Where's the surf?

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Mt Maunganui's $1.5 million artificial surf reef, branded as fickle by its designers, has been virtually ignored by Bay surfers since it was completed last June.

Hopes were high the reef would finally achieve its potential once the last sandbags were anchored to the seabed nearly eight months ago.

But Tauranga surfing commentator Josh Guinness said the reef had all but failed to create better quality waves. He knew of only two surfing sessions since June when the swell and tide had combined to produce a right-hand tube ride.

On most days when there was a surf running, there were no waves on the reef and surfers did not talk about it as a surfing destination. There were no expectations there would be any surf on the reef.

Shaw Mead, of reef-design company Amalgamates Solutions and Research, said the reef had been over-sold and under-delivered. It provided heavy fast waves in the right conditions but it was not a wave-making machine.

Mr Mead said the reef was designed to create fast, hollow waves during clean-swell conditions around low tide. In that sense, it had not performed to expectations.

The webcam overlooking the reef off Tay St had recorded 18 occasions between June and December when surfers used the reef.

Mr Mead said it was a fickle break, in which the swell had to be just right and conditions needed to come together for the reef to produce nice waves.

He blamed its fickleness on the reef not being completed properly. The project began shakily when construction stalled halfway because not enough money had been raised.

The bags were not filled properly and what went on to the sea floor was not what had been designed in the company's test tank.

Mr Mead said the structure of the reef ended up being too small because of budget constraints. There were lumps and bumps in funny places and gaps that needed to be filled.

He was particularly frustrated with the perception the company had conned everyone and gone away with a purse full of money. In fact, he said, the reef had cost it far more than the design fee it received.

Early press releases were "way over the top" and promised too much, he said. The company had suffered a loss of reputation.

Mr Mead said the project's resource consent was for a "research reef" and the company had done 12 surveys of the seabed, biology and the beach profile without payment.

The pumping and diving work last June was done at cost by the company and included paying for two 30m-long bags out of its own pocket as part of continuing efforts to try to make the reef work.

He said the company had had several favourable reports about the waves generated by the reef over Christmas-New Year.

Tauranga City councillors yesterday supported boosting the council's annual grant to Surf Life Saving Bay of Plenty by $10,000 to $142,000 to get two more lifeguards for roaming patrols to Tay St and Papamoa East.

Councillor Mike Baker backed the extra funding partly because the council had created a problem at Tay St by contributing $300,000 towards the cost of the artificial reef.

He was responding to Surf Life Saving Bay of Plenty chief executive Megan Cleverly's comment that the reef had caused increasing issues at Tay St by creating a heavier surf and more rips.

Mr Mead said strong surf around structures like a reef produced defined rips.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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