Wed, Nov 12, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Aussie surfers get `chill out' warning on nation's waves

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Australian surfers are being told to chill out or face jet ski police patrols to prevent the latest threat to local beaches -- surf rage.

In recent years violent confrontations over who gets to ride which "break" have marred the laidback culture normally associated with the sport.

At the annual conference of the Surfriders' Foundation, delegates were told that the situation was now so bad that police officers would be forced to act if board etiquette did not improve.

"If we don't, the authorities will step in and create a legal structure for the surf," one delegate, Don Osborne, told the Sydney-based Daily Telegraph.

"We could have police on jet skis -- and how bad would that be? It's just not what surfing's about -- it's meant to be a mellow thing," he said.

In the favorite spots over-crowding has led to a surge in confrontations. Nearly 1,000 backpackers arrive every day in Osborne's hometown, the coastal resort of Byron Bay in northern New South Wales (NSW).

Just over the Queensland border in the Gold Coast's unofficial capital, Surfers Paradise, hundreds of surfers compete for space on a 400m long, US$5 million artificial reef. The biggest problems are felt to come from clashes between out-of-towners and old hands, or between experienced surfers and the novices.

One of the most notorious surf-rage confrontations came in 2000, when the former world champion surfer Nat Young was put in hospital by a fellow surfer.

The clash was followed by a legal conference at which Justice Greg James, who sits on NSW's supreme court and is a devoted surfer, told boardriders they would have to clean up their act.

Robert Conneeley, a West Australian surfer who wrote a surfers' code of ethics, said the deterioration of the surfer ethic was inevitable as the sport became more popular.

"Surfing used to be a unique cross-section of society, we'd be a quite unique little group," he said. "Now it is much bigger and we are a genuine cross-section, so we have the best and worst of society."

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