World Surf League brings ancient culture into surfing blockbuster

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Undalup Association's Zac Webb at last year's Margaret River Wine Association sundowner at Cowaramup.
Camera IconUndalup Association's Zac Webb at last year's Margaret River Wine Association sundowner at Cowaramup. Credit: Shots by Ovis/RegionalHUB

Wadandi leader Zac Webb says the World Surf League has come a long way in recognising the role of Indigenous cultures in the sport of surfing — a move which had its genesis in Margaret River.

The Undalup Association chief would be front and centre of official business when the WSL Championship Tour comes to town next month for the Margaret River Pro.

Speaking with the Times this week, Mr Webb said it was the WSL’s own sincere interest in engaging with Aboriginal culture that kickstarted a wider appreciation of how Indigenous people were involved at the sport at all levels.

Surfing itself arose out of Hawaiian culture, yet that simple fact wasn’t acknowledged until the WSL started working with the Wadandi, Mr Webb said.

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Wadandi performers initially provided Pro entrants a welcome to the region with a traditional dance, but Mr Webb said engagement initially felt “tokenistic”.

The WSL was keen for the Wadandi to expand the scope of their involvement, and soon elders were taking the professional athletes to Rivermouth for a traditional welcome to country and some education on the location’s significance.

Surfers reacted enthusiastically, and it was Mr Webb’s mother Toni who cheekily suggested the WSL was overlooking the broader implications of what it meant to recognise Indigenous culture.

“It’s been enlightening for them (WSL) to look at their protocols,” Mr Webb said.

“What’s happened is its grown across the world. When they go to Hawaii and Fiji and all over the place, they involve all of the mobs.”

That recognition included acknowledging some of the sport’s top competitors were representing Indigenous cultures while on the world tour.

WSL Australia-Pacific president Andrew Stark said the Pro had benefited from Wadandi involvement.

“It is fantastic to be able to work so closely with Undalup Association to learn about the connection the Wadandi people have with the land and sea, and share the story of Wadandi boodja throughout the WA Margaret River Pro event with our athletes, staff and spectators, and also with the broader surfing community through our global audience,” he said.

“Through various initiatives such as cultural site inspections, an opening ceremony and welcome to country at the Margaret River Rivermouth, and daily acknowledgements to Wadandi country, the WSL demonstrates its commitment to fostering cultural appreciation and reconciliation.

“This partnership also involves cultural exchanges, including the gifting of Indigenous items to athletes, as well as content and broadcast integration, showcasing the Wadandi people and their boodja to WSL’s global audience.”

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