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Wednesday Oct 17, 2012

Bid to turn Durban back into surfer's paradise

Plans to return Durban to its world-class surfing heyday by next year are under way as surfers and city officials start talks on how this can be done.

A recent photo showing how the reconstruction of the groynes to piers have resulted in wider beaches.

Durban surfers say the city's surf, once the "dormitory" of some of the world's most extraordinary surfers, is a shadow of its former glory days. The recent widening of the harbour mouth and the conversion of three groynes into piers in the 1980s, have not only made swimming and surfing dangerous off city beaches, but reduced perfect "tube" waves to swells that fizzle before hitting the shore, they say.

Also, sand dredging, to keep the harbour mouth clear, and a massive sand trap off the extended southern harbour pier have altered the shape of historical sand banks essential for the perfectly "groomed" wave.

A photo from 1966 with the old Paterson groynes still in place.

The eThekwini municipality's Andrew Mather, who is in charge of coastal policy, said computer-generated tests were almost completed and that construction would start as soon as the budgeting process, now under way, and environmental impact assessment (EIA) approval was done.

Grant "Twiggy" Baker, a world-beating "extreme" surfer, said that "poor decision making over the years had impacted on Durban's waves and beach culture".

"The continued extension of the harbour piers has blocked 80 percent of the winter swells from getting into Durban," he said. "We can't even have a major surf event in the city. It's always flat during the time we used to get our best waves - in 1985 by the Association of Surfing Professionals.

The piers were described as "unique structures" effective in trapping sand by using large rock in-fill between the piles.

By limiting the height of the in-fill, the "rip" current associated with the groynes that eroded the sand off the beaches but created the perfect waves, was removed.

Mather said that over the years, the rock in-fill had sunk and was no longer effective in blocking the sand - to the extent that excess sand would flow around the ends of the piers, creating the sand bank ideal for good surf.

"We are thinking of raising the level of the rock in-fill again, but last year we started different [computerised] numerical models to get the perfect solution. It's going to cost a lot of money, so we must get it right," he said.

The Mercury

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