What would be your instinct if, while paddling through the lineup one sunny afternoon, a riderless board, unencumbered by a leash, came careening through, colliding with your board and body, causing medical and property damage? To raise fists in anger toward the board’s owner? A yelling match? Perhaps a violent splashing? What about perhaps, a call to a lawyer?
Some Byron Bay locals, fed up with the leashless, freedom-loving hordes on their logs and midlengths are advocating for the latter. A former member of the Australian parliament, and dedicated surfer, Ian Cohen, will no longer paddle out at Byron’s break The Pass, without a helmet. Such is the chaotic nature of the crowd there, as he recently told ABC News Australia.
Byron Bay, according to Cohen, is now a dangerous cauldron, uncaring surfers abandoning boards to zoom through the soup, spearing hapless surfers, violence and injury plaguing the once-serene lineup.
“I actually think we’re going to need some sort of patrol thing, like lifesavers with their flags patrolling for safety,” Cohen said.
Southern Cross University law lecturer Andy Gibson told ABC News that surfers are legally responsible for damage their boards may cause, but, good luck successfully bringing the uncaring owner to justice. It’s always possible to bring suit against the board’s owner, he says, “But that presupposes that that person’s got the necessary funds to be able to pay the damages in the first place, and historically surfers have not been considered to be people with loads and loads of money.”
The article in ABC News Australia is rife with examples of injuries caused by unmanned surfboards, their owners callously paddling away, fleeing the scene of the crime, you might say, unmoved by the damage they’ve caused. It’s probably no surprise lawsuits would be a natural response.
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time water disputes resulted in lawsuits. Did you know that a California surfer once sued a fellow surfer after getting snaked? A surfer in Nova Scotia successfully sued a surfer he actually ran over, because the ran-over surfer was paddling in the wrong spot, if you can believe that.
What say you? Is navigating a leashless minefield simply part of the game? Or a fertile field simply begging for lawsuits and water patrols armed with waterproof ticket books, doling out citations? A leash on a log too much a stylistic violation, even if it’s worn for the sake of safety?
The mind reels.