Petition to rid surf schools from Gerroa break divides community

Hundreds of people flock to Seven Mile Beach on hot days during the Christmas holidays. This picture was taken on Christmas Day, 2018.
Hundreds of people flock to Seven Mile Beach on hot days during the Christmas holidays. This picture was taken on Christmas Day, 2018.

An ongoing turf war at Gerroa’s Seven Mile Beach has flared up in recent months.

Three surf schools – Surf Camp Australia, Lands Edge and Gerringong Surf School – lodged a tender to operate from three sections of Seven Mile Beach over a one-year trial period, prompting a local movement to rid operators from a small section at the northern end of the beach.

The movement, led by the South Precinct Committee, launched a petition to protest Kiama Council’s policy, which allows 40 learners split across three schools to access the ‘Zone A’ surf break.

Petition gains traction

The petition to Kiama Council’s general manager, handed out on the beach on busy days like Australia Day, has solicited more than 1200 signatures.

Operating zones and exclusion zones on Seven Mile Beach, set out by Kiama Municipal Council.

Operating zones and exclusion zones on Seven Mile Beach, set out by Kiama Municipal Council.

Gerroa beachfront resident Warren Holder, who also fought to save Gerroa’s famous Bum Tree said they launched the petition to inform the community about the upcoming changes to licensing agreements on Seven Mile Beach.

“In the first round of consultation, residents in 15 houses were contacted, there was nothing in the media about it,” Mr Holder said.

“How else do you get the message out?”

The message on the petition is simple.

“We propose all commercial surf school activity be undertaken southwest of track six...where surf schools have successfully provided their services for many years to customers from young children to adults, resulting in greatly diminished disturbance to other beach and surf users.”

South Precinct group accused of fear-mongering

Surf school owners and their friends have been up in arms about the petition – claiming via social media that the community group have used misleading information to encourage people to sign the petition.

“Well, it appears that the Kiama South Precinct Committee (and its executive Steven Brazier) have published some fake news, by reporting in its December meeting that the new policy, ‘Will allow up to nine surf schools’ and ‘160 participants’,” Gerringong Surf School owner Rusty Moran said via Facebook.

Gerringong Surf School owner Rusty Moran

Gerringong Surf School owner Rusty Moran

“The Surf School Policy allows three schools NOT nine.

“The Surf Camp Development Application is requesting a maximum of 60 participants NOT 160.

“So, I’m wondering, why did Steven Brazier and South Precinct Committee misreport the policy and Surf Camp’s DA? Why would he and Warren Holder and Roy Schmidt use this fake news to support a petition (aimed at tourists on Australia Day) to attempt to stop any surf school from using Zone A?”

In the face of local opposition to his business, Surf Camp Australia owner Guy Olbourne said he wanted to continue to run his school in harmony with residents and beachgoers.

“We are not looking to run lessons for 160 people at one time like the petition has accused us of,” Mr Olbourne said.

“Surf Camp Australia held the license to use the north end of the beach between the rivermouth and the footbridge (Zone A) but chose to not to use that area during peak or busy times to keep it free for all locals and holidays makers to use. We are very aware of how busy that end of the beach is during holidays and weekends and never received any complaints due to our efforts to work in harmony with the community and visitors.”

Surf Camp Australia director Guy Olbourne with instructors Shane Sutherland, Sam Douglass and Pascal Hagemeijer in 2015, part of the Saltwater Dreaming Surf Camp that sees Aboriginal kids from Sydney come to Gerroa to learn about indigenous culture and also learn to surf. Picture: Georgia Matts

Surf Camp Australia director Guy Olbourne with instructors Shane Sutherland, Sam Douglass and Pascal Hagemeijer in 2015, part of the Saltwater Dreaming Surf Camp that sees Aboriginal kids from Sydney come to Gerroa to learn about indigenous culture and also learn to surf. Picture: Georgia Matts

At loggerheads over best spot to run a surf school

Mr Moran has maintained that Zone A, where his school operates from, is the safest spot for kids and adult beginners.

“The waves are small, predictable and break in shallow water for a long way,” he said.

“The access is ideal, with car parking along Burke Parade and Ricketts Reserve to provide a perfect grassy park for the parents to watch the lessons from.”

Mr Holder, a champion sailboarder, would beg to differ with Mr Moran.

“People have the opinion, this is the safest part of the beach, near the rivermouth,” Mr Holder said.

“I’ve lived here for 26 years, I did the surf report for ABC Illawarra for 20 years, I know what I’m talking about.

“The zone, about a kilometre down, is the best part of beach to learn to surf.”

Councillor says guidelines are creating confusion

Kiama Councillor Kathy Rice confirmed council’s policy only allows three schools to operate from the beach.

“It clearly states only three surf school businesses can run from Seven Mile Beach,” she said.

“However the interim guidelines have created some confusion in the community. There’s not enough clarity around maximum numbers. There’s no exclusive use of any area, so there could be the circumstance where all three are operating in the one zone at one time. 

“Our guidelines need to be reworked with community consultation.”

Kiama Councillor Kathy Rice

Kiama Councillor Kathy Rice

Decision-makers inundated with emails 

Kiama Councillor Andrew Sloan and Cr Rice have received a flood of emails from people both in favour of surf schools operating within the guidelines and in favour of having the guidelines changed.

It is likely the matter will be addressed at council’s ordinary meeting in March.

The Greens councillors refute speculation that their links with Mr Holder will influence their decision.

Gerroa's Warren Holder

Gerroa's Warren Holder

“People shouldn't assume anything, you know my voting record, I try to be independent and think about things as much as possible,” Cr Sloan said.

“I’m going to try and do what’s best for community.

“We have to look at how we manage congestion at peak times.

“I’m waiting to see what council staff have to say about the submissions.”

Submissions to Kiama Council regarding the development applications close on Friday.

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