A Short History of the Surfing Reef Symposia: 1997 – 2009 and Beyond…
By Dr J. Borrero
The first conference, called the ‘1st International Surfing Reef Symposium”, was a one-day event held on May 5th,
1997 in Sydney Australia. Hosted by the University of Sydney and directed by Andrew Pitt, it was a hugely
successful start to the conference tradition. The first symposium was a one-day event with more than 100
delegates in attendance. The keynote address was presented by Professor Andy Short who welcomed the
delegates and reminded everyone of the reasons why they were there in the first place. These were:
1. To raise community awareness of surfing reefs.
2. To share information with and learn from others about this topic in an effort to promote the best
design practices, environmental compatibility and sustainability and to attract wide community support
in these efforts.
Figure 1: Logo from the 3rd Symposium
The conference was also notable as it described the world’s first three artificial surfing reef projects.
• The Cables Station reef in Perth Australia, designed by a team from the University of Western
Australia’s Centre for Water Research, led by Professor Charitha Pattiaratchi.
• The Gold Coast or Narrowneck Reef, designed by Kerry Black, Shaw Mead and others from the University
of Waikato in New Zealand. This group also presented a paper, which described some of the
earliest efforts to numerically model surfing reef performance and the associated shoreline response.
• Pratte’s Reef, designed by Dave Skelly in Encinitas, CA. This project was notable in that it was arguably
the very issue that led to the creation of the now ubiquitous Surfrider Foundation and was probably the
first time that a private entity was held accountable for the destruction of a surfing resource in the
United States, a landmark event indeed.
Other important presentations included an early discussion of the use of sand filled geotextile containers by Eric
Fish - this construction technique is now the preferred standard for reef construction, and a discussion of coastal
engineering from a surfing-centric point of view by Steve Fitzhenry.
This conference was important in that it set the stage for future conferences and opened up a forum for discussion
amongst concerned, technically minded scientists and surfers that has continued for more than 10 years.
One year later, the second conference was held in San Diego, California. This was a short, 1-day affair organised
by Dave Skelly. No proceedings volume was ever produced for this event and the whole thing remains shrouded
Fortunately the tradition was revived in a spectacular fashion in June 2003 with the ‘3rd International Surfing Reef
Symposium’ organised by Kerry Black, Shaw Mead and the crew at ASR Ltd in Raglan New Zealand. This was a
full conference, held at the Karioi Lodge, hidden in the rainforest above the world famous Indicators Surfbreak, and
attracted delegates from around the world. Papers presented at the 3rd Symposium described the leaps forward
in research, computing and design, which had taken place in the 6 years since the first conference.
Important papers included:
• An overview of surfing science
• The surfing characteristics of the waves around jetties
• A description of the Mount Reef, which has since been built and surfed at Mount Maunganui, New Zealand
• A report on the construction, lack of surf and ultimate demise of Pratte’s Reef
• Proposed reefs for India and England, both of which have come to fruition with the completion of
the Boscombe Reef in England (UK Summer 2009) and construction of a reef in Kovalam, India slated
for late 2009 – 2010
• A section of the conference devoted to reef biology.
It was the stoke from this event that inspired Chad Nelsen and I to host the ‘4th International Surfing Reef
Symposium’ in Manhattan Beach, California in January 2005. The site was chosen since it was adjacent to the
location of Pratte’s Reef and home to some of the more consistent beach break in southern California during
winter. At the time, I was an Assistant Research Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department
at the University of Southern California and Chad was the Environmental Director of the Surfrider Foundation – a
position he holds to this day. The event attracted a large number of delegates from both coasts of North America
and around the world. Select papers from that conference are presented in this volume.
The symposium opened with a keynote address from Bob Battalio, a practicing coastal engineer from San
Francisco who is also a regular at Maverick's. Bob set the tone for the meeting by sharing his reverence for
science both his stoke for surfing and by describing of the history, mystery and magic of wave breaking and some
of the people who have defined the field, such as Kimo Walker.
Eighteen months later the in July 2006, the 5th Symposium was held at the idyllic location of Ekas Bay at the newly
created ‘Heaven on the Planet’ surf and eco-resort on the island of Lombok, Indonesia. Kerry Black and Shaw
Mead of New Zealand-based ASR LTD once again hosted this conference. The symposium attracted engineers,
scientists, and planners of numerous artificial reef projects from around the world to present the merits and
benefits of reefs as a form of recreational enhancement and coastal protection. The papers presented were of a
high quality and the debate was rigorous and stimulating. Papers from that event are also presented in this
inaugural volume of the Reef Journal. The keynote speaker that year was John Hearin who presented a paper
with Prof. Lee Harris from the Florida Institute of Technology on: Artificial Reefs for Ecosystem Restoration and
Coastal Erosion Protection with Aquaculture and Recreational Amenities.
In May 2009, the conference carried on as the 6th symposium was held in Jeffrey’s Bay South Africa. This event
signaled a turning point in the evolution of the conference as the name was changed to the ‘International
Multipurpose Reef Symposium’ to emphasize the wider uses for man made reefs in coastal protection, ecological
enhancement and of course creating surfing reefs. This time, Dylan Anderson of AfriCoast Engineers and Richard
Mocke of JFA Consultants in Perth, Australia organized the event. The delegates were again a global group
coming from Africa, Asia, North America, Europe and of course Australia and New Zealand. This event was a
cracker with the conference marquee tent set up literally on the grass overlooking Supertubes, one of the best
surfbreaks on earth (and the waves were pretty good too!). A proceedings volume from this event is being
prepared and will appear as a future volume of the Reef Journal.
Looking back at one of the few copies of the proceedings
still in existence, this was a legendary event. First off, former
surfing World Champion, Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholemew,
gave an introductory presentation describing his hope for
the future of surfing reefs in opening up new opportunities
for the sport and reducing overcrowding.
This was followed by a presentation from James ‘Kimo’
Walker, arguably the father of ‘surfing science’. His
presentation detailed his previous studies, which had for the
first time, laid out in quantitative terms, the factors controlling
the waves we ride. This is not something to be scoffed at,
lawyers, politicians and engineers think and act in
quantitative terms and not a lot of them surf. Providing a
common ground for surfers to get their point across to non-
surfing decision makers was a significant leap forward in
the long-term protection of the waves we cherish.