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Concerns breakwall upgrade could ruin surf in ‘bodyboarding capital of Australia’

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Port Macquarie is known as the “bodyboarding capital of Australia”, home to a unique surf break, but locals fear it is under threat from works to repair its neighbouring breakwall.

Three-time world bodyboard champion, Port Macquarie’s Damian King, grew up surfing the breakwall.

Damian King at Port Macquarie’s Town Beach where he spent much of his youth.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

“It’s been promoted not only in Port Macquarie, but in NSW and Australia, and even around the world.

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“It helped me do what I did and helped the generation before me and after me.”

The NSW government plans to upgrade the breakwall, which runs along the Hastings River, to repair and stabilise the structure, and meet current safety and accessibility guidelines.

Rocks from a breakwall in the foreground, with a beach and headland in the background.
The beach break is next to the breakwall at Town Beach, Port Macquarie.(ABC Mid North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

There is concern among the surfing community that the work will result in a change to the shape at the end of the wall and impact the iconic surf break.

The government is seeking public feedback on the proposal, and a crowd from the surfing community turned out to a community session this week.

A crowd of people stand together in an outdoor park.
A crowd, including concerned members of the surfing community, turned out to a consultation session about the Port Macquarie breakwall upgrade.(Supplied: Damian King)

Scott Lawrence with Port Macquarie Boardriders said changes to breakwalls in other areas had impacted surf breaks.

“We have had some feedback from other spots like the Tuncurry breakwall and Ballina breakwall, where they have altered the front of the walls and [riders say] it has ruined the wave that had been there,” he said.

Is the breakwall wave under threat?

A wave with a thick lip and brown water, with a bodyboarder in the barrel of the wave.
The Port Macquarie break in the aftermath of floods and heavy water flow out of the river mouth.(Supplied: Damian King)

Professor Rob Brander, a beach safety researcher from the University of New South Wales, said he believed the surf break would not be overly affected.

“Anytime you build anything on the coast, and you modify the shape of something, it’s always going to have some feedback effect on the waves and the currents,” he said.

“But having said, that looking at the design it’s not too much different than what’s in place.

View from the water of a wave with a hollow rounded shape.
Damien King said the wave was “world class” and needed to be protected.(Supplied: Damian King)

“I think by extending it and widening it, it will probably will just shift the break.

In a statement, a Transport for NSW spokesperson said “the proposed rock placement does not extend into the adjacent river or into the ocean bed” and the “footprint of the head of the breakwall will remain unchanged”.

A plaque in the shape of a bodyboard saying "Port Macquarie-Bodyboard Capital of Australia:.
Port Macquarie is hailed as the ‘Bodyboarding Capital of Australia’.(ABC News: Emma Siossian)

The spokesperson said maintenance work at the breakwall had also been undertaken in 2015 and “surfers continued to enjoy the surfing breaks” after the work was complete. 

Concern over loss of ‘iconic’ rocks

There is also concern over the proposed removal of the existing rocks along the breakwall which are covered in personal artworks.

Transport for NSW said repairs required the graffitied rocks to be replaced and some “repurposed ”. 

Pam Green said she treasured a rock which was painted in memory of her late husband, Ian Green, who was an Ironman triathlon legend.

A woman stands next a rock on a breakwall, painted green with words in memory of Ian Green.
The breakwall art includes memorials such as one for Ironman Ian Green, which his wife Pam enjoys visiting.(Supplied: Pam Green)

Mr Green died while competing in the swim leg of the Ironman in 2007.

The memorial rock was painted the following year.

“It would be disastrous to me really [to lose it].”

A rock painted purple on a breakwall, with the words 'will you marry me?'.
The breakwall is known for its colourful rock art which will be removed for the planned upgrade.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

Port Macquarie MP Leslie Williams said there would be an opportunity for new rock art.

The Transport for NSW spokesperson said it will aim to archive the history of the art wall.

“We will be capturing imagery and stories of the graffiti rocks before work on the breakwall begins,” the spokesperson said.

A view over a beach with a river mouth and breakwall in the distance.
View over the iconic breakwall at Port Macquarie.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

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