Chatter of artificial reef development has circulated through the surf community ever since the first sandbag ominously splashed to the floor of the Pacific at Pratte's Reef in El Segundo, CA in 2001. Pratte's Reef (like the sandbags that bore it) never took off, but that didn't stop researchers from investigating the possibilities, and after many attempts with varying degrees of success, something quite surprising happened: a reef was built in India. But what's more surprising than the construction of an artificial surf reef in India? Based on video footage bouncing around cyber-space, the reef actually works.
Commissioned by India's Department of Tourism as a multi-purpose solution to impending coastal erosion that would also "improve ecology" and boost the local economy through increased ocean-based recreation, the artificial reef was completed by ASR Ltd. in early 2010. The company, an entity with over 30 years of experience in multi-purpose reef construction, lists over 50 ongoing or completed projects on their web site including artificial surfing reefs in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand and most recently in Boscombe, England. While the two reefs mentioned have incurred mixed reviews online (Some note the fickle conditions their beach requires. Some say Boscombe gets quite hollow during peak moments. Some call both endeavors "failures."), ASR Ltd. has certainly gathered favorable attention from the surf community after releasing a video of the lefthander at Kovalam.
So what's the secret to their latest enterprise in India?
"It’s a multitude of factors," says Chris Jensen of ASR Ltd. "Most importantly, the reef in India was designed to stabilize the beach. Regarding the quality of wave, we looked at all the relevant data such as swell, tide, wind and sediment. We then deploy[ed] monitoring instruments at the proposed site of the reef to get detailed data in order to design the reef to optimize the recreational component (surfing, fishing, diving). All of this was determined during a feasibility study to optimize the size, shape, slope and location of the Multi-Purpose Reef."
Daruka Dasa of The INDIA Surf Club had this to say about the new reef: “We haven’t visited Kovalam since they had the new reef built,” said Dasa, “but we plan to in the upcoming months (pre and post monsoon seasons). Look forward to seeing how it handles some larger swell! It’s also a great thing for Kovalam in helping them prevent coastal erosion. They were really starting to run out of beach.”
Dasa also passed along a message from a member of Kovalam Surf Club, who recognized the positive and negative effects of the new reef. “Unfortunately, this year we had less surfable days because the reef only starts to work when the swell is above 3 feet,” said the Kovalam Surf Club Member, “but when it works it throws up a sucking barrel. When it goes off Kovalam now offers a good quality reefbreak and the level of the kids grows gradually with every surf session.”
According to ASR, it's difficult to determine the exact impact, at least wave-wise, that artificial reefs will have on their respective locales because there are many variables to consider. "Multi-Purpose reefs act similarly to natural reefs," wrote ASR Ltd.’s Social Media Director, Adam Daigian, using the avatar AdamatASR on the SurferMag.com Message Boards. "They are optimal on certain conditions and tides and require clean swell and favorable wind directions to break well; just like any other reef in the world."
While the folks at ASR have not revisited the reef in India since completing its construction several months ago, they are pleased with the photo and video evidence that local contacts have provided them. "What we have been able to see is that waves are still cleanly peeling over the reef," wrote Daigian on the SurferMag.com Message Boards. "And there has been a huge amount of sea life and marine organism[s] colonizing the structure."
The surf prayers of a few locals at Kovalam may have been answered, but ASR Ltd. hopes to replicate its success in the United States. The company is currently working with the US Army Corps of Engineers to create similar results at Oil Piers in Ventura, California. The project's timeline, however, was not outlined.
Ultimately, ASR Ltd. says it hopes to continue finding innovative solutions that preserve our coastlines, and the occurrence of artificial surfing reefs may become more common.
"We want to promote the message that we need to continue developing sustainable, environmentally conscious solutions that work with nature rather than against it," says Daigian. "ASR’s Multi-Purpose reefs provide wonderful ecological benefits and protect the coasts in a natural, environmentally conscious fashion. Considering they can be designed to produce excellent waves…we know there is bright future."