Alarm bells ring over ‘Uluwatu Pro’

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
French Polynesiain Mochel Bourez in the first round of April’s Margaret River Pro, later cancelled after twin shark attacks.
Camera IconFrench Polynesiain Mochel Bourez in the first round of April’s Margaret River Pro, later cancelled after twin shark attacks. Credit: Richard Hathaway Photography, WSL

Surfing pioneer Brad Farmer says a lack of clarity around ongoing negotiations opens the Margaret River Pro to its greatest risk — losing the event to Uluwatu in Indonesia.

The World Surf League was looking for a prime left-handed wave, and ongoing backroom discussions about shifting the Pro to Kalbarri, despite fierce community opposition, could be all the impetus needed to cut Margaret River from the World Championship Tour, he told the Times.

The statement follows formal opposition to relaunching the Pro at Kalbarri from the North West Surfers Alliance.

National Surfing Reserves founder Mr Farmer said past investment in Margaret River and established world-class infrastructure meant it was vital the Pro was retained in the South West.

“It would be politically stupid to just plonk this international event somewhere else, no matter how the McGowan Government views the South West WA or shark issues,” he said.

“A ‘Kalbarri Pro’ will fail on economic, social and environment impact assessments.

“The spectre of losing such a prestigious event to Indonesia would be a loss for the local Margaret River economy.”

The call follows other stakeholders demanding retention of the Pro beyond 2019, including Vasse MLA and shadow tourism spokeswoman Libby Mettam.

Surfing WA chief executive Mark Lane said he was doing everything he could to retain the Margaret River event, though he declined to comment on Tourism WA negotiations and said the WSL was the ultimate arbiter.

Mr Lane said talk about Uluwatu was “pure speculation”.

“Certainly Uluwatu was used this year to complete the Margaret River event and we have heard no such noise regarding its use in the future,” he said.

“That is not to say we are privy to every single discussion within the WSL regarding potential locations.

“Ultimately, and the reality of it all, is that all future decisions will be made by the WSL as to where all events are held, remembering they have only just released the 2019 calendar.”

Speaking to The West Australian, Mr Lane said the quality of local waves had stood up well against other big-name locations.

Crucially, he said the event was one of the strongest financially on the world tour courtesy of the support it received from the State Government, while the numbers of spectators attending and viewers watching broadcasts and live streams had also been healthy.

Writing on influential online surf bible Swellnet, Stu Nettle said opening Jakes Point and Red Bluff to the WSL would ruin those breaks by advertising them to more users.

In a statement, Kalbarri Boardriders supported retention of the Margaret River Pro.

“We feel deeply for Margaret River and support them in trying to keep the contest down there,” a spokesman said.

“It is a prestigious event and has a lot of history and has been getting better and better since it has added the Box and North Point to the format.

“The amount of money in infrastructure to get main break up to the WSL standard to be ripped out from under them and told it might be moving is a devastating blow for them.”

Kalbarri also warned Surfing WA to “step back and have a think about their future and how they want to be portrayed in the eyes of surfers”.

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