Your Margaret River region has scored a multi page spread in the world’s most prestigious surfing magazine, The Surfer’s Journal.
Though much is known about the quality waves in the region, it appears there was as much interest in how a once quaint timber and dairy town grew to become the thriving destination it now is.
The article delves into the rich history of the town with input from some of the pioneering surfers who put the town on the map with stunning photography from two of the region’s best, Jamie Scott and Russell Ord.
Most importantly, no secret spots were revealed!
We caught up with Managing Editor, Alex Wilson, to see why the place we call home piqued the interest of The Surfer’s Journal.
“Uncrowded waves, wide open spaces, not a lot of people. It sounds like a surfer’s utopia…”
1) How was Margaret River perceived prior to this article and why was there an interest from your end?
West Oz in general, I think for American surfers who have never been there, is sort of perceived as this rugged, isolated place, filled with natural beauty and pumping surf. So, from what we can tell from a distance, there seem to be lots of reasons to be interested.
Uncrowded waves, wide open spaces, not a lot of people. It sounds like a surfer’s utopia, as long as you’re the type who’s geared for all that unfiltered Indian Ocean groundswell. And with regard to Margret River specifically, I think the idea was to sort of pick a point on the map, and use a location profile to fill in the blank spots. At the Surfer’s Journal, we see a lot of images come out of West Oz, and the area around Margaret River, of pumping surf. But most of the focus is always out to sea. So with this piece we wanted to not only highlight the waves, but shift the perspective a little and look back at land, get to know the people, the geography, the social dynamics, and history of the place.
Surf travel is never just about surfing. Usually it’s also about a ground-level exploration of locations and communities, so we wanted the piece to reflect that.
2) What did you learn about the town from the article?
I mean, the article was so well researched and thorough that it felt like, after I’d read it, I’d actually been to Margaret River. Or that I at least had enough working knowledge to go there and appreciate the backdrop. I learned about how the wave was discovered, heard stories directly from some of the first surfers in the area, and then scanned ahead through the generations and was introduced to shapers, wine makers, upcoming grommets, cattle ranchers, dairy producers, and local underground chargers. It really gave the full spectrum.
At Surfer’s Journal, while working on the article on our end, we also made sure to include a surf-specific map and that gave me a much better sense of the geography–where the Box is in relation to Mainbreak, how close or far away other insane waves are in the area, like North Point. How rich the surf landscape is. It was also interesting to learn that the Australian government was allotting money to help develop the area as a venue for the World Tour. In the U.S. that kind of thing, the government underwriting surfing, is sort of unheard of.
3) On that, do you see any similarities between the growth of Margaret River and any other sleepy little surf towns across the world?
I feel like every sleepy little surf town that I’ve spent time in struggles with some of those issues. The idea of exposure, of over-exposing something that’s beautiful and quiet and pristine, and possibly losing those elements as a result, seems to be common. And you’ll always find tension in the community in those types of scenarios, where some people are trying to protect their environment and their community, while they, or others, also recognise that tourism, and an interest in a certain area from outsiders, is one way to feed the local economy. I grew up in a beach town on the East Coast of the U.S. and sort of became ingrained and aware of some of these concerns and realities when I was a kid, or at least when I became old enough to work. You made your money in the summer when the summer people came. And it could sort of feel like an invasion, but it was also a necessity. And the locals still always knew how to shed the crowds and find little pockets of good surf, or places removed from the madness that were under the radar.
The thing that’s scary is that, around the world, particularly in countries with less regulations, some places have been completely overrun by foreigners or outsiders, to the detriment of the locals or the local culture. I’ve never been there, but it seems like you hear about this a lot with Bali now, about how crowded it has become, and how with the crowds, and the Western influence, some of its magic is being lost or buried in a sea of tourism. There are obviously lots of other examples around the world and even within Indonesia.
So it’s important to be aware that that’s a possibility, and find a balance between economic growth and preserving the things that make a place special to begin with. A lot of this is inevitable, I suppose, so you’ll always have people concerned about possibly losing something that’s special to them, or have it change in a way that is irreparable.
In southern California, the really old guys talk about the WWII era, how much land there was here, how wide open it was, how few other surfers were in the water. Then, after the war, and certainly through the 60s, the population of California and a general interest in surfing exploded, and it changed everything. That doesn’t seem like something that will happen in a place like West Oz, with all that coastline and empty land and ocean, but I can see why, if you’ve grown up somewhere, even a little change in a certain direction can set off the alarm bells.
4) And could you tell us a bit about The Surfer’s Journal?
The Surfer’s Journal is in more than 60 countries around the world. We have subscribers in places like the Czech Republic, Bahrain, and Turkey. The magazine has been around for a quarter of a century. We’re actually working on our 25th volume now. I’ve only been here for about a year and a half (I was at Surfer for a long time before this) but it seems like the focus here, for twenty five years, has always been on delivering in-depth, compelling stories, high quality images, and windows of culture, all filtered through the lens of surfing. This piece is definitely a cool addition to that archive.
For more information, visit The Surfer’s Journal website.