Case Study - Auckland Council

The former Auckland Regional Council (ARC) carried out a surf breaks report (Draft Auckland Regional Council Policy Statement, Background Report – Surf Breaks, 2009) to inform their draft RPS.  This recommended the inclusion of a surf break related policy in the RPS.  This work was parked with the onset of the Auckland Council formation, then reactivated once the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) writing process began. The proposed RPS never became operative. The ARC report was conducted by experts in the field of coastal science and coastal planning, with knowledge and experience in surfing and surf breaks within the Auckland region.  It was an in-house, background report for policy development that did not go out for public consultation.  The report came up with a list of criteria for rating (numerically) a range of factors specific to the unique characteristics of surf breaks.  Once aggregated, the individual ratings for each criterion gave the break an overall rating.   The process is explained further below.

The above ARC work formed the basis for identification of regionally significant surf breaks for inclusion in the AUP.

Surf Break Identification for Auckland Unitary Plan

A list of 35 Auckland ‘significant’ surf breaks was compiled from those listed in the Wavetrack New Zealand Surfing Guide (2004), surfing websites, local knowledge of council officers, and as discussed with the Surfbreak Protection Society.  These breaks were also identified in the ARC 2009 draft RPS.

A list of values was developed to internally assess each break against, including both physical and social qualities, as detailed below:

Physical and natural values

1. Wave quality (height, length, peel angle, etc) when optimum conditions are present. This is independent of ‘swell consistency’. In determining a wave quality rating, guidance was taken from the Wavetrack New Zealand Surfing Guide (2004) “stoke rating”, and internal expert knowledge applied.  The ratings determined for each break are based upon when optimum conditions are present.

2. Frequency/consistency of surfable conditions. Sites which are able to be surfed frequently

throughout the year are rated higher than those which only break occasionally.

3. Capacity. Spread out breaks which can accommodate more surfers rate higher than breaks which have a smaller ‘surfable’ area.  Therefore the longer ‘beach breaks’ will rate higher in terms of capacity than defined reef breaks which have a smaller ‘take off’ and surfing area.

4. Suitability as a ‘nursery’ break. That is value of a break for learners or novices. Learners or novices represent a significant percentage of the surfing population. ‘Nursery’ breaks are an important resource to these surfers.

5. Naturalness. Indicates the level of naturalness retained (or lack of development), and value as a wilderness experience. Some breaks are valued for their sense of remoteness and natural surroundings, and this adds to the surfing experience.

6. Rarity. Relates to whether the break type is geomorphically rare for the region. Break types defined included; headland or point break, beach breaks, bar breaks, and reef breaks.

Social, economic, cultural values

7. Level of use. Based on a general assessment of how many surfers typically surf each particular break when it is ‘surfable’, taking into account the ‘capacity’ of the break.  That is, a break such as North Reef (Takapuna) which rates low in terms of capacity, is often surfed to near or full capacity when it is surfable.

8. Amenity. Reflects ease of access, presence of ancillary services and facilities (e.g. car parks, toilets/changing sheds, surf clubs, nearby accommodation and shops).

Amenity values were taken out of the final ranking of values attributed to surf breaks, as amenity values do not contribute directly to the quality of a surf break.

9. Local Significance. Relates to whether the break is a key aspect of the local sense of place or community, or contributes significantly to the local economy. 

10. Site recognition. Value as a national / internationally recognised site (competition site, attracts tourists, sited in surfing guides). Sites with frequent competitions and mentions in guides rate higher than those that are only locally known.

 Auckland Council Surf Breaks Survey

A ‘surf breaks user survey’ was undertaken to provide evidence for the weighting of values attributed to surf breaks by users of those breaks, and to gather information around which surf breaks are most popular and the reasons people surf the breaks they do. 

The survey which was run online between 27 February 2012 and 18 March 2012, was forwarded to surfing contacts, distributed via social networking sites, and advertised on surf reporting and forecasting websites. 1,452 surveys were completed.

Individual breaks were rated highly against some criteria, and low against other criteria.  For example the west coast beaches rate highly in terms of wave quality, frequency and wilderness values, however they rate low in terms of suitability as ‘nursery’ breaks. Orewa and Omaha rate highly in terms of suitability as a ‘nursery’ break, and low in terms of wave quality, frequency and wilderness values.   

Mapping of surf breaks

The extent of the surf break areas was mapped based on the spatial area within which the activity of surfing (including paddling and wave riding) occurs at each break. This takes into account the maximum distance offshore and alongshore where surfable waves will break for each of the 35 identified sites.

Sites range from relatively defined reef breaks, such as Daniels Reef or North Reef Takapuna, to the most frequently surfed sections of long stretches of exposed beaches such Muriwai and Pakiri. For the Muriwai, Te Arai, Pakiri and Kariotahi breaks, mapped “significant surfbreak’ areas where people typically surf are adjacent to the main beach access points.  The length of the mapped area is the distance people typically walk along the beaches to surf – 1.5km or 15-20 minutes either way.  There are significant lengths of these beaches which are still surfable, and accessible if people wish to walk further, arrive from sea, or drive along the beach if vehicle access points become available.  

 Swell corridors

The NZCPS 2010 definition of a ‘surf break’ includes ‘swell corridors’.  That is the “the region offshore of a surf break where ocean swell travels and transforms to a ‘surfable wave’.  Low resolution swell corridors have been mapped for the proposed 35 significant surf breaks. 

The model used to produce these identifies possible combinations of offshore swell periods and directions that can propagate to a surf break. Attached as attributes to each swell ‘polyline arc’ are a unitary ratio of significant wave height at a particular point over the offshore wave height and a historically joint probability calculation of swell period and direction from a 15 year hindcast data set of offshore swell.

If an activity is proposed within a swell corridor for a particular significant surf break, consideration of any possible resulting effects on that break would be required.  In certain circumstances further modelling may be required to produce higher resolution swell corridors and determine potential effects in terms of swell dampening resulting from a structure or activity within a swell corridor.

Last updated at 10:50AM on November 17, 2017