Feared ‘Australia’s bodyboarding capital’ Port Macquarie surf break under threat for breakwater upgrade

Port Macquarie is known as the ‘bodyboarding capital of Australia’, home to a unique surf spot, but locals fear it is threatened by work to repair the neighboring breakwater.

Three-time world bodyboarding champion Damian King of Port Macquarie grew up surfing the breakwall.

A man in a patterned shirt stands on a beach holding a boogie board, smiling.
Damian King at Port Macquarie’s Town Beach, where he spent much of his youth.(ABC Middle North Coast: Emma Siossian)

“It has been promoted not only in Port Macquarie, but also in New South Wales and Australia, and even around the world.

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

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

Breakwater rocks in the foreground, with a beach and promontory in the background.
The beach break is next to the breakwater wall at Town Beach, Port Macquarie.(ABC Middle North Coast: Madeleine Cross)

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

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

A crowd of people gather in an outdoor park.
A crowd, including concerned members of the surfing community, attended a consultation session on the Port Macquarie breakwater wall upgrade.(Supplied: Damian King)

Scott Lawrence of the Port Macquarie Boardriders said changes to breakwaters in other areas had affected the waves.

“We’ve gotten some feedback from other places like the Tuncurry breakwater and the Ballina breakwater, where they’ve altered the front of the walls and [riders say] has ruined the wave that had been there,” he said.

Is the breaking wave threatened?

A thick lip wave and brown water, with a bodyboarder in the barrel of the wave.
Port Macquarie is broken after flooding and the flow of heavy water from the mouth of the river.(Supplied: Damian King)

Professor Rob Brander, a beach safety researcher at the University of New South Wales, said he believed the waves would not be too affected.

“Any time you build something on the shoreline and change the shape of something, it will always have some feedback effect on the waves and currents,” he said.

“But that said, looking at the design isn’t too different from 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 protection.(Supplied: Damian King)

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

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

A bodyboard-shaped plaque that reads "Port Macquarie-Bodyboard Capital of Australia:.
Port Macquarie is hailed as the ‘Bodyboarding Capital of Australia’.(ABC News: Emma Siossian)

The spokesman said maintenance work on the breakwater also took place in 2015 and “surfers continued to enjoy surf breaks” after the work was completed.

Concern over loss of ‘iconic’ rocks

There is also concern about the proposed removal of existing rocks along the retaining wall that are covered in personal artwork.

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

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

A woman stands next to a rock in a retaining wall, painted green with words in memory of Ian Green.
Breakwater art includes memorials like Ironman Ian Green, who his wife Pam enjoys visiting.(Supplied: Pam Green)

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

The memorial rock was painted the following year.

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

A purple painted rock on a breakwater, with the words
The breakwater is known for its colorful rock art which will be removed for the planned upgrade.(ABC Middle North Coast: Emma Siossian)

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

The Transport for NSW spokesman said their aim will be to archive the history of the art wall.

“We will capture images and stories of the painted rocks before work begins on the retaining wall,” the spokesman said.

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

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