride among many local surfers as they feel vindicated both as surfers and as citizens. They found out that they are alone in this battle as no organization offered them any help. So far only the portion of the project regarding the two Barceloneta beaches has been executed, but there might even be some additional construction: the new designer hotel built at the end of the Sant Sebastià pier is demanding a private beach and would like to have the pier extended to make room for it. If this happens surfers fear that it will definitely block the only swell window left on Sant Sebastià. But the A.C.S.’s spokesperson for the SOS SURF BCN campaign, Ramon Silva, is convinced that not everything is lost: “We showed twice that if we come together, use the media to our advantage and work professionally we get results. And we have managed to save –so far- Sant Sebastià. We’ve done it twice. Why not a third time?”.
Photo courtesy of Joan Funkysurfing.
Surfing in Barcelona is indeed not an oxymoron. Not just yet.