Artificial Surfing Reefs: Rincon Was Not Built In a Day

Is the world’s newest artificial reef project yet another disappointment? In a story recently reported in the New Zealand press, the reef currently under construction in Mount Maunganui, on the north island of New Zealand, has come under sharp criticism from some local surfers that claim it will never produce a world-class wave. To further exacerbate the issue, a competition recently scheduled for the reef, the Surfing New Zealand Pro, was held over a sandbar at Tay Street, inside of the reef, where better waves were breaking. But is the jury really out on Mt. Reef?

“Not even the Superbank breaks like a machine on every swell, so let’s not let expectations get ahead of reality.”

We surfers need to think back to the day when artificial surfing reefs were something we could only dream of. Who hasn’t driven by one of the many places on our coast – with close-out waves or uneven reef – and dreamed of changing the contours of the bottom to produce a world-class wave? I know I have, hundreds of times. In the US, the Army Corps of Engineers had their way with most of our coast for decades, both destroying and creating waves, but were never really thinking about surfers when they placed tons of boulders in one place or another. Killer Dana died, but then again, Sebastian Inlet was born. But nowadays? We ought to all be thanking the stars above that a surfing reef is even being considered as a viable option for coastal protection.

That is the fundamental reasoning behind the formation of ASR Limited, the company in New Zealand that built Mt. Reef, and currently has numerous other projects in the works all over the world. We surfers should be raising our level of collective stoke that such a future is upon us. Our dreams are finally coming true. So why, then, all the nay-sayers in New Zealand?

“It’s not complete,” states Shaw Mead of ASR in regards to Mt. Reef, “but it’s still delivering very nice waves.” The construction of the reef, in other words, has not yet been finished, and hence it is too early to judge the quality of the waves it will create once complete. There was also a problem with one of the containers that makes up the reef – which was not properly sealed by the construction crew – and thus part of the reef is actually missing.

“A lot of the negativity stems from the nationals there a couple of weeks back – a big wobbly swell breaking beyond the reef – but many surfer’s perception is ‘there’s an artificial reef there, so there should be perfect waves there all the time'”, furthers Mead. “Once completed,” he added, “the focus, or take-off zone, will instigate waves breaking and make it more surfable even in dodgy swells.”

The criticism of the reef seems to be a bit hasty, especially considering the fact that on certain days the reef has produced excellent surf – including a 19-wave sequence shown on Managing director of ASR Ltd., Dr. Kerry Black, states that Mt. Reef “has produced some astounding photos, even if it didn’t break well on the day of the national comps. The comp surfers went onto what some say was the best sandbank they have ever seen at Tay Street, which was there only because of the reef.”

The Mt. Maunganui reef project, which is the first of its kind in New Zealand, should be considered a success in light of other artificial reef projects that have never produced high-quality surf. The first artificial reef project in the world – Pratte’s Reef at El Segundo in Los Angeles County – was constructed in 2001, yet never produced a decent surfing wave. The project, designed by Dave Skelly, was fraught with funding and permitting problems, and hence was never able to be built according to the specifications desired by the reef’s designers. Reef projects that followed – most notably in Queensland and Perth, Australia – have produced rideable waves, albeit not ones that surfers consider to be waverider’s dream.

Considering past efforts to reproduce waves that rival the best in the world, we should give the designers of the reef at Mt. Manganui the credit they deserve. Not even the Superbank breaks like a machine on every swell, so let’s not let expectations get ahead of reality. We can’t expect miracles when we’re only at the starting gates. So what if Mt. Reef isn’t perfect on every swell? Ask any local, and they will tell you that the waves in Mount Maunganui are a hell of a lot better than they used to be, and from what we hear from the reef’s designers, they’ll go up another notch once the reef is complete. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Rincon.