Surfers must help avoid beach closures

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Gracetown was pumping at lunchtime today and most of the SouthWest was there to surf or watch the surf.
Camera IconGracetown was pumping at lunchtime today and most of the SouthWest was there to surf or watch the surf. PICTURE: BECKY FELSTEAD Credit: Becky Felstead

Surfers are on notice they will be at risk of beach closures if they cannot follow social-distancing guidelines enforced by the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River.

Concerns raised last week led to urgent talks between the region’s surfing leaders, with the Shire this week saying the response was encouraging.

A who’s who of local surf groups convened an online discussion last week with Shire representatives, including president Ian Earl.

The group agreed to put the word out to all local surfers that they must follow guidelines set down by the Shire if they wanted beaches to remain open.

“I’m really pleased the surfing and other local beach user groups have come together,” Cr Earl told the Times. “Everybody needs to do the right thing.

“They were all on the same page and understood the severity of what’s going on and the ramifications of what could happen.”

The meeting identified problems leading to scenes of crowded surf spot carparks, which included a spike in visitors and backpackers before regional lockdowns came into effect.

The real risk of beach closures was enough to create consensus.

“The thought of not being able to go surfing was scary,” former champion Dave Macaulay said.

Shire guidelines included not congregating at beach carparks, avoiding crowded breaks, spreading out in the line-up, and “making it snappy” when surfing. Surfers were also told to maintain social distancing in the water.

Margaret River Boardriders president Jerome Forrest noted Sydney had shut Manly and Bondi beaches.

“That’s where us locals have to lead the way and show people what to do,” he said. “We just need to get in and get out of there. There’s no hanging around the beaches.”

As the Times reported last week, Cr Earl said rangers were working with police to move campers on.

“Advice has been that they need to look to go home while they still can,” he said.

“We have also been sending them to places where they can camp properly and we’ll continue to work on that.”

Cowaramup Bay Boardriders president Jane Seman said closures would devastate residents who relied on beach access for physical and mental wellbeing.

“It’s even more important in times when our health needs to be at its peak,” she said.

“Whether we’re visitors or local residents, let’s all do the right thing and help to keep our beaches open.”

Swimming Women operator Charlie O’Beirne said her 300 members were already following guidelines.

“There’s lot of swimmers who are older, but that access to movement in the ocean is absolutely critical to their mental health,” she said.

New signs were erected to remind beachgoers.

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