The Northern Beaches will host a World Surf League (WSL) event at Narrabeen in April.

The event that was to be hosted at Snapper Rocks at the Gold Coast will now be held at North Narrabeen from 16-26 April. The event will be called the Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic, in a nod to the history of surfing competitions last held at the beach over 20 years ago.

The event was nabbed by the NSW Government from under the nose of the Queensland Government, who was unable to provide event organisers the certainty they required over the possibility of COVID-19 border closures.

Member for Pittwater Rob Stokes thanked his colleague and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro for helping to secure the event for the Northern Beaches. It is the second WSL event that will now come to NSW, with the Victorian Bells Beach event now scheduled to be held at Newcastle from 01-11 April. NSW has gone from hosting no WSL events, to two of the four events to be held in Australia this year.

“There’s a fair bit of satisfaction in this. Here we are seeing the consequences of kneejerk lockdowns. When you have a government that looks at a sensible measured approach and tries to keep things as normal as possible, this is what’s able to be achieved.

“When you’ve jurisdictions that are kneejerk, that are populist, these are the consequences of those actions. Here in NSW it’s great that our patience and trying to be very evidence based in our response to the virus is able to shape us up as a great place for investment,” said Minister Stokes.

Speaking with the Northern Beaches Advocate, Mayor Michael Regan revealed the role he played in securing the event for the Northern Beaches.

“I got this distressed phone call from Andrew Stark [WSL General Manager] saying, ‘I need your permission to put an event on’. I rang my Events Manager Lisa [Dowsett] and said, ‘Can you put a WSL event on in two weeks?’ and I heard a few expletives then… ‘Sure Mr Mayor’.

“I rang Minister Stokes and said, ‘Can you do this?’ and he said, ‘Yes we can, let me talk to Barra [Deputy Premier John Barilaro]. He was great. Then I rang back Andrew and said, ‘All good, the ducks are in a line’. He said, ‘Brilliant! Can you have it signed in 24 hours?’. I said, ‘Sure, no problems but two weeks, we’re pushing it’ and he said, ‘Two weeks? No, the event is in two months’. The pressure is still on but not as bad.

“John Barilaro was fantastic. He understood the Northern Beaches suffered during the lockdown. He could have taken it to the regions. He said, ‘It’s a great opportunity for the Northern Beaches after the lockdown’. He said if the Council could make it happen, great, and we did. He and Rob came to the rescue providing the required support necessary to host the event,” said Mayor Regan.

General Manager of the World Surf League Andrew Stark

General Manager of the World Surf League Andrew Stark said North Narrabeen is an iconic surfing location that offered a combination of wave quality, a rich history and a community that loves surfing.

“North Narrabeen has got the history, it’s got the wave, it’s got a community that’s been through some turmoil recently with the lockdown. We knew that they would love this opportunity, obviously seizing the opportunity in the context of what they’ve been through over Christmas to get some economic stimulus but also some community spirit. The whole Northern Beaches, it’s a surf town.

“There’s a lot of surfing in the veins of the Northern Beaches. Everyone loves surfing. There’s a lot of history here. The first world champion was just down the road in 1963. This coastline is famous for surfing internationally.

“COVID has been a challenging year for us. We’ve had to move and pivot and be able to provide events in locations where we have surety of running. We’ve got that here. There was also a lot of vision from the NSW Government, particularly working with Deputy Premier John Barilaro who really helped to champion the landing of the charter flight into NSW that enabled these events to happen.

“When I spoke to him in particular about the Northern Beaches he was very responsive to the economic stimulus opportunity and community spirit opportunity after what happened at Christmas with the lockdown. To bring the area back to life through an event like this, and such a fitting event as well, it made a lot of sense and we are very happy to be here.

“Government and Council were really responsive and dynamic in their approach. They said, ‘We’ll help. Let’s get this event here. What do you need?’. We were very appreciative of the approach of Northern Beaches Council and State Government. The State Government have been fantastic to work with and very helpful in what has been very challenging times,” said Mr Stark.

Mr Stark refused to be drawn on whether the move may be permanent if the Northern Beaches hosting of the event proves successful.

“At this point we’re just talking about 2021, it’s a COVID year and we’re focused on getting through this year. We have a big year and 2022 feels like a long way away,” said Mr Stark.

James Griffin

James Griffin

Member for Manly James Griffin was at the event cheering on the return of the top tier of international competition to the Northern Beaches.

“We’ve got our qualifying event series in Manly (23-30 October) but this will be a Championship Tour event of the World Surf League.

“It will be brought here to the Northern Beaches which is going to do two things. It will deliver a huge boost to our local tourism economy from Palm Beach to Manly. In addition to that it’s going to bring the world’s best surfers here to the Northern Beaches. We’re talking Kelly Slater and everybody who comes with that.

“It’s an amazing win for the Northern Beaches. The fact it’s going to be in April is not too far away and perfect timing to help our local economy rebound from what happened.

“Small businesses benefit from these sort of events. People are going to want to come here and watch this event. They are going to be spending money as they come to visit the Northern Beaches from Palm Beach to Manly. It’s a fantastic outcome.

