Local beaches for local folk: surf guerrillas fight the out-of-towners

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The Independent Online

Steely grey rain hammered Portreath beach in Cornwall yesterday and the only colour visible on the bleak horizon was a rash of red graffiti on the harbour wall warning "locals only".

Steely grey rain hammered Portreath beach in Cornwall yesterday and the only colour visible on the bleak horizon was a rash of red graffiti on the harbour wall warning "locals only".

Surf rage has broken out across the West Country as part of a fierce battle by locals to reclaim the swell from the out-of-towners who are apparently crowding their "line ups''.

A group of anonymous Cornish surfers, who style themselves as guerrillas, are campaigning against the influx of often amateur surfers and party-goers who, they claim, pollute the beaches, show disrespect to the local community and do not abide by surfing etiquette.

Now they are threatening to bring the campaign to Newquay, the Mecca for Britain's surfing industry - a move which could cripple the thriving local tourism on which the town survives.

The faction plans local patrols, taping beaches off to visitors who have been in the area for less than three weeks and to enforce the locals-only message using "guerrilla tactics".

One gang member said yesterday: "I think there are too many floaters in the water. They have got no respect. They have illegal beach parties and they crowd the waves. The beaches need someone to take control so local people can enjoy them too."

The growing antipathy to strangers threatens to spread from villages such as St Agnes, known as "the badlands'', and Portreath to the heart of Newquay.

"There are locals who want to get heavy in Newquay now. We are getting so much support with more and more people who want to set up factions throughout Cornwall. We are not against tourists but against the abuse of the countryside and beaches,'' said the gang member.

But Restormel council's tourism department and the British Surfing Association (BSA) condemned the campaign, which could have a significant impact on local industry. City dwellers have latched on to the sport, and surfing is the largest contributor to the Cornish tourism industry, believed to be worth £64m a year. Newquay's main surf school has seen a surge from 200 clients 10 years ago to 8,000 last year.

David Reed, the BSA's national director, said the "locals only" concept went against the surfing ethic which makes it so easy for British enthusiasts to surf in international waters.

"Anyone who is a credible surfer travels to catch the surf. We respect other people's waves and they respect ours. I don't think this issue is about the environment. These people seem selfish," he said.

Surfers at Portreath yesterday were keen to distance themselves from the graffiti. Pointing to the scrawl, Danny Teare, a 29-year-old surf instructor who has lived in Cornwall for three years, said: "I find it embarrassing, especially as surfers are supposed to be so chilled out. Portreath has a 50-metre square zone of an excellent wave and there is a lot of fighting for it. It is true some beginners just 'drop in' on your wave which can be dangerous but it is a case of not knowing surfing etiquette," he said.

But Jimmy Pinfield, 20, who worked at Aggies Surf Shop, thought the hostility could be fuelled by issues other than crowded waves.

"There's resentment among young people who can't buy homes in their own town because city people buy up the property as second homes which are left empty for 10 months a year. When you live here, you surf all the shite waves every day and when it gets good for a few days a year, every learner and his dog gets in the water," he said.

Though some in the wider community are keen to play down the growing tensions, there were reports of similar clashes on the south-west coast of Wales last year when, in Pembrokeshire and Gower, Welsh surfers felt more should be done to publicise a code of conduct for the amateur enthusiast.

Others believe the tensions are inherent in the sport but have only come to light since its rise in popularity in Britain. Surf wars have plagued American and Australian coasts as well as surf spots in Hawaii and Europe.