Protective surf culture, or ‘localism’, on the west coast of South Australia is back in the spotlight after a new tourism sign promoting the Cummings Monument was damaged with an angle grinder 24 hours after it was installed.
- A sign directing visitors to a popular surf break and lookout was damaged 24 hours after it was installed
- Surf localism is common on South Australia’s west coast
- The photographer whose work is on the sign has received online threats
The sign depicts a surfer above the waves with dramatic steep cliffs in the background, and directions to the popular break.
But surfers are seemingly so protective of the location that even the photographer whose image inspired the sign has received death threats.
Sondra Stewart, tourism development manager for Regional Development Australia Eyre Peninsula and Whyalla, said the vandalism of the sign was disappointing.
“The sign was an investment by the South Australian Tourism Commission (SATC) to give people the opportunity to stop, get out of the car, take a bit of a breather, and have a look at our amazing coastline,” Ms Stewart said.
“One of the sign’s aluminium legs was taken off by an angle grinder.”
Ms Stewart has asked the District Council of Lower Eyre Peninsula to take down the sign due to safety concerns.
“I was really concerned that it would blow down and hit a car,” she said.
Streaky Bay surfer Jeff Schmucker said locals can be protective of west coast surf spots.
“It’s disappointing the sign got taken down by obviously someone who’s disgruntled about it, but I do understand why surfers are concerned about crowds coming,” Mr Schmucker said.
“There’s been a bit of an issue [here] about surf localism and protecting the surf.
“The proponents against this have Instagram accounts that have photos of the waves on the west coast, and those photos are available online to old mate in a bar in San Francisco within seconds.
“I think that has more damage than a sign.”
An Elliston surfer who did not wish to be named said there was prevalent surf politics on the west coast.
He was also surprised the region was showcased.
“Getting down there’s hard. Experienced surfers themselves get hurt out there,” the surfer said.
“Someone like a backpacker coming over, seeing the sign, going out there — they could easily drown.
“There’s dry reef to get out, a real small keyhole, the waves are real heavy waves.”
The surfer was also concerned about the stability of the clifftop.
“It’s all undercut. You could easily be standing on something that’s only a couple of foot thick and then you drop to your death.”
Death threats and high tensions
Photographer Kane Overall took the image used on the SATC sign and said he he had since received death threats over social media.
“I didn’t know [the image] was going to be used on the sign, and then I just started getting hit up on Instagram and tagged in lots of negative comments,” he said.
“I actually sold that image to SATC about two years ago when I shot it to use in their media gallery.
“It kind of sucks that I didn’t actually know the image was going to be used.”
Mr Overall said at the time he took the photo he was thinking of the Fight for the Bight campaign in opposition to Equinor’s plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight.
“It was to just show how beautiful the coastline was and that we didn’t really want oil drilling here,” he said.
Mr Overall said he was always mindful not to geotag surfing locations on his Instagram.
“I’d just rather people go and find the spots themselves. They are really great, but they’re also really quiet, and I’d like to keep it that way as well,” he said.
SATC chief executive Rodney Harrex said keen surfers already know about the break.