14 January 22
Two councils in Sydney are considering permanently banning hydrofoil surfing at their beaches due to concerns over safety.
Randwick and Waverley councils, both in Sydney’s east, cover some of Sydney’s most high profile beaches, including Clovelly, Coogee, Maroubra, Bronte, Bondi and Tamarama.
Hydrofoil boards began gaining traction in 2019, and are a unique take on surfing, with riders mounting a board that features a special fin mounted on a long strut below the board. Some are fitted with electric motors.
The device allows surfers to catch waves even on flat water, with the fin lifting the board above the surface.
Riders can reach speeds of up to 40km/h, and the boards have begun increasing in popularity, with riding groups popping up across the east coast.
But the boards have been at the centre of ongoing debates over their safety and suitability for use at popular beaches, with Waverley Council already initiating an unofficial ban on the sport.
For Andrew Crawford from H20 Foils, a hydrofoil and e-foil training, rental and purchase business, the concerns are not unfounded.
“In reality, there’s an element of danger, the same as there is with a conventional surfboard,” he said. “There’s a danger of the boards and the fins making contacts with people’s heads.
“Because there’s an extended mast, which is like a knife in the water, and the wing which is attached to the bottom of the mast, if it does come in contact with people, it could cause quite an injury.
“From that perspective, I can see the council’s wariness.”
But Crawford, who has been foiling for four years, said that the danger ultimately came down to rider training, and that with regulation, the sport can be made safe for beaches.
“There’s quite a process in learning to ride them, especially from a safety perspective. That’s where the real danger can come from, if someone has no idea what to do.
“It’s in the hands of the operator, the same as with cars on the road. If handled sensibly, I don’t see a major issue, as long as they keep well clear of designated swimming areas and other surfers.
“And generally they do, because they are riding a different part of the swell, they’re looking for unbroken waves.”
A spokesperson for Waverley council told Guardian Australia safety issues were their main concern, while adding that there have been no reported injuries from the boards yet.
“For safety reasons, hydrofoil surfboards are not permitted at our beaches. This is due to the safety risks posed by their high speed [compared to that of a surfboard], the metal-like keel that raises the board out of the water and the usually crowded conditions in the water.
“We do not have any reported instances of injuries involving these boards due to the low volume of foil boarders visiting our beaches and the proactive approach by the lifeguards.
“Council is aware of injuries at other beaches/waterways caused by foil boards that have resulted in significant trauma to the casualty.”
Randwick city council said they were working with Surfing NSW to gather feedback on a potential ban, and will be presenting a report on the matter in the next month.
They said the proposed ban is being considered after members of the public raised safety concerns.
“The proposal was prompted by ongoing safety concerns being raised by members of the public and Randwick Council beach lifeguards, in regards to foil boards being used on heavily populated beaches in the LGA.
“In addition to this, the NSW Local Government Coastal Safety Group also confirmed their collective concern about the safety of foil boards being used in areas with swimmers, bathers and beach users.”
The Northern Beaches council said they were “monitoring” the situation, but said there were no bans in place at the moment.
“The use of hydrofoil craft is becoming more popular and Northern Beaches council is monitoring the situation. There are currently no bans in place on the Northern Beaches.
“Like the majority of hard bodied water craft they are not allowed in patrolled swimming zones and this is policed by council lifeguards.”
The final decision on the potential ban in Waverley and Randwick is due later in 2022.
- AUTHOR: MOSTAFA RACHWANI
- SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN