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Tuesday, 4 April, 2000, 19:08 GMT 20:08 UK
Tempers flare in surfers' paradise
Surfers: Latest victims of rage attacks
Surfers: Latest victims of rage attacks
By Phil Mercer in Sydney

A surf war has erupted on some of Australia's most famous beaches.

The new battlegrounds are in the breakers off Bondi and Manly beaches in Sydney, as hundreds of inexperienced tourists compete with hardened locals for the best waves.

The result is unprecedented congestion which is testing the patience of the most laid-back of surfers.

Fights are commonplace over what is called "dropping in" - or stealing someone else's wave.

Olympic concerns

It is feared that the situation could worsen later in the year when record numbers of holidaymakers flood into Sydney for the Olympics in September.

It is a far cry from the world famous image of the Aussie surfer; the laid-back thrill-seeker with a permanent tan and bleached blonde hair.

I saw four of them follow a guy who'd dropped in onto the beach

Grant Walton
Grant Walton, a 29 year-old surfer, says that locals often get violent to protect their territory.

"I saw four of them follow a guy who'd dropped in onto the beach," he says.

"They beat him pretty badly. It was brutal stuff. The bloke got smashed."

He blames younger, foreign backpackers - known locally as "grommets" - for the problems.

"Some of the grommets surf a bit better than the older guys and they think they've got more right to just drop in and the others get a bit upset about it."

He offers advice for people new to surfing Down Under.

"You can't just go out there and paddle out and think you own the joint because the locals will soon catch up to you and give you a hard time."

Ex-champion attacked

There have been other high profile victims of surf rage.

Australia's former world surfing champion, Nat Young, suffered terrible injuries after an argument over a wave at Angourie beach on the northern coast of New South Wales, near the border with Queensland.

Nat Young: Suffered two broken eye sockets
Nat Young: Suffered two broken eye sockets
He underwent six hours of surgery on two broken eye sockets, two shattered cheekbones and smashed sinuses.

His wife, Ti Denton-Young, said that her 52-year-old husband was traumatised.

"He was eating through a straw. The whole family is shocked."

The trouble has prompted the Surfrider Foundation of Australia to act to restore peace to one of the country's most famous pastimes.

It has released postcards and posters with its rules printed in English, Japanese, Hebrew and German to backpacker hostels and cafes.

The Foundation's Neil Lazarow has been to surf shops and has spoken to local surfers to find out more about the causes of the problem.

He found "huge gripes" about tourist surfers.

'Gentlemen's rules'

The Tribal Law Surfriders code of ethics was written in 1997 by Robert Conneeley to inform boardriders of the sport's "gentlemen's rules."

It states that a wave belongs to the surfer "first to their feet or first on the wave" or the one who is "furthest out or who is waiting longest for the wave".

Surfer speak
Grommet: young, inexperienced surfer
Dropping in: stealing someone else's wave
Locked in: when a surfer is in the tube of the wave
Wiping out: being dumped by a wave
The tenth commandment urges everyone to "give respect to gain respect".

The author says the lore was passed down from Bondi elders he surfed with as a child.

"Instead of leaving the hang-ups on the beach, people are taking them out in the line-up with them," he said of fights in the water.

"Waves are an overvalued commodity and people do take it way too seriously."

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See also:

23 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Beach bums banned from Bondi
29 Apr 99 | Americas
Fighting them on the beaches
14 Mar 99 | Education
Surf's up - to a degree
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