“The town will be buzzing, the Northern Beaches will be buzzing. This is again a demonstration by the NSW Government that when we say we’re going to do something, when we say we’re going to be here to help, we bloody well do it,” said Mr Griffin.

Rob Stokes

Pittwater MP Rob Stokes said the return of international surfing competition to the Northern Beaches was ‘poetic’.

“It’s with a great sense of gratitude that I welcome the WSL here to Narrabeen. We are so grateful that Narrabeen is rightfully re-assuming it’s crown at the centre of world surfing. Through the 70s, 80s and into the 90s, Narrabeen earned a reputation as one of the great hotpots of global surfing. Some of the world greats got their start here off this beautiful beach break.

“It’s a great opportunity for the whole Northern Beaches to come together. The locals have been through a rough time with the lockdown over Christmas. That hit surf retailers particularly hard given it was the Christmas break when they were locked down. Also AirBNB’s and the local tourist industry took a huge hit. This is a huge commitment to ensuring those businesses can have a couple of good months ahead as all the excitement of the world tour come to Narrabeen,” said Minister Stokes.

Minister Stokes said the importance of the event for local business after the lockdown was not lost on anyone, working closely with Mayor Michael Regan to ensure Council could support the hosting of the event.

“It’s really important news for the community of the Northern Beaches. That’s why I’ve worked together with James Griffin and the Mayor. We’ve all come together at a political level to support this event because we know it’s the missing link in terms of support for local businesses.

“We have the Dine and Discover vouchers which are great for some of the larger businesses and the grants that have helped some of the smaller retailers. The surf industry took a real hit over the Christmas break. They’d brought in lots of gear over Christmas time, they weren’t able to move that,” said Minister Stokes.

Asked by the Northern Beaches Advocate what sort of impact the event may have on the Northern Beaches economy, Minister Stokes said it ran into the millions.

“It certainly runs into the millions. We’re hopeful it looks something like $15m to the local economy, which is a huge boost to a lot of retailers who are doing it really tough. Not to mention a whole lot of accommodation venues that lost thousands of dollars over the Christmas period. This is an opportunity to claw some of that back and put Narrabeen back on the map,” said Minister Stokes.

Owen Wright

Aussie professional surfer and world number nine Owen Wright said his eyes lit up when he was told the tour was going to have an event at North Narrabeen.

“Being a goofy footer, being a left hander and knowing the rich history this event has here, and also competing here in the world juniors when I was younger, it just brought back all those memories.

“It put a smile back on my face to get this tour back on the road. I’m really appreciative I get to live my passion and keep competing, and I’m so thankful the WSL, the government and the local mayor have worked together to put this event on. This is another one of those major moments for Narrabeen and hopefully we all put on a show.

“There’s going to be a lot of people that have had a year off. People like myself and Julian [Wilson], we’ve been on tour for ten years and we’ve just had a year off. We are refreshed, had breaks and spent time with our families. We’re feeling as much spark as ever. Then you’ve got the young guys in their first and second year who feel like they haven’t got to sink their teeth in. They feel like it’s been taken away from them a little bit. They are going to come back as hungry as ever so we’ll see some really competitive surfing and lots of competitive action and some paddle battles and maybe some mongrels come out,” said Mr Wright.

Laura Enever

Laura Enever

Former women’s tour competitor, Laura Enever said she is excited to be a wildcard entrant for the event at her local break.

“It’s so exciting for all the locals. I’ve grown up here and learned how to surf in The Alley right there. It’s about 10 years ago exactly that I won the world junior title out here. There hasn’t really been any events since then. It’s so exciting to be back. It’s so exciting for the club. To kick off the world championship tour here is going to be amazing. I’m so excited to be the wildcard and compete against the world’s best.

“Before Christmas there was an event here. That was the first comp I’d done in three years. To get back out there at Narrabeen, it brings something out in me. All my best results I’ve ever had in my career have been in the local area. I’m excited to get back into it and surf with all the girls. I’ve missed travelling with them all and seeing them all,” said Ms Enever.

Damien Hardman

Damien Hardman

President of North Narrabeen Boardriders Club and two-time World Champion Damien Hardman said it was great to see the return of surfing to North Narrabeen.

“On behalf of North Narrabeen Boardriders we welcome the WSL back here after over 20 years with open arms. This was a right of passage for all competitive surfers back in my generation. To see them come back here is going to be great for the kids, a great opportunity for the Northern Beaches, and I hope everyone has a great time when they are here,” said Mr Hardman.

Tom Carroll

Tom Carroll

Three-time World Champion Tom Carroll said the WSL event at North Narrabeen would be inspirational for young surfers on the Northern Beaches.

“It’s just such a surprise to bring it all back here. This is the place where I got to watch my heroes surf and take it to their level. Now we are going to put the best surfers in front of some feisty young kids here at North Narrabeen. Young girls, young boys from all around the area will come here and see their heroes doing their thing at the highest level,” said Mr Carroll.

Over 50 professional surfers will compete for over $1m in prize money. More information on the Australian leg of the WSL tour can be found at the World Surf League website.

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate