A major international surfing competition in the South West region of Western Australia will go ahead next year, but has been pushed back one month after two shark attacks earlier in the year prompted the event’s cancellation.
The World Surf League (WSL) announced today the event will remain in Margaret River in 2019, but will kick off in late May, rather than April.
WSL ratings leader Italo Ferreira says he doesn’t “feel comfortable” competing in Margaret River region following Gracetown shark attacks.
In a statement WSL commissioner Kieren Perrow cited “aggressive shark activity in the area” at the most recent event which was explained by schools of salmon and washed-up whale carcasses attracting predators to the area.
WA recreational surfers Alejandro Travaglini and Jason Longrass were attacked just hours apart during the competition near Gracetown, about 15 kilometres away from the Main Break.
It prompted concern from some of the Brazilian competitors about their safety in South West waters.
Surfers on the tour have welcomed the decision to delay the event.
Mikaela Greene, who competed in this year’s competition, said it showed the WSL was putting surfers’ safety first.
“I’m sure the movement of the competition to a later date should put some people’s minds at ease knowing it is safer, with the whale migration and the salmon season having passed by then,” she said.
“Hopefully they will be able to see that the WSL is doing everything they can to keep both sides happy, by keeping the Margaret River Pro in Margaret River and maintaining surfer safety.”
Surfing WA event director Justin Majeks said the decision aimed to eliminate risk where possible.
“The salmon season obviously creates a little more hype in the water with the marine life,” he said.
“To try and avoid that time of year has been a motivation for sure.”
Shark attack victim Alejandro Travaglini with a fellow surfer at Cobblestones surf break near Gracetown immediately after the incident on 16 April, 2018. (Supplied: Peter Jovic)
Future of the Pro in Margaret River still in doubt
Organisers had been looking at moving the event to other locations in WA including Kalbarri north of Perth.
Preliminary talks were held earlier this year about moving the tournament to Jake’s Point in Kalbarri or even Gnaraloo, 150km north of Carnarvon.
Mr Majeks did not rule out the competition being moved in the future.
“We’re in discussion now with key stakeholders right across the WA coastline about exploring options to keep professional surfing here in WA,” Mr Majeks said.
The World Surf League event attracts big crowds to Margaret River. (ABC News: Anthony Pancia)
Hopes for Margaret River tourism
Sharna Kearney, the joint chief executive of the Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association, welcomed the decision and said local businesses had been under pressure from the controversy surrounding the event’s cancellation.
“I think it’s a fantastic decision for the region,” Ms Kearney said.
“The timing of the event — being pushed back a little bit — works in really well with the ebb and flow of tourist numbers that come into the region.
“Because we have a really busy Easter period, that shoulder season is quite good for the region. It’s really nice to see that extension of that shoulder period into May.”
Ms Kearney acknowledged that the event’s long-term future had not been secured.
“We’re really keen to retain the Pro in the longer term,” she said.
“We have all the infrastructure here, we have world-class waves so we think we’re well-positioned to host that event in future years.”