One with, one without. Pic: Danielle Smith
Jamie Garrett, 10, was hit in the face by a board with a leg rope. Pic: Danielle Smith
18 March 19
This issue has been quietly percolating in surfing circles for decades, but is now fairly in the broader public’s consciousness after an ad placed by a law firm in the Byron Shire Echo a few weeks back grew legs online and became a news story on TV and in print.
In case you missed it, here’s the Sydney Morning Herald’s take on it, as reported in early March:
“All surfers will lose control of their board”: lawyers target longboarders without leg ropes
A group of surf-loving lawyers is campaigning to bring to heel 'hipster surfers' who refuse to use leg ropes.
Ben Crawford, together with five other board-riding directors from the Somerville Laundry Lomax legal firm, believes surfers should wear leg ropes at crowded breaks. The physical dangers to all beachgoers are obvious, the legal risks are too great, they say.
The Northern Rivers-based firm took out an advertisement in the Byron Shire Echo asking for anyone injured by a surfer whose board was unrestrained by a leg rope to contact them.
It was a warning shot across the board rails of a growing sub-culture of surfing, based on unencumbered and fluid movement, mainly among longboarders. The news of the legal advertisement spread quickly from Noosa in Queensland, down to Torquay in Victoria, and to Queenscliff on Sydney's northern beaches in between.
“There’s no vacuum in the law,” Mr Crawford said. “Surfers should know that.
“All surfers will inevitably lose control of their board, no matter how skilled they are.”
Mr Crawford said leg ropes restricted the reach of out-of-control surfboards, controlling the risk to those in the immediate area and stopping the board torpedoing towards shore and striking unsuspecting beachgoers.
The solicitor said the principles of negligence in civil law should apply to surfers who failed to take precautions, such as using a leg rope, despite the recognised inherent risks of the sport.
The firm believes a 2014 court case bolsters their position after a board was rented to a novice who dropped in on a surfer, leading them to break a leg. The victim sought a six-figure sum in damages and won.
Veteran surfer Simon Maltby, 52, said the campaign by the legal firm was opportunistic.
Mr Maltby, who has operated a board repair business in Byron Bay for 10 years, said more damage was being done by surfers using leg ropes. He surfs with and without a leg rope.
“I haven’t had one customer come over the past 10 years to repair a board because of a collision (with a board without a leg rope),” Mr Maltby said.
“However, I have people come in all the time because of inexperienced surfers with a leg rope just letting go of their board or kicking them out.
“When I started surfing, it was without a leg rope, you learned to grab your board when you came off, otherwise you had a big swim. You learned to read the conditions for your level of ability. I believe that knowledge and wariness has been lost.”
Nearly three weeks ago Luke Gower watched helplessly as an out-of-control longboard smashed into the face of his 10-year-old stepdaughter Jamie Garrett who was surfing at The Pass in Byron Bay. The collision broke her nose. The surfer was wearing a leg rope.
“I don’t think surfers without leg ropes should be on crowded breaks,” he said.
“But collisions are something you have to deal with, it’s the nature of the sport. I know in a few weeks time Jamie will be back surfing.”
Surfing advocate Ian Cohen, the former Greens MP, said an arrogance and sense of entitlement existed among some 'doyenne surfers', who believe the law of the land stops at the water's edge.
"Everyone falls off, and, in crowded areas, a 10-foot board flying out of control towards little kids is dangerous," he said.
"I find the desire to step across the board looking like some god-like figure rather than looking out for others in the water is selfish and disappointing. I know these surfers. I speak to them. They don't want to listen. But I'm going to keep at 'em to wear a leg rope."
- AUTHOR: HEATH GILMORE, SATURDAY EDITOR OF THE SMH