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Friday 12th May 2023 was a monumental day for North Devon, UK, and its proud community of surfers and ocean lovers.
18 miles of beautiful North Devon coastline has officially joined 11 other iconic world surf destinations, becoming the 12th Surfing Reserve on the planet.
Not only is North Devon the first area to receive this incredible status in the UK, but it's also the first-ever cold-water World Surfing Reserve thanks to its renowned winter waves.
The World Surfing Reserves represent a global network of designated surfing reserves identified by the Save The Waves Coalition’s (STW) flagship programme.
Other locations include prominent US surf destinations Malibu and Santa Cruz in California and the Australian surfing meccas Noosa and the Gold Coast.
What is a World Surfing Reserve?
Save The Waves Coalition is an international nonprofit organisation based in Santa Cruz, California, that supports the preservation of surfing reserves. It works in partnership with other organisations and communities around the world that share the same mission to protect surf ecosystems and ensure there are waves for everyone.
Trent Hodges, the Conservation Programs Manager at Save the Waves Coalition explains what a surf ecosystem is in more detail:
‘We think of a surf ecosystem as an entire component, so it’s not just the waves that make somewhere special but it’s also the people, the local community, and the economy that is supported by surfing.
All of the biological elements, of course, the flora and fauna that exists here.
And then all of the geology, the sand and the points, everything that makes that wave special.
It’s kind of a mix of those three characteristics that make what we call a surf ecosystem.’
The reserves are then looked after by local communities who have applied for the designation.
By working together, surfing reserves and their communities aim to protect surf breaks and their surrounding areas from a variety of potentially harmful threats. It provides surf communities with a voice to ensure that the local surf experience is preserved for future generations.
Threats to wave breaks and their surrounding areas could include:
Hazards to water quality
Disruptive coastal development
Climate change impact
Restricted coastal access
The Local Stewardship Council that steers the North Devon Surfing Reserve includes a vast range of incredible groups, governing bodies, businesses, and organisations such as Surfers Against Sewage, North Devon UNESCO Biosphere, and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Why is North Devon a Surfing Reserve?
The process and criteria of successfully applying as a World Surfing Reserve are described by Trent:
‘To be a World Surfing Reserve is an incredibly arduous and competitive application process. Save The Waves runs this process every year and one surfing reserve is selected out of many that apply.
There is a set of criteria to become a World Surfing Reserve… Of course having good quality waves, a supportive community that gathers and understands what it means to protect a surf ecosystem, elements of surf culture and important surf history, and an incredible environment…
North Devon exemplifies all these incredible aspects that make a World Surfing Reserve.’
North Devon Surfing Reserve covers outstanding surf breaks including Woolacombe, Croyde, Saunton, and Lynmouth. With miles and miles of world-class surf spots, surfers of all abilities can catch waves in a variety of stunning locations across its coastline.
The North Devon coast was at the heart of the surfing revolution, with the area thriving in the early 1970s, as described by Kevin Cook, the co-founder of North Devon Surfing Reserve. It is also home to the sport's national governing body Surfing England, hosts the Museum of British Surfing, and is the birthplace of multiple surf brands, including dryrobe®!
What makes North Devon’s waves world-class?
Ben Hewitt, a core member of the Local Stewardship Plan breaks down why North Devon’s wave breaks and their surrounding areas are so unique:
‘It’s an important coastline because you’ve got a variety of quality surf. It’s not just that the waves break here, it’s that they break in a very special way.
So you’ve got very high-quality short boardable waves, beginner waves, beach breaks, point breaks, like a right-hand point break, a left-hand point break - so in this small little stretch, you’ve got quality surf and there’s a variety of quality surf.
So those waves break that way because a very specific thing is happening on the seabed and around this area. And if you start messing with that, you start messing with the surf.
It’s just protecting that surf ecosystem that makes the waves break in the way they do is why it’s so important.'
The inauguration welcomed visitors from across the world to celebrate and share its global status as a surfing reserve. We were eager to speak to Shaun Burns, the Santa Cruz World Surf Reserve Coordinator to see how North Devon’s waves fared with the dreamy breaks of Santa Cruz during his visit!
‘I surfed Croyde this morning, surfed it twice yesterday. We’ve had a fair share of waves here which has been really fun. Really enjoyed Croyde on the low tide. It was cool to see it this morning too, nice and sunny. A lot of people out there too so I got to feel a little bit of the surf community, which was really rad. People were surfing before work and before the tide got too high. It was good to get a little feel for it.’
What does being a surf reserve mean for future generations?
Lucy Campbell, 7x UK National Women’s surfing champion and dryrobe® Ambassador sums up perfectly what the new designation means when asked why North Devon Surf Reserves is special to her:
‘I think having North Devon as part of the World Surfing Reserves means so much to me because I know this area will be cherished and protected and looked after for the generations of local families and tourists who come here for generations to come.’
How to get involved with the North Devon Surfing Reserve
Ben Hewitt provides some essential insight on how you can get involved with the reserve:
‘We’re setting a thing up called Friends of the NDSR, people can go to the website and join. There are loads of local things you can do. We’ve got incredible volunteer groups like Plastic Free North Devon, we’ve got The Wave Project, Wave Wahines, we’ve got RNLI - groups you can get involved in and play a part in what’s happening here.
There’s National Trust, the Biosphere, there’s so much you can do. Whether you want to do something on social media to share something about it or whether you want to really get involved and be part of protecting this.
There are some amazing coastal conservation efforts happening, there are beach cleans - it’s really up to you. You can step into this opportunity now and be a part of what’s going on.’
Follow Save the Waves Coalition
Facebook: Save the Waves
LinkedIn: Save The Waves Coalition
Follow North Devon Surf Reserve
Facebook: North Devon World Surfing Reserve
LinkedIn: North Devon World Surfing Reserve