Punta Lobos, Chile. Photo: William Henry
What is World Surfing Reserves?
World Surfing Reserves (WSR) is a global initiative that proactively identifies, designates and preserves outstanding waves, surf zones and their surrounding environments, to create a network of designated surfing reserves that are internationally and regionally recognized. The initiative depends on the coordination and partnership of the global surf and environmental communities and their representatives working with local communities to select and enshrine the areas that best exemplify WSR criteria.
What are the World Surfing Reserve criteria?
WSR eligible waves and surf zones are evaluated and chosen based on the following criteria: 1) Quality and consistency of the wave or surf zone; 2) Environmental characteristics of the area; 3) Surf culture and history of the area; 4) Local community support.
While World Surfing Reserves are selected based on these combined characteristics, to qualify WSR sites normally possess the following minimum criteria: a world-class surf spot or outstanding series of surf breaks; unique environmental characteristics along with a strong passion to protect them; a rich surf culture and history; strong community support.
How Does the Program Work?
There are four main phases to the WSR program: 1) Nomination, where sites from around the world are nominated and a comprehensive application is completed and submitted by a local community group; <hyperlink: How To Apply>; 2) Selection, where the nominated sites are evaluated by a global body of experts and subsequently approved and announced publicly; 3) Enshrinement, where approved WSR sites are prioritized and then officially enshrined as World Surfing Reserves; and 4) Management, which includes the implementation of a WSR Management Plan, as well as the ongoing management of the reserve by the LSC and local community.
How are the actual sites selected?
After sites are nominated from around the world and applications submitted, the sites are evaluated based on the WSR criteria: 1) Quality and consistency of the wave or surf zone; 2) Environmental characteristics of the area; 3) Surf culture and history of the area; 4) Local community support.
What makes up a World Surfing Reserve? Is it just the surf break, or is there more to it?
The actual boundaries of a World Surfing Reserve will vary depending on location, but in general will include a specific wave break or series of wave breaks (a “surf zone”), in addition to its surrounding environment. This includes the surf break itself, plus what we call the near-shore environment, as well as a defined area of coastal land surrounding the break. Each reserve will have precise geographic boundaries associated with it, which will be recorded and documented within the reserve’s WSR Management Plan and other reserve materials.
What are some of the key references and inspirations for the WSR initiative?
1) United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites program was one of the original inspirations for the program. While the WSR program utilizes some aspects of the World Heritage Sites model, it combines this with more of a community-based, grassroots approach at the local level.
2) National Surfing Reserves – Australia (NSR) is another pioneering program upon which the WSR initiative has modeled portions of its program. NSR has created a blueprint for National Surfing Reserves in Australia and beyond. This knowledge has been very useful for establishing WSR processes and criteria.
3) Save The Waves’ “Surfonomics” program is a critical tool for understanding and measuring the value of potentially enshrined locations. These studies help local policymakers make positive conservation decisions around coastal protection and also help support the justification for creating a World Surfing Reserve in the first place.
How is the program governed? Who manages it?
World Surfing Reserves was founded by Save The Waves Coalition in conjunction with NSR Australia. It also incorporates other key partnerships including with the International Surfing Association (ISA), to be able to work with all the surfing federations around the world, as well as the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) at Stanford, a nonprofit dedicated to responsible travel practices around the world.
Beyond that, WSR is governed and managed by several bodies: the Vision Council, Executive Committee, and Field Team. The Vision Council is a global group of thought leaders from the surfing, environmental, scientific, media and business communities, charged with the overall vision and guidance of the program. The Executive Committee is a subset of the Vision Council and their charter is to lead the program and make key decisions. The Field Team is made up of STW staff as well as partner organization staff and is responsible for administering and managing the program on a day-to-day basis. In addition, each WSR site develops and maintains a Local Stewardship Council (LSC), which is responsible for locally representing and managing the reserve on an ongoing basis.
How is the program funded?
The program is currently funded by Save The Waves, with additional funding being explored from a variety of sources at the regional, national and international level. It’s anticipated that program funding will eventually consist of a combination of sources including Save The Waves, program partners, as well as local communities interested in implementing and maintaining WSR sites.
Donations to help support the work of World Surfing Reserves are encouraged and can be made by clicking here.
What is the strategic goal of this program?
The aim of the WSR initiative is to create and manage an ongoing, global network of Surfing Reserves that are recognized by the international surfing and environmental communities, as well as the general public. This network of reserves seeks to add an additional layer of protection for the areas, build stewardship capacity at the local level, and to broadly educate the public about the value of these special places. World Surfing Reserves, in partnership with local communities, unites the global surfing and environmental tribes to protect the world's most sacred surf zones and in turn inspires, organizes and builds the capacity of these local communities to continue to protect their own cherished waves.
As the program continues to gain momentum and recognition, it will serve as a significant environmental and cultural force to protect surf spots and surfing coastline around the world.