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Wednesday, August 4, 1999 Published at 01:32 GMT 02:32 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Creating the perfect wave

Surfing is fast becoming Australia's most popular sport

A huge growth in surfing in Australia has led to fears of overcrowding and, inevitably, surf rage.

David Grossman reports from the beach in Perth
It is especially bad on smaller, local breaks where good waves are at a premium.

Surfers have been known to get into fights, and out-of-control boards have injured and even killed other beach users.

Surf science

With 34,000km of coastline, and a population smaller than some of the world's cities, it might sound strange to hear Australians complain about overcrowding.

But when it comes to surfing, only a tiny fraction of the massive coast is suitable - because not all waves can be caught.

[ image: 34,000km of coastline - but it's still overcrowded]
34,000km of coastline - but it's still overcrowded
At the University of Western Australia, in Perth, scientist Charitha Pattiaratchi has spent the last 10 years trying to create the perfect surfing wave.

He says the shape of the sea bed determines whether a wave is too fast to catch, too slow to bother with, or just right.

"They all look the same, but the way they break is different, because the way the wave breaks depends what is actually on the sea bed, and the shape of the sea bed.

"So although you might have the same wave come through, under different bottom shapes, it will break differently."

Artificial reef

The Western Australian government has seized on the research as a way of easing the congestion on Perth's overcrowded surfing breaks.

Well away from popular swimming beaches, they have almost finished construction of an artificial reef that should provide perfect surfing conditions.

[ image: The shape to create the perfect wave]
The shape to create the perfect wave
"This is an opportunity to give them another good break, close to their homes," says Ron Alexander, a local government official.

Much of the work has been directed towards making sure the artificial reef won't hurt the marine environment.

After years of testing in the university's wave tank, the shape they have come up with is appropriately Australian - a boomerang.

Charitha Pattiaratchi says: "We created it because we needed to create a left-hand break and a right-hand break, so that the surfers have a choice of whichever side they want to go."

[ image: The artificial reef will be giving surfers a break]
The artificial reef will be giving surfers a break
The full-sized reef, made of limestone blocks, is now about 90% complete. The response among surfers has been very positive.

"I think it's great," says Kath Fitzharding.

"There has to be more things like this - there's not enough to suit everyone, and more people are learning, so we need more breaks, more waves to get people out there."

For surfers, the good news is that several other cities in Australia are planning to copy Perth's artificial reef.

Unfortunately, scientists have not yet found a way of making standing up on a surfboard any easier.

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