Its consistent and spectacularly big waves have made Margaret River a mecca for surfers. It’s officially considered one of the world’s top 10 surfing destinations and has been named Western Australia’s first national surfing reserve.
Each autumn, the region hosts the World Surf League (WSL) Margaret River Pro that attracts the best board riders on the planet – names such as Kelly Slater, John John Florence, Joel Parkinson, Stephanie Gilmore, and WA’s only WSL World Championship Tour surfer Bronte Macaulay. Each year, the event is streamed live to millions of viewers around the world, literally projecting the region right in front of the world. Dianne Bortoletto spoke to Surfing WA CEO Mark Lane about the evolution of the event and its importance to the community.
The Margaret River Pro is the third event of 11 that make up the WSL World Championship Tour (WCT) where athletes earn valuable WCT points towards the World Championship title. It’s certainly come a long way, from a bus parked at Surfers Point which doubled up as the makeshift judges’ office and event HQ over 30 years ago to the celebrated event it is today.
Surfing WA CEO Mark Lane recalls the first surfing competition called the Margaret River Masters back in 1985. “It was amazing,” the 54-year-old said. “I went down with some mates to watch the event and got to see in the flesh some of my surfing idols that I had only ever seen pictures of or read about or watched in surf movies. “It was easily the biggest surfing event I had ever been to then. It’s funny to look back at old photos and see how things have changed – funnily enough it still remains way bigger in my memories. “I still remember that feeling of amazement and I see kids looking at the big names nowadays with that same sort of look of wonder on their faces.”
Top tier events have other lasting and positive effects that can’t always be measured by economic impact or view statistics. The Margaret River Pro attracts world class talent and, for a week at least, becomes the centre of the surfing world.
“The Pro generates a buzz, watching the best surfers ride waves in the locations we grew up surfing and the flow-on effects that has on the groms watching. “It’s had a massive positive effect on our young surfers certainly – there’s a big difference to seeing it live as opposed to watching on TV. “I also think that surfers are great role models and I think they provide a super positive example of what being a good human is all about.”
Mark said that there are measurable benefits that the Pro brings to the region. “It would have injected $50 million over the past 10 years and probably in excess of $100 million over the event’s history since 1985, which is particularly important as the event is held in off-peak tourism season.”
The Margaret River Pro is regarded as the best organised event on the World Championship Tour and continuously sets benchmarks that other events follow. It was one of the first events to adopt live online streaming some 10 years ago, set the standard for surfer and sponsor hospitality and was also one of the first events to implement multiple event locations. What that means is that there’s a choice of surf breaks on which to hold the competition, allowing the WSL commissions the option to choose the best waves on any given day.
Gracetown local and homegrown surfing hero Bronte Macaulay said wave quality is paramount. “Wave quality is at the very top of the WSL’s CT event components – ask any of the CT men and women surfers – and North Point has wave quality in spades,” the 23-year-old said. “I loved seeing the pro surfers blazing in my home town of Gracetown at North Point – it’s my sister Laura’s favorite wave.” North Point was used during the Margaret River Pro for the first time last year. “I’m proud to fly the West Aussie flag in the World Championship Tour and would love to see the continuation of this iconic event adding to its rich history for many years to come,” Bronte said.
Mark said that one of his proudest achievements as Surfing WA CEO is gaining and maintaining the Pro’s World Championship Tour status and being able to make the event free for spectators with free parking. From April 11 to 22, the world’s top 34 ranked male and top 17 ranked female surfers will compete for world title points at the third stop of the World Surf League Championship Tour in Margaret River.
Known as one of the world’s most consistent big-wave surf breaks, thousands of spectators are expected to flock to the Margaret River Pro at Surfers Point in Prevelly. The Surfing WA Trials, which is only open to West Australian surfers, will take place on April 10, with the top finishing male and top finishing female surfers earning a place to surf in the main event alongside the world’s best.
Margaret River Pro, from April 11 to 22. Visit surfingwa.com.au for information.
This blog has been adapted from ‘Crest Kings & Queens’, an article written by Dianne Bortoletto, initially published in the Autumn issue of the Your Margaret River Region Magazine.